This month will see the UFC land in Scotland, the fighting home of such warriors as Ken Buchanan, Johnny Hill and Jim Watt.
However, as rich as Scotland’s Boxing history is, new warriors have been carving their own paths in Scottish combat sports history too.
One such warrior is James Doolan. The 17-9 MMA veteran is a pioneer in Scottish MMA. Not content with being one of the UK’s most well regarded mixed martial artists, James has forged a reputation as a world class coach, coaching fighters from his Higher Level MMA gym to victories not only domestically, but also throughout the world. It would only be fitting that as the UFC makes its debut in Scotland that Doolan would play a part.
James will lead out one of the UK’s most feared fighters in 2 x Cage Warriors champion Stevie Ray, as he prepares for the toughest test of his career against dangerous Brazilian Leonardo Texeira.
James King caught up with James to get his feelings on coaching, the UFC and what the future holds.
You started your career way back in 2003 and over a decade amassed 26 professional fights, do you think you just missed out on the UFC when they eventually introduced the lighter weight classes?
I actually started MMA around late 2000. I had been kick and Thai boxing until then and went on to have 30 pro bouts. I probably missed out a little just with timing and my age. It’s nice to see guys I fought Vaughan Lee, Neil Seery and Sirwan Kakai in there now though.
You last fought in April 2013 and since then continued to focus on coaching your stable of fighters. Is there one more fight left in you?
There’s always going to be fight left in me. Unfortunately near the end of my fighting career my coaching responsibilities left it hard for me to train to compete with the top European guys I had been fighting. I remember sitting down with Paul McVeigh after a fight and him saying to me you can either be world class at fighting or at coaching and that forced me to make a decision. I never officially stopped fighting, the coaching side and my gym just took over. I do miss fighting every day.
If you could either fight one fight in the UFC or coach a fighter to a UFC championship belt, which one would you have chosen?
Easy, I would coach a fighter to the UFC belt.
How gratifying an experience is it to have coached fighters fighting in the Octagon?
It’s no more gratifying than taking a shy kid and building their confidence in the gym, or taking someone who’s out of shape and them having an amateur fight. If it’s the athlete’s goal to fight in the UFC and I get them there then that’s gratifying. But everyone who comes to our gym is there for a reason and helping people is pretty rewarding.
How do the emotions you experience differ on fight day from a coach to a fighter perspective?
Coaching is worse. I guess it depends on the fighter and the fight to an extent, for some fighters I get nervous and for others I don’t. The worst I’ve ever been was at Invicta. It was like all the emotions in my own fights rolled into one.
What’s the end goal with coaching?
The end goal was always to provide a place where anyone can come and just enjoy training martial arts, surround yourself with good people and for that hour or two hours forget about any hassles outside the gym door. What ever anyone does as a product of that environment – whether it’s lose weight, get fitter, have a fight, win belts or sign for the UFC – is a bonus.
You have fought all over the world from Japan to Sweden. What can the UFC fighters expect from Glasgow?
They can expect a passionate, loud, mostly drunk crowd. Scottish people in general like a fight and they always got behind the boxers in this country. The fans have wanted UFC in Glasgow for a while, it’s sold out quick. I don’t imagine it will be back anytime soon so it should be a night to remember.
You have Steven Ray fighting on the card in his second fight, what were your thoughts on his first fight in the Octagon?
The first fight shows everything you ever need to know about Stevie Ray. He is exciting, he looks to finish, he’s about as close to a natural fighter as I’ve ever seen in MMA. In mindset, he took that opportunity, dropped a lot of weight in less than 2 weeks and went over to Poland waiting on news on the birth of his daughter and put it on a very good Polish submission guy. As a coach I was happy for him, for his family and for our team, you won’t see a much better UFC debut than that.
Ray’s opponent Leonardo Mafra Texeira is a tough Brazilian. What’s his key to victory over Mafra?
Stevie is a little quicker and more dynamic and versatile, that’s about all I’m going to say on that front. That does have potential to be fight of the night though and Stevie Ray in Scotland is a difficult task for anyone. Stevie feeds off the crowd he’s been the most popular fighter in Scotland for years and it’s going to be a big night for him.
What motivates you and drives you forward?
The people around me motivate me, seeing what we have done at the gym and how it’s been a positive influence in so many people’s lives, to keep that going motivates me.
What makes the DNFT different to the rest of the teams out there?
It’s cliché but it is more like a family than a team. I know other teams say that but this group of people are there for each other for anything, thick and thin. There’s no egos anyone with an ego hasn’t lasted. There’s just a chemistry and an atmosphere in the gym that I’ve never really experienced at any other gym.