A little more than a year ago, Jason Young upset highly-rated Lithuanian sambo specialist Sergej Grecicho on the stage of a music venue in North London. Now refocused, reenergised and rebuilt by the trainers at American Top Team – he says he is ready to cause a shock on an international scale.
The 25-year-old from South East London is honest enough to admit that when his manager received the call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva earlier this year, it came as a surprise. Not because he felt he wasn’t deserving of an opportunity, but because he didn’t know he was even on the radar of the higher-ups at Zuffa.
The turning point came in April this year on the first ever MMA card to be held in Ontario, Canada – three weeks before Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields went at it in the main event of UFC 129 in the Rogers Centre.
Young caught the eye of a UFC scout with a unanimous decision victory over local favorite and instructor at the Toronto BJJ academy, Jorge Britto. While the victory was an impressive notch on his record it was the swagger he displayed which made people take notice. After showing off an arsenal of head kicks, submission attempts and spinning back fists he was shortly offered a shot at the major leagues.
“I didn’t think at that moment in time I had done enough to get there and now I’m here and being around all these great fighters and these names,” said the featherweight, whose professional record moved to 8-3 with the win over Britto.
“My mentality when I was fighting on the UK and European scene was that I wanted to fight the best. I don’t want to fight someone who’s just got a record. If someone was the best in the country then I wanted to fight them. That’s how my mentality is. If I do something I want to do it properly and that’s how I got here I suppose.
“I’m an exciting fighter who always comes out to bring the fight and the guys I’ve fought – even though my record isn’t great by UFC standards – I’ve beaten guys who are like 19-4 and who were on eight or nine-fight winning streaks. I think it’s just my mentality. If I want something so much I get it.”
His bravado is backed up when you look at his record and see victories over the grizzled veterans of the British scene such as Abdul Mohamed and Francis Heagney, while defeats have come against the likes of Liverpudlian twister Paul Sass, who is now 12-0 and 2-0 in the UFC after submitting TUF 12 finalist Michael Johnson last month.
After a decision loss to Dustin Poirier – who will take on Pablo Garza next weekend – in his UFC debut, Young made a commitment to becoming the best mixed martial artist he could be. A spell at Adrenaline MMA in Ontario was followed by a lengthy stay at American Top Team in Florida.
“I’m around people I used to watch on television like Mike Brown, the former WEC champion, training with him and talking to him as a friend,” he said.
“I’ve been watching people like Yves Edwards since before I started training and know he’s coming to me and saying ‘I’m so excited to watch you fight’. Man, this is Yves Edwards saying it to me? It’s really surreal.”
Standing in his way now is Michihiro Omigawa, whose career has followed a similar path. Having also started out in a heavier weight class, the judo specialist’s record of 12-10-1 a reflection of the quality of opposition he has met along the way. The Japanese fighter is able to boast wins over the likes of Hatsu Hioki, Nam Phan and Marlon Sandro, but has lost all four of his fights inside the UFC cage.
Young was in attendance at Wembley in December 2005 when JZ Calvancante stopped Omigawa in under a minute at Cage Rage 14 and believes his opponent’s return to British shorts will prove equally fruitless.
“He’s got really good boxing and is a black belt in judo, but I think I’m bigger than him for the weight,” he said. “I’m taller than him. I’ve got a longer reach. I think I’ve got the crisper striking.
“I’ve been down with American Top Team doing wrestling and jiu-jitsu every day for the past eight weeks. I roll with black belts every day. Every person I turn to is sick on the ground.
“I can’t see him man-handling me because I used to fight at a heavier weight and I was never thrown around at that weight. I wrestle with people such as Gleison Tibau – one of the biggest lightweights in the world. When someone like that is on you, compared to someone the size of Omigawa, I think I am more than ready.
“This is a totally new fighter. Hopefully you’re going to see a fighter you haven’t seen before.”
For a fighter whose career started in a crowded nightclub in East London, Saturday night in Birmingham – following various stop-offs in North America – will be a true test of how far he has come.