The word elicits a few common reactions from people. Some may think of the popular film starring action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on an alien hunter in the middle of the jungle. Others will think of an animal like a lion, creeping through the tall grass as it hunts down some unfortunate gazelles. However, the word has a much deeper meaning for Daniel James, who uses it as his nickname.
Growing up in Chicago, James faced hardships few of us could imagine. Chicago’s reputation for violence and drugs came from the same neighborhoods that James resided in. His life could’ve been a story we’ve sadly become all too familiar with. He could have been gunned down. He could have started running with the wrong crowd and faced extended time behind bars. James was lucky, though. He was able to avoid the road filled with violence and an uncertain future.
“My uncle always called me ‘The Predator’ because of the dreads, but he also said because he noticed I’m always hustling in life,” James told Combat Press. “I’ve overcome a lot of adversity in my life. I try to capitalize on things that were negative and make it into a positive. I was able to dodge the bad situations growing up in a city that has a lot of violence, because I was an athlete and in sports. So, when they say, ‘Daniel, The Predator,’ it means a lot, because I know the story behind it.
“It’s about overcoming everything I’ve been through and seen. If you’ve seen what I and what most of the people growing up around me have, you know you have to come up with something. You have to be a predator around here. You have to be the predator or the prey. I chose to be the dominant person — not physically, but mentally.”
This knack for putting a positive spin on things has become a central point of James’ MMA career. It may sound silly coming from a fighter, but James is against the use of violence to settle disputes.
“Yeah, most definitely I’m big into that,” James said. “I don’t agree with a lot of what I see on the streets. I think it’s on people in the spotlight — professional athletes who’ve made it and are successful — to provide a positive image. I want people to grow with me and stay positive all the time.”
Of course, the heavyweight loves a good scrap in the cage. However, it’s important to note the mission James is attempting to accomplish beyond simply becoming one of the best heavyweights in MMA.
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Chief among those people James is looking to influence the most are kids. With the stark reality of unstable households and troubled streets, it’s no wonder why kids fall into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. Their main influence comes from celebrities that seem to embrace that lifestyle at every turn, but James aims to provide an alternative way to succeed in life.
“I’m all about having kids find out about other ways to do things besides being on the street corner,” James said. “I think if kids got involved in martial arts, it would change their perspective on everything. I think they’d become better students in school and better kids to their parents, because you learn about respect in martial arts. You have to respect the art before you do anything else.”
Competitive sports and an interest in martial arts led James to where he is now. He sports a 6-2-1 record as he heads into the biggest fight of his life against Daniel Gallemore at Victory Fighting Championship 57 on May 5.
“It’s a big opportunity,” James said of the title fight. “I’ve been waiting on a big opportunity like this. My manager texted me at 7 a.m., saying, ‘We have a title fight. Let’s get ready.’ I asked who it was for and he said Victory. I said, that’s what’s up.”
The fight figures to be a showcase of two of the better heavyweights across the regional circuit. Both share similar measurables and have shown a knack for finishing fights.
“Every heavyweight is strong,” James said. “The heavyweight game is about keeping your hands up and who can stand the longest. If you don’t keep your hands up, you’re going to fall. If you get hit, you react or you fall. I’m going forward, biting down and moving forward. He’s 6-foot-5, 265 pounds — a mirror image of me. This is the type of fight people want to see.”
The opportunity doesn’t come without a few drawbacks. James was only recently announced as Gallemore’s opponent after the Chicago native jumped in as an injury replacement. James usually weighs in near the top of the heavyweight limit, so it’s not a stretch to be concerned about James losing the battle with the scale.
However, James isn’t what people would consider your average heavyweight. Whereas some guys tend to find ways to stay out of the gym in between fights, James has remained active throughout his career. From training at the Midwest Training Center, the same gym that produced UFC star Clay Guida, to traveling to work with some of the best heavyweights in MMA at American Top Team, James has embraced the grind of the MMA lifestyle.
“I’ve been training and staying active,” James said. “I’m good. I’m at weight. I’m mentally [and] physically fit. I’m ready. I’ve been busting my ass and I won’t stop in there.”
His willingness to stay in the gym on a regular basis between fights is a major reason for his continued success. As James explained, the heavyweight game has so little margin for error with such large human beings throwing heavy leather. It might not be a team sport, but James can’t take all the credit for continually having his hand raised.
“My team,” James said when asked what’s been a key to his success. “Having my team around me and being a motivator to myself. Every time I wake up, I tell myself in the mirror, ‘It’s showtime. It’s another day, another hustle. Let’s get the ball rolling.’”
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James will attempt to unseat the current VFC heavyweight champion on May 5. Fans can see all the action on the UFC’s Fight Pass app.