When UFC 120: Bisping vs. Akiyama starts on Saturday night at the O2 Arena in London, the main card will get off to a Lightning-fast start.
In the opening bout of the televised card – which airs in the U.S. at 8PM/7c on Spike – James “Lightning” Wilks will face Claude Patrick in his third bout since winning season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter. As the only cast member from TUF 9 scheduled to fight on Saturday night, Wilks isn’t surprised that he’s been put in such a prime position.
"I think they want to put fighters on the card appropriate for the location," Wilks said. "A lot of people in the UK know who I am from The Ultimate Fighter, and I'm just happy to be back on the main card."
For Wilks, the fight with Patrick also represents an opportunity to get a win on his native soil, an opportunity he couldn't seize on his last trip to the UK. In his first post-TUF fight, Wilks battled TUF 7 alum Matt Brown at UFC 105 in Manchester, and wound up on the receiving end of a third-round TKO by "the Immortal." After getting his first post-TUF win earlier this year at UFC 115 – a unanimous decision victory over Peter Sobotta – Wilks is ready to treat the British fans to a win.
"It certainly adds a bit of drive," Wilks said. "I'm very dedicated to winning regardless of where I'm fighting or whom I'm fighting. You're always looking to win that next fight. Although, I must admit that there's a small element of getting that win because I am fighting in the UK, and I certainly want to put on a good show for the UK fans."
In any event, a fight in the UK is an opportunity to return home. Wilks began his training for the fight in Laguna Hills, California, where he opened his own gym after filming wrapped on TUF 9, but completed his camp at Team Rough House, alongside not only Dan Hardy – who battles Carlos Condit on Saturday – but his TUF 9 teammates Dean Amasinger, Andre Winner and Nick Osipczak.
"Just a couple of weeks, I find is enough for me to adjust for the jet lag and get into the training," Wilks said. "There's some great training partners over here every time I come out."
While Team Rough House is no stranger to fighters who live in the U.S., it doesn't sit well with Wilks' coach on The Ultimate Fighter, Michael Bisping. In an interview last month, Bisping – who will face Yoshihiro Akiyama in the main event on Saturday – said, "I haven't disappeared off to America, like some Mohican wearing people, and lived there and trained there, but then come back here and pretended I'm English." While Wilks' hairstyle is considerably more conservative – and sparse – than that of "The Outlaw," he's equally comfortable in his choice to live and train in California.
"I've been over there for 10 years," Wilks said, "and I went there because I believed the training was better there. As a professional fighter, that's what I'm going to do. I still remain British at heart. I come back and visit a couple of times a year, but I'm a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of the UK. I am British, but I'm going to go where the training is best."
That said, Wilks is pleased with the improvement he's seen at training in the UK since he left the country.
"Even in the last five years," Wilks said, "there's been a big improvement. I came back five years ago and rolled with some of the guys out here that were on some of the big shows, and the level wasn't that great. Now, I'm rolling with the same guys, and there's been a tremendous improvement, especially the ground game, and even the wrestling."
As pleased as he his with the progress in his home country, Wilks is now most looking forward to showing his own progress as a fighter when he takes on Patrick.
"I think he's a well-rounded mixed martial artist," Wilks said. "I think it'd be silly to expect just one element in the fight. He's obviously very strong on the ground, technical. He's got some decent stand-up, and decent wrestling. It's hard to predict where he's going to take the fight. I think I'll take the fight where I want it to be, but I am happy staying on the ground or staying on the feet. Either way, I feel comfortable."
So, how do you think Wilks will fare against Claude Patrick? What about Hardy and his fight against the "Natural Born Killer?" Leave your thoughts below, and then tune in on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET to see how Wilks, Hardy, and Bisping fare at UFC 120.