There are plenty of inspirational stories in MMA, and British heavyweight #JamesMulheron has one of them.
Mulheron is 11-1 as a professional and is the reigning #Made4TheCage European heavyweight champion, having fought 10 of his 11 professional bouts under their banner. Until now, the South Shields man has been plying his trade solely on the UK domestic scene, but earlier week, it was officially announced that he will fulfill a dream on July 16 when he fights on the #UFCGlasgow card in Scotland.
While relatively unknown outside the UK, Mulheron is considered one of the stalwarts of the #UKMMA scene, having begun his career back in 2011. After winning all his amateur bouts, Mulheron then turned professional in 2012 and proceeded to win his first four fights inside the distance. On paper, at least, everything looks straightforward, but speaking to Champions.co earlier this week, he revealed it was anything but.
“Before I even started MMA, I did a season in Ibiza working the bars, and as you would, I drunk a load of alcohol and put loads of weight on,” Mulheron said. “I came back and I didn’t know what I wanted to do—I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any direction. My dad just said to me, ‘Get yourself in the gym and try this MMA.’ He took me there, and he ragged me from pillar to post. I was just like, ‘How the hell did you do this to me?’ I just didn’t get it, but that was that—I was hooked.”
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This was the start of a very long journey for Mulheron. At the time, MMA was, and arguably still is, a relatively unknown sport in the UK and those around him weren’t convinced with what he was doing. Regardless, he set off in pursuit of his dream and he soon started to turn disbelievers into supporters.
“I quickly went to 8-0 as an amateur and I was the British champion,” Mulheron said. “I had a full-time job as an amateur and I was working on building sites. When I was on the building site, the whole time I used to be there, I was just thinking to myself that I can’t do this for the rest of my life—it’s just not me. Because I was winning, people around me started taking more notice and they started helping me. They used to say to me, ‘Look, we’ll take a chance, we believe in you,’ and they used to help keep me going and offer to pay my bills if I needed help with them. At that point, I moved in with a friend and that was that.”
From that point onward, Mulheron began fighting exclusively in the UK Promotion Made4TheCage. His one sole appearance outside of the UFC was in Bellator when he fought and defeated Neil Grove at Bellator 158 last year in London. While the Bellator fight was his first on a world level promotion, Mulheron has a lot of gratitude for Made4TheCage and the support they showed him from the start of his fighting career.
“Dale [Percival], [Steven] Scotty, they are the ones that got the fights for me at Made4TheCage,” Mulheron said. “Other people have had to take fights in BAMMA or other shows, but even the one on Bellator—they got me that fight. They’ve helped me get to where I am today and they should take a lot of credit for it. I’ll be forever helping them because I owe it to them.”
While ferocious in the cage, Mulheron is known for being one of the nicest men you could meet outside of it. Plenty of fighters these days go the route of talking trash to elevate themselves, but this just isn’t the way of Mulheron who believes in respecting his opponents both before and after they fight.
“It’s nice to show people who are doing MMA that you don’t need to talk shite on social media,” Mulheron said. “I’ve shown everyone that if you just keep your head down, rather than get in an argument war on Facebook or anything, then good things will come to you. I just like to get in there, have a fight, get it over and done with, and then be mates at the end of it. I just believe in keeping your head down, fighting and stay humble. I’ve just proven to everyone that good things will come if you do things like that.”
Having avenged the only loss of his career in February against Austrian fighter Rueben Wolfe, Mulheron was preparing to fight again in July for Made4TheCage. Two weeks ago, however, Mulheron’s life changed.
“I was basically sitting in the gym after my session and I got a call from Les, my manager,” Mulheron said. “I was meant to fight again in July again so I just asked him if he’d agreed terms and he said, ‘No, it’s not been done—the UFC want to sign you for Glasgow,’ I thought he was joking for a minute, but then I realized he wasn’t. I knew there was talk of it—I saw I was on that hit list for the top five UK fighters to be signed in the UK [published by Champions.co last month], but I just didn’t think it would ever come, you know. I just couldn’t believe it, but then he told me how Mick Maynard called him and specifically asked for me. It was real—this is it.”
While making it to the UFC is by no means the end of the journey, Mulheron says it’s a significant development in his career. Having backed himself from the beginning when no one else was, the opportunity to make his UFC debut in Scotland in July is a sweet reward for all the sacrifices he’s made.
“Ten years of blood, sweat and tears—I’ve been on a tough journey,” Mulheron said, with emotion in his voice. “I’ve been on ups, downs and I’ve not shied away from tough fights. I’ve been in wars and fights where I’ve paid for it with my own blood. This is a dream come true—it really is. All my hard work—it’s counted for something and I feel like I’ve done this the right way. I’m ready for this now. People have been saying I should’ve been signed for years, but now is the right time. To avenge my loss to Reuben Wolfe and then go on a four-fight win streak—I’ve never felt better. I’m 11-1 now, but I’m 0-0 in my head. I’m ready for anything.”
Mulheron better be ready for anything. On July 16, he will fill in for the injured Mark Godbeer and take on another man making his UFC debut, Justin Willis. The SSE Hydro will be the venue for the occasion and Mulheron couldn’t be happier.
“My Dad is Scottish and I’m half Scottish—half my family live in Glasgow so I’m going to have some mad support there,” Mulheron said. “I spend a lot of my time up in Scotland because my Gran and my Uncle live there. My Dad is Glaswegian, so for him, this is like a dream come true. The thought of fighting in his place of birth is like amazing. If it was Newcastle it would be amazing, but Glasgow is just good as—if not better because it means more to my Dad. He’s the reason I started this sport so it just feels right I fight for the UFC for the first time in Glasgow.”
Mulheron vs. Willis goes down at UFCGlasgow on July 16 at the SSE Hydro. In the main event, Gunnar Nelson takes on Santiago Ponzinibbio.