Johnny James grew up loving hockey. He started playing at just 4 years old and dreamed of one day playing professionally. The son of a single mother, James was unfortunately forced into retirement at 15 years old due to financial restraints. With hockey in his rearview mirror, James had to find a new sport to quench his athletic desires. As far as pure athletes go, he was at the top of the food chain and his size and explosiveness seemed tailor made for a transition to football, but football just didn’t feel right to him. Eventually he found track and learned that life outside of team sports was something he might excel in.
“I started doing track and just really feel in love with it because it was an individual sport and for once I didn’t have to rely on anyone else.”
As high school was nearing an end, James, the lifetime latchkey kid, was in danger of not graduating. He knew he needed to push himself to finish school so he joined the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program (OYCP), a boot camp style program that suddenly gave him the foundation he’d been missing since his days on the ice. James finished the program, graduated high school and like so many athletes before him he was feeling the void. He was missing competition and he longed for a new challenge. The dream of being a professional athlete never died for James; he just needed to find something new.
“My mom had a friend who did boxing or MMA, something like that…he mentioned he trained at Rose City (Fight Club)…I went into Rose City and they were sparing. I talked to this guy, Ryan Lowe, I watched them spar, asked how much it would cost. I happened to have just enough to start. Two weeks later I was at the gym and within 6 months I had my first fight.”
As James began his journey as a martial artist, he was making strides and falling in love with something new. It wasn’t just a replacement for hockey like the other things that had come before it. As he put it, “This was something new I found that I loved in a different way.”
Like so many of the top fighters in Oregon, James now trains with Gracie Barra Portland. He leans heavily on the tight nit familial feel of the battle-tested team. Having spent time at other gyms, James never felt the support and connection like he does with his professors at Gracie Barra.
“The professors here are some of the nicest people I have ever met…Professor Warren (Brooks) and Professor Andrew (Marshall) sit down and they talk with me and help me get better. Just the other day I was rolling with Professor Warren and he stopped me and said, ‘When you roll with me, if you give less than 100% it’s disrespect.’ Just the way he was able to express that to me, (I can tell) he really cares. He really wants to see me get better.”
Johnny James has slowly built himself into one of the more exciting prospects in the Pacific Northwest. If you don’t know about him just yet, don’t feel out of the loop. He’s still an amateur and at only 22 years old, is beginning to find his footing as he prepares for his jump to the pros. With each passing fight, James appears more fluid and considerably more confident in the cage. His work with striking coach Ian Loveland has helped grow his confidence and seeing what is happening around him only makes him hungrier.
“There are big things happening for this gym and working with these guys gets me motivated.”
As James prepares for his fight at Prime Fighting 10 on September 30th at the Clark County Event Center, his focus seems renewed and his confidence is at an all-time high. When asked how he sees this fight ending, he said, “I see myself hitting him with something he doesn’t see coming. There will definitely be a head kick in this one.” Coming off of back-to-back wins, it would seem that Johnny James is a win or two away from realizing his dream of becoming a professional athlete. The only thing is, it will be in a cage instead of on the ice.