James Vick warms up backstage before his UFC bout

James Vick finally had gotten himself into the position he had envisioned being in: the main event against a surging contender like Justin Gaethje at UFC Fight Night 135 last August. The build-up was there. The trash talk was on display. It was all going according to plan. Then, Vick got caught.

“The Texecutioner” would look to bounce back six months later against Paul Felder at UFC on ESPN 1. It was a fun fight between the two talented 155-pounders, but again, Vick found himself on the losing end of a fight.

To right the wrongs and get back on track, Vick will take on Dan Hooker at UFC on ESPN 4 in his home state of Texas. The event will take place on July 20 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Heading into the fight, Vick is feeling something he hasn’t felt often throughout his UFC career; healthy.

“I’m excited,” Vick told The Body Lock. “I’ve always done well in Texas and love fighting at home in front of my people. It’s always a great time. But this camp has been great. This is one of the best camps I’ve had, and I know people say that kind of s**t all the time, but I’m so healthy right now. I’m healthy, everything is so good. I couldn’t ask for it to be any smoother than it has been so far, to be honest. The hard part is pretty much over. The rest is the weight cut, cardio, being smart and making it to the fight. I’m really healthy right now.”

Prior to the fight against Gaethje last summer, Vick had won four consecutive fights — finishes over Abel Trujillo, Polo Reyes, and Joe Duffy, as well as a unanimous decision win over Francisco Trinaldo. Vick had only lost one professional fight in his career to Beneil Dariush at UFC 199 and was looking for an opportunity to get closer to that elusive world title shot.

Many would look at back-to-back losses as a way to change things up; camp, coaches, training partners, location, etc. For Vick, he hasn’t changed a thing when it comes to his approach. In fact, his path in MMA is still somewhat new compared to most in the UFC.

“First off, the last fight with Felder was a close fight,” Vick explained.

“In my opinion, that fight could’ve gone either way. I thought I could’ve won that fight. I’m not gonna complain and act like I got robbed or anything, but it’s not like he clearly won that fight. I landed more significant strikes in that fight than he did, and he landed one more total strike than I did. It was a very close fight. It sucks, he got the decision. It’s not like I got beat that fight, per se. That definitely sucked.

“With Gaethje, I got caught. It was a tactical error. So I didn’t change a lot. What I’ve been doing has been working, period. People are going to lose fights. Something that people always forget about, some of these guys have been training for 10 years longer than I have, including Paul Felder and Justin Gaethje. He wrestled four years in college and was a D-1 All-American and I never even wrestled in high school. Granted, I didn’t lose from wrestling, I got caught with a punch, but when you don’t have to worry about wrestling and grappling as much, you can focus on other s**t.

“At the end of the day, Felder’s been training since he was 10, 12 years old. I didn’t start boxing until I was 20 and didn’t start grappling until I was 22. I’ve caught up to a lot of these guys who have been training 10 years longer than I have. It’s always the growing process. I really feel like what I’ve been doing is the right thing. If it wasn’t the right thing than I wouldn’t be getting the results I’ve been getting. I may have lost a couple, but I still have one of the best records in the entire organization. I’m fighting guys with twice the experience as me and catching them. I believe in everything I do. I don’t blame my coaches, or my team, or take the b***h way out. I man up. My team didn’t let me down, I let them down. Obviously, I’ve added a lot of new s**t to my game but I haven’t changed a lot.”

The fight game, and professional sports in general, requires a strong mental game to accompany the physical work and preparation it takes to compete at the highest level. Vick’s motivation, of course, comes from the glory of defeating another man inside of a cage — the prizefighter within him. More so, his motivation comes from two of the big ‘F’s’ to success — family and financial. It just so happens that those go hand-in-hand for the 32-year-old.

“As far as learning, I’ve fixed those tactical errors,” Vick said.

“The technical issues I’ve had, I’ve taken care of those with live training. On the mental side, I’ve always been mentally strong. None of this has effected my confidence. It’s effected my wallet for sure. It’s kind of depressing losing fights and getting half of the money. Besides that, in my mind, I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m a world class fighter.

“There’s the old saying, tough times don’t last, tough people do. I feel like I’m one of the most mentally strong people in the UFC and in the world. I’ve started 10 years later than everyone, had four major surgeries, had a full-time job half of the time that I’ve been in the UFC and am still beating these guys.

“The main thing that sucks is the opportunity I blew,” Vick continued. “The main event (with Gaethje) was big time, especially with all of the trash I talked. People can say what they want to, but if I win that fight the way he wins that fight, I’m a superstar. I f****n blew it. I’m not going to blame anyone but myself. That’s what cowards do and losers do. They blame everyone else but themselves.

“I took the loss and its my fault. I’ve adjusted from it and, I’m not going to say moved on, because you never move on. It’s definitely not going to effect any of performances. Even with the last fight (with Felder), I didn’t feel like it effected my performance. I fought a good fighter and got hurt with the calf kicks. That move is a game changer in the sport. That’s where I’m at right now. My mind is on nothing but victory.”

James Vick attempts a left high kick against Francisco Trinaldo
James Vick attempts a left high kick against Francisco Trinaldo (UFC/Getty Images)

Facing Dan Hooker

On the path to resurgence up the rankings in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions, Vick will face Dan Hooker, a man looking for a bounce-back win in his own right. “The Hangman” brought a four-fight winning streak into his recent Octagon appearance when he took on Edson Barboza at UFC on FOX 31 in December. Barboza was on his A-game, which Hooker, unfortunately, had to deal with on the other side en route to a nasty body punch that ended the fight in the third round.

In a fight where both guys need a win to stay relevant in a super deep division, Vick sees the challenge that lies in front of him.

“It’s a good fight, a good matchup,” Vick said of Hooker. “He’s not a joke. The dude can fight. He’s been in there with high-level competition, been in the UFC for a while now and has some very good wins. His losses, early on, are probably fights he shouldn’t have lost but I think he has grown and progressed drastically. He’s a serious opponent and I’m ready for this.”

Vick isn’t going to predict the specific outcome of the fight. The Lloyd Irvin trained fighter from the Dallas area isn’t seeing anything other than his hand being raised. The win is the most important thing — not just for his spot in the rankings, but to help give himself and his family everything they need.

“I’m not going to be that stupid to take on unnecessary risks,” Vick stated. “I always try to finish fights, but I’m not going to take any unnecessary risks. If I finish Dan Hooker in the first or second round and get a $50,000 bonus, I walk away happy. If I win this fight, I’m going to pay my house off. That really sucked losing the last fight because I could’ve already owned my own house. I only got half the money and it sucked. I’m not going to let that happen again. Me, my son James Jr. and his mom, we’re gonna go to Sea World the next morning, have a great time, we’re going to pay our house off and life will be good.

“In a perfect world, I get a finish. I can see a knockout in the first or second round, but if the decision comes, it comes. I’m trying to get that win bonus. I’m trying to pay off my house off. I for sure see myself winning in any place we go and wherever I want to win.”

Currently, the oddsmakers have Vick as high as a +153 underdog heading into this pivotal lightweight matchup. While Vick is a professional fighter and a student of the game, he is also a combat sports gambling enthusiast. Heading into this home state fight, Vick has some advice for those who are looking to put a few shackles down on this particular fight on July 20.

“They better bet now,” Vick said. “What’s going to end up happening is once the odds start to come around, it’s going to be even odds, I may even be the favorite by the time the fight comes around. I think people should pull the trigger now, bet on me and win some money for sure.”

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