"I'm the best I've ever been, physically or mentally. I feel like my body has caught up to where my mind's at and I've developed and turned into a man, I've matured and that's created this final product.

"We've had some pretty big things go on this last year, but all positive - and all a motivating factor and positive push towards this performance."

When James Webb walks into combat as one half of the main event of Cage Warriors 138 in Colchester, his hometown, this Saturday night, it will be the culmination of a year-long personal journey and the start of what he's calling the 'second season' of his career.

East Anglian Daily Times: James Webb celebrates winning the Cage Warriors title against Thomas Robertsen. Picture: DOLLY CLEWJames Webb celebrates winning the Cage Warriors title against Thomas Robertsen. Picture: DOLLY CLEW (Image: Dolly Clew)

The 32-year-old (8-3-1) made history as the first MMA world champion from the east when he lifted Cage Warriors middleweight gold in March 2019 - just his seventh pro fight - before a roller coaster few years began.

He suffered a long-term neck injury after being spiked on his head by first title challenger Nathias Frederick three months later as the pair fought out a thrilling draw, before losing his belt to Frederick by stoppage in their November 2019 rematch.

He bounced back with a pair of good wins against Mick Stanton and ex-UFC talent Craig White - somehow training through his mounting injury problems - only to look a shadow of himself in his last fight, a stoppage defeat to future champion Matthew Bonner, in March 2021.

That's only part of the story though. Away from the cage, Webb's become a dad, got engaged and launched his own business - Flotation Therapy Essex - plus his own gym, The Combat Institute, in Colchester.

He's had knee surgery too, battled some inner demons and emerged on the other side - and Webb says all of the above means that the version of him standing across the cage from foe Leon Aliu (9-1) on Saturday is the best there has ever been.

"I try to forget about the last fight," he explained, referencing the Bonner loss. "Obviously I lost, but you have to take that - Matt was the better man. He went on and won the world title, so there's no shame in that.

"But I'm back. I spent the last year, after suffering a little bit myself, getting bigger and stronger, eating properly. I told myself 'you've got one more opportunity, one more chance' - for me this is my second half of the season.

"All my twenties were spent fighting and I'm coming into my thirties now - I don't plan on spending all my thirties fighting.

"I'm a mature fighter now, my fight IQ is very good and I feel like the package is here. I'm very excited to let go. There's no way I don't get him out of there."

Opponent Aliu, an Italian making his Cage Warriors debut in the lion's den of Webb's hometown, has claimed all nine of his wins inside the distance, with several by submission, the Essex fighter's area of expertise.

"The truth is, I don't know too much about him, and I don't like to know too much," Webb said of his foe. "I know he's got a few sub wins - that's ok - but I'm just going to do me.

East Anglian Daily Times: A dejected James Webb reflects after losing his middleweight title at Cage Warriors 111. Picture: ROSS HALLSA dejected James Webb reflects after losing his middleweight title at Cage Warriors 111. Picture: ROSS HALLS (Image: Archant)

"He's going to do him. If he wants to come out and throw big shots, that's up to him. Whatever he does, if it lands, it lands, well done. I just know that if I focus on what he's looking to do, I'm not going to do what I need to do.

"And what I'm going to do is just be there, from the get go, in his face, non-stop."

A statement win this Saturday would put Webb right back in the title mix - the belt now held by Christian Duncan - and reignite talk of him making the move to the UFC, the world's biggest and best MMA promotion.

And for Webb, pitting himself against the best on the planet is what it's all about.

"UFC is 100 percent what I'm thinking about," he said. "Chris (Fields, Webb's head coach) is always telling me that you're one or two wins away.

"I think the loss (to Bonner) and the break will turn out to be a blessing. I think I'll look back in the future and say 'that's where I levelled up.' I had to ask myself some serious questions last year, and this is what I love doing.

"So of course the UFC is there. Once I start feeling it's not, I'm out. I don't want to fight for anything else other than to be the best.

"But right now, I can't see why I can't be in the UFC by the end of the year. A good finish here just boosts the speculation and talk about me.

"I'm one of the top middleweights in Europe, I'm a nightmare for most people to fight."

East Anglian Daily Times: James Webb lands a right hand on Jason Radcliffe on his way to victory at Cage Warriors 99 in Colchester. Picture: BRETT KINGJames Webb lands a right hand on Jason Radcliffe on his way to victory at Cage Warriors 99 in Colchester. Picture: BRETT KING (Image: Archant)

Does he want to win back Cage Warriors gold on the way?

"Yeah, but I'm not going to search for it. If they offer it to me I wouldn't say no to it. But I have done it, and I'm pushing for the UFC - if that means I have to do that, fine.

"Whatever it takes, I'm going to do."

And, as well as reaching the UFC, providing for his family and running his businesses, Webb has also found another passion in the last year - speaking out about mental health.

"There's far too many people walking around who aren't getting the right treatment, the right care, the right help," he explained.

"And you don't know that anything is wrong with them because they don't have a leg in a cast or a hospital badge, they're just trying to get by themselves.

"It's something I care a lot about. I want to promote something where we can bring people together here and talk.

"10, 15, 20 years ago - even five years ago - you would have been told 'man up' or 'don't be a snowflake'.

"Those sort of words can be very detrimental. I've felt low and you can be as tough as you like, but it doesn't matter.

"When it gets you, it gets you, and you have to have the right people around you, the right therapy, the right mindset, the right food - the right everything, you need things in balance."

He added: "It can be a very dark place, and I do hope that if anyone listening to this is struggling, they can come down and have a chat with me - I'm here, I don't work!"

- You can watch James Webb fight at Cage Warriors 138 live on UFC Fight Pass this Saturday. Tickets for the event, at the Charter Hall, are still available here.