UFC 120: Hathaway In No Hurry, Looking To Climb Ladder

In many ways, UFC fighter John Hathaway’s story so far is one of contradictions.

An unbeaten professional mixed martial artist who has previously served a rugby union apprenticeship in the ultra-competitive youth academy at Harlequins – one of Britain’s most famous and historic clubs – most vividly remembered for a vicious knee to Diego Sanchez’s chin in his last fight. It would be easy to assume the welterweight has aggression in his DNA.

Similarly, he trains out of the London Shootfighters camp in west London whose most notorious alumni are Lee Murray and Alex Reid. They are arguably the two biggest household names in UK mixed martial arts, but unfortunately as a result of participation in a multi-million pound bank robbery (Murray) and being a cross-dressing, Big Brother reality television winner married to the nation’s most iconic glamour model (Reid). Surely Hathaway would share at least a few personality traits with those he is so quick to share mat space with at the gym.

However, within minutes of meeting the talented prospect, it is clear that not even the unrelenting Zuffa hype machine is unlikely to turn Hathaway into a role model for fans whose tattoo designs would interweave perfectly with the skulls and chains on their shirts.

The 23-year-old is a product of a middle class upbringing in Brighton – a liberal town in southern England who recently elected the first ever Green Party member (known for their environmentally friendly agenda) to the houses of parliament. The average teenager from the region would be more likely to use a cage as part of an art installation than fight in one. Softly spoken, Hathway seems almost apologetic for his inability to be a soundbite-driven interviewee.

“I’m just trying to take it in my stride really and get used to it. Hopefully I get better and better at it,” he said, of the increasing press attention.

“Nobody has given me any advice. I’m sure I’ll speak to (Michael) Bisping and (Dan) Hardy as they’ve done a lot more media stuff. They’re the guys who are leading the scene in UK MMA so they’re definitely people I look up to and respect a lot.”

While Hathaway enjoyed an international coming out party in Las Vegas in May with his decision victory over Sanchez, a victory over Mike Pyle on Saturday night would catapult his image into the consciousness of UFC fans much closer to home.

Of course, it is not obligatory to be gossip magazine fodder to train at London Shootfighters and he gives them most of the credit for his success so far, including the gameplan which proved so successful against Sanchez.

Despite cast aside a Saulo Ribiero student only five months ago, Hathaway believes the 28-fight veteran he will stand opposite this weekend will provide a sterner examination of his grappling abilities.

“He’s incredibly dangerous. He’s been fighting for 12-13 years now and I genuinely think it will be a great win to have on my record, but I’ve got to be very careful,” he said, of Pyle.

“He’s dangerous and has finished 17 of his 20 wins by submission, so it’s just about being disciplined in there.”

Is he a better submission fighter than Sanchez? “I believe so. They may be quite even on submission skills, but Mike uses his a lot more and that has shown from the way he’s won his fights.”

Despite the evident respect, Hathaway insists he will not shy away from showing off his uncharacteristically strong wrestling skills for a British fighter and take the fight to the ground.

“I think wrestling is a great skill to have whether you want to keep it standing or go for takedowns. Takedowns win rounds as well a lot of the time and it can be what sways a judge’s opinion on a round. It can also be something you set up a lot of ground and pound from so it’s definitely something I’ll use in every fight.”

The negative stereotype of a British fighter on the international scene has always been of someone with porous defensive wrestling, who is probably also fighting a weight class too high with the notion of weight cutting not yet ingrained in the nation’s psyche. However now, instead of stepping onto a rugby pitch this Saturday, Hathaway enters the cage as the new-age prototype for aspiring UK mixed martial artists to follow.

“I’m in no rush to get to the top,” he insists. “I just want to keep climbing the ladder. I’ve got so much to learn in the sport and I’m still finding my feet and finding my style.

“I’ve got a lot to improve on, so I’m just looking forward to having a future in this sport and in this weight category.”

Of course, Hathaway’s story is only just beginning, but it is one a lot more people in home country will be keen to hear should he advance to 15-0 on Saturday.

Perhaps his reluctance to tell it is the only typically British thing about him.