John Hathaway - old school hero from rugby roots who suffers in silence
FEB 28, 2014 5:02p ET
There is a great deal of the old school in John Hathaway. To put it in context, he might have had a career playing rugby. And rugby is seriously old school.
You will have heard commentators Rogan, Anik and Goldberg refer, at times, to Hathaway as a former rugby player in commentary, but that needs some contextualising.
Rugby is a game that even fighters describe as ‘brutal, dangerous’. It is and it isn’t. Get your technique right, and it’s a game with fast men, powerful men of all sizes, and those that can do both. Hathaway was one of those on a rugby field.
He played in the open-side ‘flanker’ position, arguably the most aggressive, athletic, fast and bold players on the pitch. Their role is to disrupt, knock people over, forage and fight for possession of the ball, and generally have little disregard for their own well-being. Flankers will put their head down in on the ground, amongst the boots, where most players will only put their feet.
Rugby is an empire-building sport, originated in private schools, and long ago, was steeped in muscular Christianity. It was a way of toughening young men up, teaching them to get knocked down, hurt, out of breath, even injured, without showing ire, or pain. Hathaway epitomises those values. Don’t explain; don’t complain.
And Hathaway was being groomed by the very highest level clubs in the UK. Harlequins Rugby Football Club, the blue chip team from London, were the national champions here last season, and won a European trophy.
They wanted him, as did two other professional clubs in the top league. Hathaway went from fighting for a try, in rugby, to trying to be a champion fighter. It also speaks volumes that the welterweight was a decathlete in regional competition growing up: pole vault, hurdling, sprinting, javelin, long jump, shot put. All skills which require extraordinary talents and capacity to learn physical techniques.
Hathaway would have gone on, by this stage, to be a 220lbs athlete in rugby union, but he has been a long, lean gain for the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a martial artist. Intriguingly, he and Stun Gun are just about the biggest men you could possibly ever see at 170lbs. Both 6ft 2ins tall, broad and as narrow as an oak door.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time around 'The Hitman', both for interviews and when he has come on television shows, and he has never complained about his colic condition, never has a bad word to say about an opponent, and goes about his business with quiet dignity.
After what he has been through over the last 17 months, the welterweight, now 26, and with a record of 17-1, could do with a little luck against Kim in China. It will be a monumental task in his first fight back in action.
The quiet man surely deserves it in a division which has changed dramatically since his enforced absence through Ulcerative Colitis.
Welterweight champion Georges St Pierre has vacated the division, Robbie Lawler, Hector Lombard and Demian Maia have moved down from middleweight, and the likes of Tyrone Woodley, Tarec Saffiedine and Matt Brown are all gunning for the summit of the division.
The inaugural TUF: China has been something of a cutting teeth series in that huge country. But MMA is certain to become huge there.
There have been multiple changes. We had rival coaches Tiequan Zhang and Hailin Ao. The latter left the series, seemingly inexplicably, and there were some quirky characters
From the 150 try-outs, the most intriguing appeared to be welterweight Li Jin Ying, with a 0-0 record, no MMA experience, and who described himself as a ‘spiritualist yoga instructor’.
The featherweight final between Jianping Yang and Guangyou Ning has been scrapped due to injury, which means that two bouts on the card feature TUF: China fighters: the welterweight finale between Wang Sai and Zhang Lipeng and a preliminary card fight between Albert Cheng and Wang Anying.
Built it, and they will come. It can only grow…