Watch: "I can be world champion, again, in the UFC' - Cage Warriors champ Webb on his remarkable journey to title and what's next
PUBLISHED: 12:17 29 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:17 29 March 2019
Mark Heath meets James Webb, the new Cage Warriors world middleweight champion - and the first ever MMA world champ from the eastern region.
It’s often said that, while many people want to be a success in life, few are willing to put the hard work in.
Fighters are usually one of the starkest exceptions to that rule – and James Webb has to be right at the top of that particular tree. For Webb, hard work and sacrifice may as well be his middle names.
It’s certainly paying off now though – the Colchester middleweight lifted the prestigious Cage Warriors world title with a third round submission win over Thomas Robertsen at the O2 earlier this month, and seems to be on a fast track to the UFC, the Champions’ League of MMA.
But it’s not come easy. The 29-year-old’s fighting journey has taken him from competing on regional shows in Colchester and Norwich to living in a gym in Ireland, leaving his loved ones behind to pursue his dream.
He lives and trains at the renowned SBG Swords Gym in Dublin under respected head coach Chris Fields during the week, returning to Essex to see his girlfriend, family and friends at weekends – and maybe cramming a few more sessions in at his home base, ZR Team Essex, too.
It’s a tough, lonely grind, not something that many would choose – but Webb’s cut from a different cloth.
He said: “My journey for me is the best journey I could have ever done. It’s my dream.
“Since 2016 I’ve been living in the gym over in Ireland and it’s not the worst – it’s not always pleasant, the winters are cold and the summers are great, although there’s no aircon in there either!
“But for me it’s ideal. I’m all about the hard work, grafting – whatever you put into something, you’re going to get some rewards.
“Fighting’s very different, it’s a 50-50 sport and I might have gone in there and got cleaned out in five seconds and thought to myself ‘why am I doing this?’ but I know why I’m doing it.
“I make those sacrifices – I leave my family, my girlfriend and my friends, everyone, to go and do me, and this is what you get from it. No matter what else I do in my life, no-one can take this (the Cage Warriors title) away from me.”
That, the pinnacle of Webb’s journey so far, was the fifth straight win of his career, all by stoppage. He’s 6-1 as a pro, with all six victories coming inside the distance – five submissions, Webb’s speciality, and one knockout.
Of his new status as champion of Europe’s biggest and best promotion, Webb laughed: “That’s very surreal still. My life hasn’t changed at all – I’m still doing the commute back and forth between here and Dublin, still living in the gym, but sometimes when I sit back and think about the achievement – world champion, Jesus – it takes me back, but I’m by no means stopping here.
“This is the start of a new journey, so I’m going to push on to further things and see where we go.”
Where he goes is almost certainly the UFC – his belt is essentially a golden ticket to the big show, with the likes of uberstar Conor McGregor and UFC hall-of-famer Michael Bisping blazing the same trail.
And Webb knows the lineage that he’s now a part of. “To me, Cage Warriors is the best show in Europe without a doubt, and this belt is the most prestigous belt in Europe,” he explained.
“If you look back at whatever shows you want to, Cage Warriors has produced some very big stars – I don’t know how many fighters they’ve sent to the UFC, but I want to say over 100, so you’re following in the footsteps of the greats.
“If I can go and do half of what Bisping’s done, that’s great – it would be amazing.”
He’s also making history as he fights – Webb’s the first-ever MMA world champion from the eastern region, and knows that his achievements, together with those of Suffolk’s Arnold Allen, who’s 5-0 in the UFC, will inspire others chasing their own fighting dream from this hotbed of talent.
“It’s nice to be leading the way, especially for the guys who are fighting April 13 on Jack’s show (Cage Warriors Academy South East at Charter Hall in Colchester),” Webb said.
“It just shows the level that this side of the country is at. Arnold’s in the UFC and put on a fantastic performance last weekend (at UFC London) but there’s nothing in the water here – it’s just hard-working guys.
“Me and Arnold had very different paths – he went over stateside – but we did a similar thing in that we both had that base here. The base is fantastic, and then you get away and try to perfect your craft.”
Next up for Webb will be his first title defence and, with Cage Warriors returning to Colchester for their second show on May 31, many fans would have hoped to see him fighting there.
Not just yet though – instead, Webb’s been called upon for the ‘Night of Champions’ at Cage Warriors 106 on June 29. The event, at the Hammersmith Apollo, will see five belts on the line, with Webb facing off against Nathias Frederick, a man who’s won seven straight fights.
And the Colchester history-maker sees a very clear path from there.
“Defend the belt, win – and I will win, I guarantee that – and then I’ll go to the UFC,” he said. “That’s what’s on my vision board.
“Whatever Cage Warriors have planned for me, they have planned for me, but they push guys to the UFC and I’m sure they have my best interests at heart.
“I’d like to defend it and then obviously I want to fight in the best leagues in the world and showcase my skillset.
“I can be world champion, again, in the UFC.”