UFC Lincoln: How working odd jobs helped James Vick become a contender

James Vick punches Joe Duffy at UFC 217. (Getty Images)

Days after graduating from Olney High School in Texas in 2005, James Vick started taking boxing lessons. It only took him two days to realize that all he wanted to do in life was to fight. 

Vick became a two-time Golden Gloves champion in the open division, but he knew he wanted to get into mixed martial arts. Figuring out how to get started wasn’t the problem; finding the right job so he could do the things necessary to become a top-caliber fighter proved to be the difficult part. 

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That was until he heard from a friend about going to school to become a medical assistant. Vick knew he didn’t want to get into the medical field, but he also knew it would provide an end to a mean.

“I did so many jobs and worked at so many places,” Vick, 31, told Sporting News ahead of his main-event lightweight bout against No. 7-ranked Justin Gaethje at Saturday’s UFC Lincoln (main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on  FS1). “I worked in the oil field, bounced in nightclubs, strip clubs and different bars. I’ve worked around 25 jobs in my life and worked 15 in the last seven years before I got into the UFC in 2013. I was born in a small country town with not many highly educated people.

“I went to medical assistant’s school and this might sound dumb, but I didn’t know another way that I could start training and fighting more without damaging my body. I was beating my body up in the oil fields and I was trying to train on top of that and I ended up having to have shoulder surgery just four or five months after I started boxing.

“I kept having all these problems. I just wanted to be a fighter but my body just wasn’t holding up. I was trying to find a way to do both and not put so much physical damage on my body. I really didn’t know about any other opportunities being from a small town with 3,500 people in it. I saw something about being a medical assistant. I knew I could do that and not put any physical toll on my body at work and I can graduate in nine months. I did it and, obviously, it didn’t work out, but it provided me a way to not damage my body any longer.”

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The 10th-ranked Vick (13-1) has made the most of his opportunity and is now considered one of the most exciting fighters in the division. He is 9-1 in the UFC with five of those victories coming by stoppage.

Despite those accomplishments, Vick is just now competing in his first main-event tilt, and that is only because Gaethje’s original opponent, Al Iaquinta, pulled out. While he’s thankful for the chance, “The Texecutioner” cannot figure out why it took so long for the UFC to provide it.

“Honestly, I don’t have any idea,” Vick said. “I don’t understand why I haven’t been promoted before. Maybe it’s something in my personality the UFC doesn’t like. I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and cry over spilled milk anymore because things are finally going the way I want them to. I’m not a boring fighter. I’m a striker and had several highlight-reel knockout submissions. I’m clean-cut and decently spoken. I’m not going to complain about it because I’m finally getting an opportunity to show what I can do.” 

As he heads into the highest-profile bout of his career, Vick cannot get out of his head the one pre-UFC job he loved the most, because it reminds him of Gaethje’s in-your-face style.

“As dumb as this sounds (laughs), [it was] being a bouncer because I kind of got to do what I’m doing now,” Vick said. “I was always in the action and I love fighting and being in the middle of things. I didn’t mind the confrontation. I get more excited than I get scared of it. Being a bouncer was fun because I basically got to deal with bullies and put them in their place.”

“I’m going to knock (Gaethje) out. With the way he fights, he will not be able to handle the punishment I will deliver to him. He has no defense and gets hit way too much. One of (those punches) will get through. I’m going to brawl with him at times. My skill set is better than his and I will win this fight.”