Just two fights into his UFC career, undefeated featherweight Jim Hettes has already been labeled by many as the future of the 145-pound division. However, as the 25-year-old Pennsylvanian prepares to take on Ultimate Fighter alum Marcus Brimage at UFC 152 on Sept. 22, Hettes isn’t ready to anoint himself the next big thing.
“After anyone has a really good performance, people say he’s the future or this or that, but I don’t let that go to my head,” Hettes told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I come from a really good training camp with a bunch of guys that have all been in my shoes. I get humbled every day; that really helps me out.”
The reason behind the high praise for the rising contender is a lopsided decision victory over veteran Nam Phan at UFC 141 last December. The win over Phan was the first time in Hettes’ 10-fight career that he did not finish an opponent, but in the fight, Hettes earned two 30-25 scorecards—a rarity under the unified rules. Yet, even with the dominating performance, Hettes won’t rest on his laurels.
“It was a great win,” said Hettes. “Nam is a super tough individual. There’s no quit in him. If it was anyone else, they would’ve found a way out. I learned a lot from [that fight].
“Now, it’s a fresh start. Every fight you are starting from scratch. It’s like someone hit the reset button. I have to have the exact same performance I did against Nam.”
Hettes’ momentum was temporarily put on hold after he was forced to pull out of a planned encounter with Steven Siler at UFC on FX 4 in June. After the nine-month layoff, Hettes is just thankful for the chance to fight.
“Having previously fought on smaller shows and not getting paid as much, it’s a great privilege any time the UFC asks you to fight on their cards,” he declared. “I haven’t been in the cage for a while, but at the same time I’ve been training the whole time. I don’t think that ring rust will play a big factor. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to get in there and show my skills.”
Although some might be surprised that Hettes was selected to take on the less-heralded, but hard-hitting Brimage after his destruction of Phan, “The Kid” isn’t looking past his current opponent’s accomplishments.
“Marcus just came off a big win over Maximo Blanco and he’s 2-0 in the UFC,” said Hettes. “One of the great things about being an employee in the UFC is that I don’t have to do much thinking. They tell me who I’m supposed to fight and I’m always happy with whoever they give me.
“[Brimage] is a very well-rounded fighter. He likes to keep it standing, and has good defensive wrestling skills. He’s really good at getting back to his feet when he’s taken down. We have totally opposite styles. I think that will make for a really good fight.”
Another surprise about the pairing is that Hettes went from a pay-per-view main card to the FX-broadcast preliminary card. But, once again, the judo stylist is taking everything in stride.
“I’m just excited to be on TV,” stated the fighter. “It doesn’t matter to me because a lot of people will still see the fight. At the end of the day, who am I to complain about it?”
When the cage door shuts on Saturday night, Hettes will be looking to add to the nine submission wins already on his resume. And while Hettes’ judo base is a tough matchup for any opponent, he knows that it’s no longer a secret to his opposition.
“Judo is getting as widely used as wrestling nowadays,” explained Hettes. “The takedowns and techniques are more widely known now. They’re not a mystery to anyone. I’m sure Marcus or any of my opponents have done their research on it and brought in a few judo guys to their camp.
“It makes me not content with just my judo and makes me want to learn more [techniques]. It keeps me ever-evolving.”
Even with a desire to continue improving as a fighter, Hettes isn’t about to go away from his strengths when it comes to winning a fight. In fact, he’s emphatic that he’s not the type of fighter to go head-hunting and would much rather use his head to get the best of his foes.
“I’m not one of those tough guys that want to stand in front of their opponent and bang it out,” he proclaimed. “My opponents hit way too hard for that and the four-ounce gloves are really small. I don’t fight to prove anything to anyone; I do it because I like it.
“For me, the logical and safe route is to take someone down and go from there. I like to use my stand-up, but I like to assess the situation and if they give me an opening, I will take it to the ground. Whatever gets me a win, I’m happy for.”
However Hettes chooses to fight against Brimage on the 22nd, if he gets another win, he’ll likely get the step up in competition that many expected after his last outing. That is, if he can contain his excitement of facing a contender.
“I’m a big fan of MMA as well as a fighter,” Hettes admitted. “I really like watching Chad Mendes. I watch all of Frankie Edgar’s fights. Jose Aldo is a beast. I’m like a little kid when I get in there, I don’t know if I should try to look angry to try and intimidate them, or ask for their autograph. For me, it’s whoever they give me, I’ll be happy. I’m not calling anyone out. Just fighting any one of those guys would be a great accomplishment.”
If the unassuming Hettes keeps fighting the way he has, he may not have a choice but to accept the fact that he is indeed the future of the division.
Top Photo: Jim Hettes (James Law/Heavy MMA)