James Vick is still pretty fired up.
Vick and his UFC Lincoln main event opponent Justin Gaethje threw down verbally at the UFC 25th Anniversary press conference on Aug. 3 in Los Angeles. Gaethje flaunted his main events, his bonuses, and his paychecks, which caused Vick to unload on the former World Series of Fighting champion, denigrating his level of competition and referring to Gaethje as “The Homer Simpson of MMA.”
All of that, though, as well as heated exchanges between Israel Adesanya and Derek Brunson, got overshadowed by the announcement of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor at the end of the event, as well as Nate Diaz storming out of the presser when the UFC 229 main event was announced.
But Vick, as he prepares for his first UFC headlining gig, still believes every word of what he said at the press conference.
“I just called it like I saw it,” Vick told MMA Fighting. “This is a guy who, yeah, he’s tough. Really tough guy. But everyone here in the UFC is tough. And while I was out there beating UFC-caliber competition and earning my keep the hard way, he was out there fighting one can after another and rolling over them.”
And that’s why the lightweight contender is standing by his words: He feels he’s earned it. The way Vick sees it, when he first started off in the UFC, winning five straight fights coming off The Ultimate Fighter, his record was a bit ahead of his skill set, so you didn’t hear brash words coming out of his mouth.
“I’m not going to talk trash just to get attention,” Vick said. “Back when I was coming up, yeah, I could have mouthed off, but I knew I still had a lot of work to do. Maybe it works for some people to just run their mouths to get attention, but I didn’t want to say what I couldn’t back up, because that would come off fake.”
The Texas native is 9-1 in the UFC, he’s won four in a row against a steadily increasing caliber of competition, and with that success comes the confidence to back up his words.
“If people believed in what I said at the press conference, that’s because I believed in what I said,” Vick said. “I’ve worked for this. I believe I can handle myself against anyone in the division. I know the fighter I’ve become, and I’m not afraid to express my faith in my abilities.”
Vick didn’t necessarily show up in Los Angeles looking to get into a verbal brawl with Gaethje, but Vick believes Geathje made things personal first, so that’s why he went there.
“I was keeping it to the fight, and then he started mouthing off,” Vick said. “So that’s when I called him the Homer Simpson of MMA, because it’s true. Look at the episode where Homer was boxing and kept taking a beating and still kept saying stupid things. That’s Justin Gaethje.”
For all the talk about Gaethje’s deficiencies as a brawler who has perhaps maxed out as a competitor, Vick isn’t going to look past his foe. It’s taken Vick 11 fights to reach his first UFC main event, and he didn’t get this far just to take things for granted. Gaethje still hits like a truck and it only takes one shot to change the fight.
“I’ve had to work my ass off for this,” Vick said. “I’m realistic about this. This could be the first of a whole career of UFC main events or it could be my one-and-done. I’d be a fool if I pretended like Justin can’t hit hard. I know what he can do, but I’ve also seen what Eddie (Alvarez) and Dustin (Poirier) did to him and I’m not going to be intimidated. Everyone here is tough.”
Some have speculated as to whether Gaethje, who has a wrestling background, might finally drop his “brawling for dollars” approach and go with a more all-around game. Vick says he hopes that’s the case.
“I hope he tries that,” Vick said. “He’s got a limited gas tank in the first place and if he tries to take it to the ground, that’s only going to empty his gas tank quicker. I’m better than him in every aspect and I’m going to show it.”