Retired Fighter and Professional Coach James Meals Provides His Insight on the Evolution of MMA

Retired Fighter and Professional Coach James Meals Provides His Insight on the Evolution of MMA

Over the past few decades, combat sports have seen a rise to fame quite unlike any other sport. While boxing prizefighting series have been taking place for decades now, the UFC has instead taken center stage in recent years as the UFC has grown astronomically in value and mixed martial arts’ have become increasingly popular. While its opponents view the sport as especially brutal, the demand for other combat sports such as MMA is abundant and evident. Subsequently, that means an entire roster of professionals: fighters, coaches. trainers, a myriad of other supporting staff and so much more. Recently, we had the opportunity of interviewing one of those special individuals: the retired MMA fighter and current trainer James “Mad Dog” Meals.

Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona after moving there from Ohio during his adolescence, James Meals began his amateur career in combat sports at a young age during a time when the sport hadn’t really evolved in the way it has today. He was a big fan of Tito Ortiz and Frank Shamrock growing up and “started martial arts as a kid to get off the streets really, I grew up in a not so nice area and my parents wanted to keep me busy so they put me in Martial Arts… I was about 14 when I started competing myself and stopped competing at 27…My love is Muay Thai but I also have a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu.” When pushed to expand on the process it took him to achieve any level of success at the professional level, he began to expand much deeper into the evolution of combat sports: “ There's a longer process now than there was before because the sport has evolved quite a bit, they do so much more training than before. You used to be able to come into the sport and be really good at one thing and go really far, but now you need to be good at everything.” He also noted the more recent amataeur leagues that have developed which only further highlights the supply of quality talent and demand to see their fights and the overall impact this has upon entities such as the UFC. For those same reasons, he is excited about the future of combat sports.


Meals officially kicked off his professional MMA career on April 28th, 2001 in a Welterweight bout against Shawn Upshur, fighting out of the Carbajal's 9th Street Gym owned by esteemed boxing prizefighter Michael Carbajal. In his six professional wins he posted an impressive 83% TKO rate, likely part of the reason his nickname is “Mad Dog,’ but ultimately elected to hang up his gloves in a February 2011 following a win against Trevor Suter when he “realized that coaching was kind of more of my calling in life.” He was quick to cite the greatest mistake of his career seemingly when he added that he “never took anyone's advice … and took fights on a few days notice… just because they needed ]someone] and I enjoyed fighting.” After multiple decades in combat spots he was ready to make a transition to coaching and was ready to instill what he learned unto others, and he knew exactly what to tell his fighters: “Be smart about it, there's a strategy to it,” he told them, “especially if you want to make a successful career out of it.” He continues to watch the sport evolve everyday, and when asked about potential upcoming fighters in telling them to “build a foundation. Don’t try to train everything together… Get good at Muay Thai separately. Get good at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu separately. … then you can put it together.” The progression he has mentally forged himself seems to be suiting him incredibly well in his transitional process.

I asked Coach Meals if he prefers being a fighter or a coach more since he made the transition so effortlessly and he while was adamant that he loves coaching because he believes “he can coach guys well beyond what [he] could’ve ever achieved,” but was also quick to admit that he he still has “the dog inside of him” that pushes him to strive for success in fighting as well as everything else he does. But ultimately, as a coach, he now gets to train fighters at the highest levels and through helping them achieve success and knowing that he played an integral role in helping them do so, ‘[getting] and [helping] people achieve stuff greater than” himself. He admits that internal struggle made it difficult for him, but he clearly has already found his way in the realm of coaching. He opened up his first gym while still professionally fighting in 2005, but more recently has been celebrating his latest facility Driven Gym which just opened in the past few years and includes classes in all of the aforementioned specialties and many others including dance even. When asked why the name Driven, he kept it simple: “it’s a good word.. A driven man can’t be stopped… whether they’re a trainer, an everyday joe.”


It's safe to say, if anybody has earned the right to be involved in MMA and combat sports it's James Meals. He has watched the sport evolve tremendously over the past few decades and will continue to watch it do so, and he will likely continue to adapt as he already has time and time again throughout his career. He does see MMA going a different direction though most however, “I don’t think that the UFC is the biggest anymore… Now we got shows like One FC and they’re growing a lot, and Bellator’s doing really well… the sport is evolving so much, and it's so good to see other shows competing with the UFC.” Regardless, it's safe to say he is optimistic, looking forward to the future he and his family have forged for themselves together. “All comes full circle… it's the relationships, helping people achieve their goals…” he said, highlighting the importance of the gyms he has founded thus far in spreading his positivity while continuing to grow. When asked what he remembered for, he simply said “giving my whole heart” and brought our conversation to an end.

You can find all of your fighting needs at @drivegym via Instagram.


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