James Head considers himself a small-town Midwesterner. The UFC
welterweight grew up in Highland, Illinois, population 9,919. He
attended college in Rolla, Missouri, population 19,789. He
currently lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, population 81,405. At age 29,
he finally visited New York City, but only because his most recent
matchup – scheduled for nearby Newark, New Jersey – fell through on
fight day and he was left with nothing else to do. While he admits
to enjoying the big city’s landmarks, he didn’t exactly love
“We were joking around on the subway thinking, ‘Man, I
wish someone tries to jump me today,’” he said,
recalling his frustration about his canceled fight and unplanned
His attachment to his way of life is deep enough that when
things were thrown into chaos by the deadly May tornado that hit
nearby Moore, Oklahoma, he was struck by the desire to help. In the
immediate aftermath, there was little he could do. The emergency
response was so swift and far-reaching, well-meaning volunteers
with no affiliation to assistance organizations were told to stay
About a month later, he finally got his first look at the
devastation. By then, he already knew that more than 20 people had
been killed and hundred of others injured, but upon seeing this
shattered world, he instinctively understood that the world had
changed even for those residents lucky enough to emerge physically
unscathed. The wreckage stretched as far as his vision. Swaths of
land were filled with debris. Homes were piles of rubble. The
destruction was massive.
“You felt like you could go down there to help every day for a
year and it would barely be scratching the surface,” he said.
And so, with that memory still lingering in his mind, Head has
decided to ensure that the public doesn’t let Moore recede quietly
into history. The town still needs help, and he feels a
responsibility to do what he can, so he has pledged to donate the
entire fight purse of his upcoming UFC Fight Night: Condit vs.
Kampmann 2 bout to the relief fund.
As money goes, it’s not a fortune. It’s not Oklahoma City
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant donating $1 million to the cause,
but then, he doesn’t make anything close to the NBA
player’s estimated $30.9 million in annual earnings. Head is
scheduled to make $12,000 to compete on the event’s
preliminary card, and every penny of it will go to people who need
it more than he does.
Head is one of an increasingly more rare species of UFC
moonlighters who keeps a desk job. In his case, he is a petroleum
engineer for Chesapeake Energy, an $11 billion oil and natural gas
company. The crux of the job is to take and harness some of the
earth’s resources. But sometimes, Head knows, you must also give
“Seeing all that destruction was something that was really
weighing on my heart,” he said. “Seeing those people lose their
homes and all of their worldly belongings inspired me and others to
donate or help. I just wanted to do my part to raise
Since the May 20 twister, Moore, which is only about 25 miles
from Edmond, has been engaged in the recovery process. Recently,
several local schools that were destroyed reopened in new
locations. Life has started to creep back to normal. Head hopes his
gesture will be just another link in the chain.
With his dual careers, Head (9-3) has plenty on his plate. In
the fight world, he will be attempting to rebound from a career
first, a knockout loss, which came at the hands Mike Pyle last
December. The defeat left a sour taste in his mouth, only because
it started so well and devolved so quickly.
“I’d love to fight him again,” he said. “If we fight again, it’d
be a much different result.”
The problem came when Head got too comfortable in the clinch.
When the two locked up, he felt much bigger and stronger than Pyle,
and that offered him a fighter’s worst nightmare: overconfidence.
But Pyle, being a savvy veteran, found the right opening at the
right time, and with a well-placed knee, changed the momentum in a
Head well knows that is a part of the fight game and part of
life. So is the opportunity to rebuild.
In High, he’ll be taking on another Heartlander. The “Kansas
City Bandit” is in the same boat as him; his last fight was a
first-round loss, in this case by submission, to Erick Silva.
They’ll both be fiercely competing to avoid the dreaded two-fight
losing streak, which for an unestablished UFC fighter can often
mean a pink slip.
Even with the big fight nearing, and his own adversity to face
down, Head’s cause has put his own personal trials into a clear
perspective. The pressure to perform on fight night is temporary,
with a clear end date. But for the thousands still affected in
Moore, the future is not so clearly defined.
“This is just a sport, man,” he said. “I try to go out and
perform to the best of my ability. I’m ultra-competitive in
everything I do, especially fighting. But you can’t compare it to
losing loved ones or your home or everything you’ve worked your
whole life for. That’s like comparing apples to bowling balls.”