Entering into a title fight at BTC 6 this weekend, James Clarke feels exciting fighters like himself can sell the flyweight division.
Saturday night, MMA action returns to the province of Ontario, Canada as BTC 6: Night of Champions will unfold in Burlington, about forty-five minutes south of Toronto. The card is awash with Canadian talent, and a couple of visiting Americans as well. Three title fights top the bill, and in a scrap for the vacant flyweight belt, James Clarke will take on fellow Canuck Dave Henry.
Clarke started his MMA run with a lengthy and successful amateur stint, and after hitting a speed bump early in his pro career, he has turned things around. With first round submission wins in his last two fights, he’s ready for his title shot, and spoke to Cageside Press earlier this week about how he got into the sport, the title fight Saturday, and bringing excitement to the 125lb division.
“I had a bit of a background in wrestling, high school wrestling. So that’s kind of where I got my base from,” Clarke told us about his introduction to mixed martial arts. “I kind of picked jiu-jitsu up right after high school, and went from there.”
He’s six years into his MMA run now, and like many fighters, credits wrestling as his way in. Of course, wrestling doesn’t have the profile in Canada that it does down south. But for Clarke, getting involved in the sport was “just the natural will to fight I guess. Wrestling was the closest thing they offered in high school to that.” Just without the kicks or punches.
He also recognized the fans that do appreciate the sport in Canada. “It’s not quite as big as it is in the States, but the diehard fans are into it the same. The States just has more people, so more fans.”
Clarke, from Lindsay, Ontario, began training with coach Joe Elliot in the town of Bethany. “That’s where Joe’s first gym started actually, it started in a Church.” Within a few months, the operation moved shop to a more permanent location in Lindsay. But Clarke has bounced around over the years, living as far as Winnipeg for a time, before returning home to Lindsay.
“I’ve always liked change,” he said about moving around a lot as a kid. “I’m comfortable where I’m at now though.” Having said that, he’s still racking up the air miles. “I actually went to Thailand the last three years in a row,” Clarke told us.
Saving money working roofing with his father, “I go to Thailand for the whole winter because I get the winter off usually. Not too many people are getting their roof’s done in January and February. So I go down to Tiger Muay Thai. I’ve done that for the last three years, this is the first year I haven’t. But I’ll probably go again next year.”
A positive experience, Clarke also recognized that the trip to Thailand takes some adjustment. “It’s just about being smart. Realizing that there is a culture shock,” he said. Then there’s the strain of travel. “I’ve been pretty content on getting fights as quick as I can as soon as I get back. As close as 11 days actually, out from getting off a plane back from Thailand. Actually in TKO. Let’s just say it didn’t always work to my advantage. No excuses or taking anything away from some of my opponents who beat me.”
There’s no such issues heading into BTC 6, however. Although the fight against Henry didn’t always have such high stakes.
“It wasn’t originally a title fight when it was offered to me,” Clarke revealed. “I said on the mic last time I won at BTC that if they had me back, I wanted to fight for the belt. So I actually just threw it out there when they offered Dave Henry, 4-2. I said ‘well, how bout for a belt?'”
BTC, said Clarke, took the night to think about it. Clarke accepted the fight regardless, but the promotion came back with a positive answer. The title fight was on. “They said they were happy to make it a title fight. I’m humbled and I’m honored that they think I’m good enough, and ready for a belt.”
“It’s been a bit of a long road. I had fifteen amateur MMA fights, went 13-2 actually,” he explained in regards to his journey to this point. “Lost my very first fight, then I won 12 in a row. I was looking to get tested a bit more, so I turned pro, and I definitely [was tested more]. It’s been a bit of a long road just in the pro scene as well. I’ve fought some tough guys, but no excuse, it made me a lot better fighter.”
He also had to clean up his act a little. “I used to smoke cigarettes, I cut that out actually after I got my ass kicked a couple times. I’ve become much more of a professional in my last couple of fights, for sure.”
Clarke has gone the distance twice so far in his pro career, but Saturday will be his first time in a five round fight. “I’m confident that I can go an extra two rounds, championship rounds, for a belt, no problem. I’m not looking to go the whole five rounds, but need be, I’ll do it. I’m ready to give every last thing I got in my body, and some.”
Opponent Dave Henry, he observed, is “a very nice guy actually, he seems to be probably the nicest guy I’ve fought as a pro. But that doesn’t win you fights. He does have a decent record, he’s no joke, on paper.”
Having scouted out his opponent, however, Clarke added that “I believe he’s not on my level.” While “records don’t mean everything,” he continued, “with my amateur career and pro career, I’ve been fighting the toughest guys inside Canada since I started this. And Dave hasn’t, that’s a fact on paper. It’s proven right on Tapology, anybody can go and research this.”
So as Clarke sees it, “he’s the one that’s going to be in there with me, I’m not going be the one in there with him. He’s not on my level, that’s for sure. It’s going to show Saturday night as soon as that bell rings.”
As to how the bout plays out, “we’re going to touch up, because respect is very important in this game. And as confident as I seem, I do respect Dave, because the whole game can change in a matter of a split second. We’ve both watched enough fights that you’re kind of a fool if you don’t realize as well.”
After the show of respect, however, “I’m going to open up with one or two strikes maybe, and then it’s going to go right to the mat.” Clarke has a specific arm-bar he has in mind, and may have an advantage, given his Henry has stated he doesn’t watch tape of his opponents. “I think it’s going to come on in the first thirty seconds, and if he doesn’t tap, I’m going to break his arm in the first minute.”
A quick finish in a title fight would certainly make a statement. The first battle, however, will be weight. Clarke’s walk-around weight “ranges, to be honest. I take it a little more serious now as far as dieting. That is definitely my weakest category in the fight game, is the dieting. I like my pizza.” Having said that, however, “in the last two weeks I always clean things up, I cut the bread out, the carbs and all that,” he added. “And then I just clean the diet up, and I usually get to about 138 to 135. Just over 10lbs usually, it’s not too bad of a cut.”
As an amateur, Clarke admitted he used to be “a lot more ignorant on the dieting part, I wouldn’t even try to diet, I would just cut the water weight. I cut as much as 18lbs actually, then fought four hours later.”
Despite the iffy future at flyweight, with the UFC chopping names left right and center, Clarke doesn’t plan on heading back to 135. His last loss was at bantamweight, and he’s been finding success at 125. “I don’t think that’s in my plans, bantamweight, anytime soon. It’s always nice to go into a fight without a weight cut and stuff, and not have to think about it, but it is almost part of the fight now for me.”
The fight before the fight, Clarke said, as many fighters do. “I would do it maybe down the road, but for the most part, I’m going to tighten things up at flyweight, and build a name again.” Fighting for titles is part of that. “It’s time to let everybody know who I am.”
Besides, he feels there’s still a future for young flyweights in the sport, even with the UFC scaling back and Bellator lacking the division entirely. “I’m not trying to talk too much sh*t, but I am trying to hype the train up. I’m a young fighter, I’m looking to express myself, I’m trying to give the fans something to buy,” Clarke stated. “I know that’s lacked in the UFC, they have cut the flyweights out a tremendous amount. It kills me. But in the same sense, guys like me are going to be the ones who bring [the flyweight division] back, and show everyone that they can be exciting fights. I’m not just talking sh*t, this is me, I want to sell everybody 100% on the Suplex Kid, I’m not looking to fake anything.”
The Suplex Kid will be in action this Saturday, June 1 as James Clarke faces Dave Henry for the vacant BTC flyweight championship. The action goes down at the Central Arena in Burlington, Ontario.