James McErlean: "Shay hasn't fought anybody with the heart I have" - Bellator 173

James McErlean: "Shay hasn't fought anybody with the heart I have" - Bellator 173

On Friday night in Belfast one of Irish MMA's breakout stars last year, James McErlean (7-3), will make his well deserved Bellator MMA debut.

2016 saw McErlean wrack up four straight wins (three stoppages) against tough opposition. Now at Bellator 173 he faces Shay Walsh (14-4) in what is the biggest fight of his young and promising career.

Ahead of this fight we spoke with him about last year, making his Bellator debut, Shay Walsh, his plans going forward and more.

*title image via James' Facebook page

Combat Gear: Talk about last year. 4-0 against tough opposition. How do you feel looking back on 2016?
James McErlean: Last year I went 4-0 against top opposition. I was coming off 3 losses so having my first fight in 2016 was more of a mental challenge than anything but I got the win and that got the ball moving. I moved up to lightweight and got the win over Dec Larkin in the first round via armbar. Then had my first fight away from home against undefeated Daryl Golding, who I also finished in the first round, and then 4 weeks later I took a fight against a tough Sam Spencer. He put me on the back foot and made me dig deep for the win and I sunk the rear naked choke on him in the second round. So yeah 2016 was a successful year for me.
CG: Did you change anything, in terms of preparing for fights, last year? How do you explain the good run.

JM: I changed gym to EFR at the end on 2015 and starting training under David Patterson. The things I have learned since starting is unbelievable and I'm always learning more and more with him. The knowledge he knows is scary. I also started travelling to Belfast for boxing with Donard McNally, who has changed my overall striking and movement since I started. Wrestling was always my downfall so I started working with Pat McAlister who has thought me so many things since starting.

In the past I never really done any strength and conditioning so I started with Mark Shields at Shields Strength & Conditioning and the improvements it has made in my game is massive.

Overall I put my successful year down to all these people and without them I wouldn't of achieved what I did.

CG: How do you feel you've grown as a fighter over the past 3/4 years since turning pro.

JM: Since I've started pro 4 years ago I've had many ups and downs, but last year was my year and has gave me the belief that I can go all the way with all the improvements I've made.

CG: What were your first thoughts when you heard of Bellator's interest in you?

JM: When I heard that Bellator was interested in giving me a fight at first I thought it was a joke. Since starting I've dreamt of this and now it's reality. It's the most excited and determined I've been and I really can't wait to get in there and show what I can do.

CG: Give me your thoughts on Shay Walsh as a fighter and were there any hesitations in accepting this fight?

JM: Shay Walsh is a tough fighter. He is very well rounded and is a former BAMMA champion, but once I was offered him I said 'yes' straight away without hesitation. I know with the team I have and the work I put in that I will have my hand raised come the 24th.

CG: What sort of fight are you expecting?

JM: This will be my toughest fight yet there is no doubt about it. But Shay hasn't fought anybody with the heart I have, hasn't fought anybody as tough as me and I know I will shock him on the 24th

CG: Competing for Bellator at the SSE Arena (formerly the Odyssey) must be a big deal for you. Will there be any pressure?

JM: Fighting on stages like this is a honour. The UFC has been there and now I'll be there fighting under Bellator. So yes, I'm very excited but once that cage door is shut it will all be blanked out so it's not going to affect my nerves in any way.

CG: What sort of reception are you expecting? Will you have a lot of family, friends etc in attendance and will this help you for this fight having them there to cheer you on?

JM: Last time I fought at home was in June last year and everybody since has been looking for me to fight at home again and now we have a massive fight like this. There will be loads of support for me which I'm grateful for.

CG: What plans have you got for Bellator. Many would be happy to just fight for the promotion, what are you aiming to achieve.

JM: My plan is to keep fighting under Bellator. I want on the London card so I'll be going out to make a statement.

CG: Finally, any predictions?

JM: I am confident that I'll finish the fight within the distance.

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