The wait has been almost unbearable for James Vick. A member of the Ultimate Fighter 15 cast that spent more time locked away from the world (13 weeks) than any other season of the reality show, Vick hoped to join his castmates as an active member of the UFC roster as soon as the show ended.
A knockout loss to eventual season winner Michael Chiesa in the semifinals that earned him a commission suspension ended that hope, but he remained on the roster, expecting to get a fight as soon as he was cleared. Then disaster struck again, or in the case of his shoulder, a third time.
“After the show I went home for a little bit,” Vick recalled. “I came up and started training with Lloyd Irvin Academy, and everything was going good. I was getting ready to try and get a fight, and then I reinjured my shoulder and had to have surgery on it again.”
It was the third shoulder surgery for the Fort Worth, Texas product, and he would have to wait even longer to make his debut, a process made rougher as he watched his castmates make their way up the ranks.
“I’m not gonna lie,” he admits. “At first it was kind of depressing. Those guys are all my friends, I lived with those guys and I became really close with them, even the other team, but I felt like I hadn’t got my chance yet and I was real depressed at first. But I started reading a lot of books and making my mind strong and I patiently waited for my opportunity.”
That opportunity is less than a week away, as Vick makes his long-awaited walk to the Octagon for the first time against Ramsey Nijem this Saturday in Boston. Needless to say, it’s a time for plenty of smiles from “The Texecutioner.”
“I’m like a little kid right now,” he said. “I’m so happy and I’m just hoping that nothing happens in the next week because I want to fight so bad. I’m very grateful and very thankful for this opportunity and I’m so happy (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva kept me on the roster after being out for so long.”
In a lot of ways, being a professional fighter on the sidelines is more difficult than being one who is fighting three or four times a year. Sure, the active fighter is in the gym every day, but the mental battle can often be a more grueling one. For Vick, outside of the first two of his three surgeries, winning that fight has never been an issue.
“I’ve always been such a mentally tough person,” he said. “I don’t know where I get it from; I think I was born with it. Ever since I was little that was one of the characteristics I’ve always had that has really helped me out. I played basketball in junior college and sports in school, and I’ve always been mentally tough. This was my third surgery in the last five years. The first two were even worse for me, and I almost felt like the world was coming to an end, but this one, I really focused on looking at the big picture and figuring that this was a minor setback in a major comeback.”
And one that he is preparing for far from the heart of Texas, as he’s been working with one of his TUF 15 assistant coaches, Lloyd Irvin, in Maryland.
“Master Lloyd had offered for me to come out here after the show, I went home for a couple months, and I came out here and I loved it,” he said. “The jiu-jitsu level was phenomenal, he has a phenomenal boxing coach here, and he has a really high-level Dutch Muay Thai coach that he flies in. So I’m getting a lot of one-on-one help, more than I would from even a bigger camp. So I really felt like this was the place to be.”
The 26-year-old Vick (4-0), who scored victories over Daron Cruickshank and Joe Proctor on TUF 15, will need to be on top of all aspects of his game in Boston, as TUF 13 finalist Ramsey Nijem is no walk in the park, having won three of five Octagon bouts.
“Everybody in the UFC is good,” said Vick. “There’s less than 400 people in the world there, so you can’t expect you’re going to get an easy fight. He (Nijem) is pretty well-rounded, but he’s more of a grappler and a top game wrestler. I think he’s definitely going to try to take me down, especially coming off a knockout loss. But he’s not an easy fight, and there are no easy fights in the UFC. I do think I match up well with him, and he’s going to have a problem taking me down. And should he get me down, I’m gonna surprise him on the ground more than he realizes.”
Less than 400 people in the UFC. Think about that for a second. Out of the billions of people on this planet, less than 400 have the same job James Vick has. That’s got to be a heady thing for any fighter to think about, and Vick admits that he has.
“I think about it sometimes, and it makes me happy,” he said. “And I’m proud that I got here so fast. Some of these guys have been training two or three times as long as me and my career is in the same position as theirs even though I’ve only been training four and a half years, and that includes everything. So I really feel blessed and grateful to be here, and I thank God every day that I’m in the position I’m in.”
And that he’s finally fighting again.
James Vick: Patience Pays Off
"I really feel blessed and grateful to be here, and I thank God every day that I’m in the position I’m in." - James Vick