James Head
Nate Gomez

When not out in the oil fields, he is a contracted fighter for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, better known as the UFC.

“It’s busy. I really like it, it’s a mental challenge,” Head said of his work as an engineer. “Just like martial arts, there is so much to learn. It’s really unbelievable to think about, as the more I learn about martial arts and fighting, the more I realize what I don’t know about it — and that is what is so interesting.”

The 28-year-old Illinois native began training to fight in 2002 under the tutelage of boxer Ken Sparks, Jr, from whom Head learned mixed martial arts. or MMA, which mixes ju-jitsu with boxing and wrestling. His first professional match came four years later.

Head came close to a big break, nearly being cast on FX’s reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter. When he didn’t make the final cut, he resolved to make it in the UFC the hard way.

“There are only two ways to get in,” he said. “You either fight your way in or you win The Ultimate Fighter.”

He took the former route. Head caught the attention of the UFC front office in 2011 when he picked up a win over Gerald Harris, racking up a 7-1 record.

“Harris was 3-1 in the UFC with two ‘Knockout of the Night’ awards, so there was a lot of hype,” Head said. “Everybody was saying he was the best middleweight in the world that wasn’t with the UFC when we fought. That was the eye opener for the UFC brass because they were like, ‘Who is this kid?’”

The big time
Head subsequently signed a four-match contract with the UFC. But his journey began with a speed bump, losing his first match to Nick Ring by submission.

Rethinking his career
trajectory, Head met with a body composition doctor at the University of
Oklahoma and learned he could safely drop to 170 pounds and compete in
the welterweight division. Head worked to meet the new weight class.

is just eating clean and not eating complex carbohydrates and stuff
like measuring your food,” he said. “It has been a really cool process. I
like the science behind it. I feel great.”

went on to win his first two matches as a welterweight, improving his
UFC record to 2-1. He recently signed a new four-fight, 20-month

He said he’s
enjoying his new life in Oklahoma City. He especially loves rooting for
the OKC Thunder, which arrived in the city the same year as Head.

“It really reminds me of St.

and the Cardinals,” said Head, who went to college in Missouri. “When
baseball season is in town, it’s like the Cardinals are king. It’s like
that here. Those basketball players are rock stars. They are awesome.
They are so hungry, it’s contagious.”

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