There is a saying in MMA: the window doesn’t close so much as it slams. And after watching James Vick lay on the canvas unconscious yet again, his window has closed. Actually, it’s more like he tried to climb into a fourth story window and got it shut on his fingers. A year and a half after hinting he could be a top 10 lightweight at least, it’s time for Vick to say goodbye.
At 6-foot-3 and 76-inch reach, Vick is a stupidly long lightweight. That’s two inches of height on Nate Diaz and only an inch behind Luke Rockhold’s reach. And in his early career, it showed.
Despite debuting in the UFC with only four prior fights, Vick understood how to use his length. There’s shades of Nate Diaz in how Vick’s long punches snap at the very edge of their range with surprising power. And while he’s not a talented hooker, his stiff uppercut against a leaning Joe Duffy showed his traditional power punching..
And when an opponent naturally tries to close the distance, Vick’s knees do the trick. Defensively, he’ll catch opponents weaving low with a huge knee up the middle. If he feels like it, he’ll use the leverage from his height for offensive knees in the Thai clinch. He possesses the fancy Jon Jones back kicks, but those were more for show than effectiveness.
A year and a half ago, he was 13-1 and climbing fast. As it turns out, that one loss foreshadowed carnage to come.
Curse of length
Had he fought anywhere but the super stacked lightweight division, Beneil Dariush would be a top 15 fighter. That being said, his ceiling was far lower than the streaking Vick, especially in the striking department.
But about four minutes into the fight, Vick threw a hard right cross. With good speed and power, its only flaw was that he telegraphed it slightly. Dariush slipped inside and countered with a hard left hook to the chin that wobbled Vick. And instead of covering up, Vick repeatedly extended his arms trying to either push Dariush away or grab his power hand. Neither worked and after a couple more hard left hands Vick lay cold on the canvas.
No matter how hard a fighter trains, their tendencies are guided by what/who they encounter. It’s why in boxing, orthodox fighters can struggle facing a southpaw. Or why it took fighters so long to figure out Lyoto Machida’s karate. In Vick’s case, his muscle memory is set by the fact that he’s taller and longer than everyone in his division. Extending his arms and moving away to relieve pressure worked for him most of the time.
But when an opponent finds a way past the arms, it becomes a huge defensive liability.
Justin Gaethje is a monster, but he came into their fight a slight underdog for a reason. And throughout most of the first round, Vick kept him honest with body kicks and long shots. But the moment Gaethje took him to the fence, his hands went low and a single hook melted him. And most recently, Dan Hooker was able to wade forward with a right-left and catch him clean for yet another knockout. Dariush sits down on his left hand and Gaethje is just a honey badger in human form, but Hooker?
No options left
The knockout loss to Hooker is Vick’s third in a row, and his second knockout loss in little over a year. And when I say knockouts, I don’t mean “the referee decided you’ve taken too much punishment.” I mean “James Vick had a brief conversation with his ancestors before waking up to a flashlight” knockouts. And that would be the third such knockout loss in his career. Vick himself expressed displeasure at my assessment of his skill following the win over Francisco Trinaldo, yet I’d like to point out that the Brazilian barely missed him with left hooks. If Trinaldo was slightly larger and a bit younger, I think we’d be seeing another highlight-reel knockout.
Factually speaking, Vick has no chance of fighting for the UFC lightweight title. And with his frame, I wouldn’t even joke about moving to featherweight. Yet a welterweight move could spell disaster.
Remember, Luke Rockhold moved up to light heavyweight after knockout losses at middleweight. But instead of reaping the advantages of cutting less weight, his natural size advantage was mitigated and he couldn’t absorb 205-pound power. The same boxing flaws that doomed his middleweight career now may send him into retirement. Does anyone think that the James Vick who couldn’t defend a right-left from Dan Hooker will stand a chance against the monstrous UFC welterweight division?
End of the road
Vick sits on a confluence of awfulness. He cannot survive in his career division, yet he cannot move weight. And he’s absorbed horrific punishment, the kind that shows up years later. Plus, fan base or not, Vick is a non-contender who has lost three fights in a row while making around $60-65,000 in base pay. Bellator loves UFC cast-offs but I don’t know if Vick has the star power to command a good price from them.
I feel awful for Vick, but it’s time for him to hang it up. He must tolerate the disappointment of being yet another talent who thought they could take gold, yet fell spectacularly short. I hope he can find another career and enjoy his family with his brain still intact.
Ride off into the sunset, Texecutioner. You did alright.