Former Tiger fullback James Stampley takes his athletic ferocity to the MMA ring
By Luke JohnsonPosted Feb 27, 2013
Powerfully built former LSU fullback James Stampley stood out as he strode into the Gladiators Academy gym with a workout bag slung over his shoulder.
Dressed head-to-toe in LSU gear, it’s likely a forgone conclusion to most people he meets that at one point he played on Saturday nights in Death Valley.
He approached the table where I was waiting for the interview and offered his hand. His prodigious paws enveloped mine, his grip vice-like as he pulled me in for the real deal – a full-on bro-hug – though we’ve only met once before.
This imposing physicality is what you’d expect from an amateur mixed martial artist. But it’s offset by every other facet of Stampley’s being.
His eyes are set behind a pair of glasses – not the thick-rimmed-lens-free faux kind you’d see on an NBA player in a postgame press conference but the kind you’d see on the honor student in your high school algebra class.
He’s soft-spoken. He’s jovial. He’s humble, yet confident. But that goes out the window when it’s time to compete.
Shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday, he’ll take off his glasses and replace his smile with a scowl as he tries to pummel the man standing opposite him into submission.
Like former LSU footballer and UFC fighter Shawn Jordan, Stampley is now done with football and focused on an MMA career. He sat down to discuss the transition a couple days before his second career fight, Friday night at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge.
DIG: Why did you want to get into mixed martial arts?
James Stampley: With mixed martial arts, when you go in the cage it’s just you. You know? You have nobody to blame but yourself. With this, what you put in is what you get out of it, and I like that. At the end of the day, it’s all on me. I control my destiny with this. I can’t place the blame on anybody else. Nobody can get in my way but me. I enjoy that about the sport.
DIG: When did you make the decision to pursue it?
JS: I went to [NFL Training] camp with Seattle, I didn’t make it. But I still wanted to compete. I’ve always been interested in mixed martial arts and martial arts in general, but with football and school I never had the chance to actually pursue it. I figured what better time than now? I ended up looking up some things and finding this gym. Shawn Jordan went to this gym too. I talked to him and he recommended this place. After that, I guess the rest is history.
DIG: What’s been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make from the football field to the cage?
JS: The training. Cardio. With football, it’s short explosive bursts. With MMA, you’ve got three rounds where it’s just you. You can’t go hard for 15 seconds and take a 30 second break. You have to go the whole time. The cardio was a big part for me. When I first started I was 245 [pounds]. Just from training so much I’ve dropped 25 pounds.
DIG: Do you remember your first sparring session?
JS: I was exhausted. Like I said, in football, you get these plays where you explode and give everything you’ve got. I translated that into sparring, so as soon as it started I would explode with everything I had. We spar for five minutes, and after two minutes my hands were on my knees and I was breathing heavy, “Ok, I can’t do this.” But once you keep doing it, you learn that you have to pace yourself.
DIG: Something that’s always fascinated me about you, didn’t you set an LSU record for broken helmets? How many did you break?
JS: It was facemasks. We actually lost count after 23. We just stopped counting all together. I have no idea, I want to say it might be in the high 30s, maybe 40s.
DIG: So would you classify yourself as a violent and vicious human being whenever you’re competing?
JS: When I’m competing, I’m completely different than when I’m out walking around. I call it my Clark Kent-Superman complex. I have the glasses on right now, I’m relaxed, I’m chilled. But when the glasses come off it’s time to compete. Superman comes out. When I compete, I compete. But other than that, I’m laid back.
DIG: Do you feel like you transform into someone else, either in the cage or on the field?
JS: It’s the same thing as football games. I’m a quiet person. I’m not the type to get all hyped and say, “Let’s kill ‘em!” But when it’s time for business, it’s time for business. When I’m in the locker room or on the sidelines I’m laughing and smiling, but when it’s time to go? That’s it. It’s like a switch.
DIG: How would you describe your fighting style?
JS: I might lean more toward grappling, but it’s so early. I’m a talented striker, too. I’ve only had one fight, so I don’t really know yet.
DIG: What happened in your first fight?
JS: I won it by knockout, referee stoppage. Ground and pound is how I won it.
DIG: What did you take away from that fight?
JS: To try to settle down. I kind of got excited when I saw my teammate knock his opponent out in nine seconds. That competitor in me switched on, it was like, “I want to knock mine out quick, too.” I kind of rushed it. It didn’t hurt me none, but I kind of want to pace myself more and actually get familiar with it. Because I was ready to go. I kind of blanked out and just went, and the next thing you know I won. I want to actually be more strategic.
DIG: What’s going through your mind as your second fight gets closer?
JS: I’m just making sure I get rest. I’m the type of person that pushes myself really hard. As the time comes to compete I slow everything down to heal because my training takes a lot out of me. Right now I’m just relaxing, getting my legs back under me and thinking about the fight. Just strategizing. What are some things I want to try? That’s where I am right now.
DIG: Any of your former teammates or coaches coming out to see you fight?
JS: Nobody came to the first one, but I have a few teammates that said they’re going to try to come out Friday. That would be a big deal.
DIG: Do you think walking on to a team as successful as LSU gives you an edge over guys that haven’t had to bust their tail as hard as you have?
JS: It does help. To walk on, earn a scholarship and start is a big deal. It just doesn’t happen. Especially since I wasn’t recruited. I had to work harder than the next guy – I had to work twice as hard as the next guy – just to be looked at. I’m used to working my way from the bottom to the top. It’s pretty much the same with MMA. This is a new sport to me, so I’m at the bottom.
DIG: What’s tougher: one of LSU strength and conditioning coordinator Tommy Moffitt’s workouts or one of your MMA-inspired workouts?
JS: [Sighs] Coach Moffitt’s workouts are legendary. You can’t beat a really good coach Moffitt workout, especially if guys aren’t going as hard as they should be. Then he turns it up a couple of notches.
DIG: Do you feel more beat up after a football game or a couple rounds in the cage?
JS: I automatically think back to the games playing against Alabama. [Sighs] I was beat up after those games. As of right now, I would say after those games. But I’ve only had one fight and it lasted two minutes, so I can’t really give you much. I didn’t take much of a beating. But with football, with the contact of blocking another SEC team all the time, that’s serious.
DIG: Was there a moment when you thought to yourself that you had what it took as an MMA fighter?
JS: I always feel once I get into something that I could take it to the top, and that’s how I feel with this. I wouldn’t compete if I didn’t really believe that I could be successful. I feel like I could be good at this given the time to develop.
DIG: Has Shawn Jordan given you any tips about transitioning from football into MMA?
JS: He’s been off training, so I haven’t had one-on-one time to train with him a lot. I’ve had one rolling session, which is basically grapple-sparring. With him, I learn by example. What everybody tells me about him, his work ethic, how he’s always in here training, his intensity, I try to incorporate that into the way I train and follow in his footsteps.