By FIGHT! contributor Eric Killelea
Nine years ago James “Lightning” Wilks came from England to Orange County to further his learning of MMA. Since then he trained under Erik Paulson in Combat Submission Wrestling and developed into a Ultimate Fighting Championship-caliber fighter. On Nov. 15, the welterweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter: US vs. UK will return home to fight Matt Brown at UFC 105 in Manchester, England.
Despite being a native Brit, this is only Wilks’ second fight in the UK. The first got him into the TUF 9 house. During the June 20, 2009 finale, quite a lot of fans, Brits even, chanted “USA, USA,” as some thought that Wilks had turned his back on his home country. But as Wilks wrote in a blog for the British newspaper the Telegraph, “I’ll be fighting in front of a home crowd at UFC 105 and will be hoping for a lot more home support. I think the UK fans are the best fans in the world and I expect them to really get behind all their fighters at UFC 105.”
Wilks is an exemplar of a Brit who has chased the MMA dream before the recent explosion of UK talent. He writes: “[The U.S. has] really been the land of opportunity for me. I truly am living the American dream right now…At the same time, though, I’m very proud of my English roots and I was honoured to represent the UK team on the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter.”
Wilks won his first MMA bout in 2003, defeating world class Sambo stylist Roman Mitichyan with an arm-bar. Then he took a two-year break to teach and returned to competition to win the Gladiator Challenge welterweight title which led to his appearance on the Ultimate Fighter.
The fighter isn’t overlooking Brown but he’s not winding himself up about the match, or the fact that it’s taking place in the country of his birth. “The crowd and cameras can get to your head, but I block that stuff out and focus on the fight.” He continues to train at his gym, Lightning MMA, under the tutelage of Paulson and alongside King of the Cage vet and recent UFC signee Mike “Joker” Guymon. According to his, Wilks’ blog he’ll train at the Bushido MMA Academy in Nottingham along with fellow British welterweight prospects Dan Hardy and Paul Daley.
Both Hardy and Daley are further up the divisional ladder but after a decade of striving, Wilks’ knows that progress is incremental. Right now he’s focusing on the next step in the journey. First he has to beat Matt Brown, then take fights that help him crack the top ten at 170 pounds. “That’s the goal,” he says.