Much like UFC president Dana White, James Wallace is not fond of going to the judges’ scorecards.
Each of the lightweight prospect’s nine professional wins have come by stoppage. His two defeats came in his only two fights that went the distance.
Normally viewed as a bastion of finishes, just one of nine fights have ended in stoppages thus far on Dana White’s Contender Series. Wallace expects to reverse that trend and keep his perfect finishing win rate intact when he faces Joseph Solecki on July 9.
Before the fight, he spoke with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his journey to earn the chance at becoming a UFC fighter.
Working his way up
Wallace made his professional debut at age 22. By then, he’d already faced adversity in his MMA career.
“I lost three fights in a row as an amateur,” Wallace said. “That was a pivotal moment. It was kind of like, either fix it or hang it up.”
No fighter likes to lose, but when the losses pile up early in one’s career, doubt creeps in. Wallace knew that he was doing what he loved, and he continued pushing forward.
“I’m just addicted to hard work,” Wallace said. “When I work hard, I see success, so I just work harder at it.”
Wallace prospered when he turned pro, winning five of his first six bouts. He also began training at American Top Team, a sign that he was inching closer to joining the upper echelon of MMA fighters.
Wallace has formed a bond with his head coach, UFC veteran Cole Miller. Though Miller last competed in a losing effort against Mizuto Hirota in 2016, he can still keep up with the younger fighters in the gym.
Wallace says that Miller’s transition to coaching doesn’t spell the end of his own competitive career either.
“He will be competing again this year. He’s not out of the game,” Wallace said. “He never retired. He just took some time off to heal up, and now I believe he’s looking sharper than ever. He’s in fight shape because I’m in fight shape, and we hold each other accountable and I can count on him everyday.”
Always staying ready
As a hungry fighter looking for opportunities, Wallace doesn’t let himself get out of “fight shape.”
“I never stop training,” Wallace said. “I go to the gym every day, so it’s just a lifestyle for me.”
Training alone isn’t enough though. Wallace also has to keep his diet in check, and he has done so without professional help up until this point. Instead of a dietitian, Wallace had his family supporting him before he got the help of a meal prep service leading up to his Contender Series fight.
“My wife or my mom would cook all my diet food and I would just have to go pick it up,” he said. “That way I didn’t even have to go to the store.”
Avoiding the temptations of candies and desserts is no simple task for any fighter. Thanks to his support system, Wallace never even got in the vicinity of any sweets.
“They don’t eat the bad food around me, you know, they’ll go eat it somewhere else,” Wallace said. “I just have to eat what’s in the fridge.”
James Wallace gets his shot on Contender Series
Wallace’s endless grind paid off when he received the call for Contender Series. Still, he remains far from satisfied.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” Wallace said. “It’s my way in. It’s not my final destination. It’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just a guy who got on Contender Series. I want to be in the UFC and win in the UFC.”
Heading into his bout with Solecki, Wallace is confident that his performance will impress the UFC president.
“I’m just going to do what I always do,” Wallace said. “I have nine wins, nine finishes, and I go for it every single time. I put it all on the line every single time, and that’s what he likes to see.”
His relentless style aligns perfectly with White’s taste, but Wallace also believes his mindset sets him apart from other UFC hopefuls and current fighters alike.
“Most of these guys say that they’ll fight anyone, anytime, but I will fight anyone anytime,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never told my manager no. Most of the time I don’t even pick my fights. He just tells me what date to be there.”
“I’m game for anybody and I’ll put it on the line every single time. I don’t play it safe. Some of these dudes like to pick their fights and pad their record and climb that way, and then some like to run their mouth, and I don’t do that either. I just let my performance speak for [itself]. Literally anyone can get it. I don’t care. It doesn’t even have to be lightweight.”
James Wallace on Dustin Poirier
Though he’s not officially on the UFC roster just yet, Wallace keeps tabs on the status of the lightweight division. He’s particularly interested in the upcoming unification bout between titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier set for UFC 242.
Poirier is an American Top Team fighter and a source of inspiration for Wallace, which adds a bit of bias to his prediction of how the title fight will play out.
“I think Poirier is going to put them hands on him,” Wallace said. “He’s got good enough wrestling to get away, so I think Khabib’s reign is over.”
Although he thinks highly of Poirier, if “The Diamond” still holds the gold by the time Wallace makes his way to the top of the division, he has no problem taking out his idol.
“My goal is to win in the UFC and get the belt in UFC. I just don’t want to be here and hang around,” Wallace said. “He’s the top dog right now. I respect him and we’re both American top team, but I just said I would fight anyone and that means anyone, so if I want the belt and he has it, it’s just going to have to be like that.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.