How Daniel James went from struggling overseas to Bellator 293 headliner

Daniel James was in his own head.

It was 2019, he was overseas, and he simply wasn’t fighting up to his standard in his first two years with Russia-based promotion ACA. The result was two losses – both decisions – in three fights in his first two years with ACA. Then he flipped a switch and won his next three fights in a row, all finishes.

Looking back now, James, 41, realizes how he was able to put things into focus.

“It was all mental,” James told MMA Junkie Radio. “I still had that lingering on my shoulder. I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder. I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m over here in Europe fighting. I could be in the U.S. making some moves.’ But you know what? ‘Let me start worrying about what’s in front of me, and let me take this fan base over here by storm.’ Which is what I did. Getting standing ovations from Poland and Russia, that’s hard. When I started to focus on what was in front of me, and I said, ‘The only way I’m gonna win over here is just basically if I beat the guy up and destroy him and finish him.’

“So that’s what I did, and that’s what got me back over into the USA. I’m happy for that.”

Even this late in his career, James’ performances caught the attention of Bellator, which gave him a shot. In his first fight with the promotion since his 2014 professional debut, James stymied highly touted heavyweight Tyrell Fortune before finishing him with vicious ground-and-pound early in the second round of their bout last November at Bellator 288.

That result was a statement and a big deal for James (14-6-1 MMA, 2-0 BMMA), who was rewarded with his first headlining spot against Marcelo Golm next Friday at Bellator 293 in Temecula, Calif. It’s an opportunity that James relishes after paying his dues.

And he has every intention to make the most of it.

“Expect to see a guy get in the cage that’s coming out to do his job and do what he does in amazing fashion,” James said. “Just understand that my presence will be felt when I walk into the arena, walk into the hotel, walk into the cage. They’re gonna feel my presence. And I want to let that presence be known when I finish the fight.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 293.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie