Think your favorite fighter is fan-friendly? If so, what you’re about to read might make you sick.
"I was ill at a fight, but I kept it a secret...I managed to win, but I was totally ill after. I was signing autographs, and my manager came over and looked and me. He was like, ‘Do you need to go to the toilet?’ Then the medics came up. I said, ‘I need a trash can, now.’ I ran into the bathroom, barely made it into the cubicle before I sprayed everywhere. It was like The Exorcist. I felt bad for the cleaning people.
"But I went back to keep signing after, taking more photos. I was prepared to puke all over those kids to sign for them.”
That’s James Brum talking. Or just Brum, if you know him a little bit, which it seems plenty of people do. The 26-year-old Brit (14-2), who once aspired to be a pro wrestler, might be the most popular fighter in the U.K.'s Cage Warriors promotion.
"Job Done" Brum might also be the best bantamweight on the European circuit, and he has a chance to bolster both cases Saturday when he faces Brett Johns for the Cage Warriors belt at CWFC 67.
To hear Brum tell it, Johns is just keeping the gold warm for him. Johns stormed out of relative obscurity in September to capture the vacant belt after a grueling one-night, four-man tournament.
An impressive feat, certainly. But Brum isn't blinking, and he's ready for his own shot. The two were supposed to do the deed in December, but the contest was pushed to April after a Johns injury.
Following that late-notice withdrawal, Brum plowed ahead, taking a fight with Marat Pekov despite the risk of losing his place in the contenders' line. Luckily for him, he won that fight. It moved him to 7-0 in Cage Warriors, and all in the past two years.
“I should've had the belt before Christmas,” Brum said in an interview with Bleacher Report while on the road to Swansea, Wales for the event. “Unfortunately, he got injured. Most people would go inactive and wait for an opportunity, but I wanted to fight.”
But if Brum is the best bantamweight in Europe, as he claims, why didn’t he win the tournament in the first place? He can explain that one. See, he wasn't actually in the tournament, having relinquished his spot to his Portsmouth, England-based Gym01 teammate James Pennington.
Seven months later, he stops short of calling the move a mistake, but it doesn’t exactly read as a crowning moment. (Pennington bowed out of the tournament because of an injury following a semifinal victory.)
“I gave up my spot in the tournament to Pennington,” Brum said. “I wanted to speed up his career, so we would have two top guys in our gym. He would’ve done the same for me.”
But all that’s behind him now, and Brum feels ready for Saturday, thanks in large part to some recent personal sacrifice. The London-born fighter broke his own bank accounts to set up camp with Team Alpha Male, the California hotbed of lighter-weight fighters king-pinned by perennial contender Urijah Faber. In particular, Brum name-checked UFC 135ers Chris Holdsworth and T.J. Dillashaw for offering valuable (and, at times, humbling) training experience.
“They all made me feel welcome, but you’re not the top dog when you go to a new camp, and they all want to test you,” Brum said. “You’re fresh meat. They’re not playing it safe, and they put it on you to see if you’re worthy. I earned their respect, and they saw I was a good training partner.”
As far as Brum's fighting style, think Clay Guida: high energy, nearly endless cardio, a solid build, hard to finish and a willingness to brawl, all combined with a grinding, sometimes clinch-heavy approach.
Brum takes the Guida comparison as a compliment, but isn’t so sure about the grinder part.
“To me, being a grinder is a little negative. It means you draw out fights, and that’s never my intention,” Brum said. “I want to get back to knockouts and TKOs. That’s probably one of the biggest drawbacks on my record. I have a massive gas tank, lots of intensity. People have to know they’re in a war with me.”
Also like Guida, Brum is a bit of a born self-promoter. He found MMA after a dalliance with pro wrestling but held onto the showman's ethos of the latter even after his transition. It's the kind of ethos that led to him nearly losing his lunch on a group of autograph seekers following a win over Olivier Pastor last May (he suspects food poisoning was the culprit).
If there's another picture to take, another something to sign, Brum's going to stay and do it.
“Fans seem to like me,” Brum said. “I’m always dying my beard, stupid stuff like that. I’m always making an effort with the crowd. I'm always trying to hype my fight, get people interested.”
If Brum can get the strap on Saturday, he’ll be more than a favorite among fans. He could be a favorite on the international stage, possibly following in the footsteps of Michael Bisping, Conor McGregor and other Cage Warriors alumni who made the big leap to the UFC.
And that would be good for Brum; autographs don't pay the bills.
“At some point, I’d like to have some savings. I’d like to look after my parents,” he said. “I’m broke right now. All my credit cards get declined. If you really want to do this, to be a fighter, you really have to love the fighting.”
The Beaten Path is a regular series highlighting MMA's top prospects. For the previous interview in the series, click here. Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.