James Doolan | UFC Head Coach | Fight Island | No Shame Podcast #129

UFC coach James Doolan joins us all the way from Fight Island, for episode 129 of Paddy Holohan’s No Shame Podcast. James is the head coach & owner of Higher Level MMA in Bathgate, Scotland. The gym is home to multiple world champions & UFC talents such as Danny Henry & Stevie Ray. Danny is set to take on Makwan Amirkhani on the first of the eagerly anticipated UFC Fight Island card’s this Saturday & James is over on Yas Island making final preparations with his fighter. On this week’s podcast, James talks about Fight Island, coaching, BJJ, his career as a fighter & much more.

“I don’t like attention, I don’t like cameras I’d rather listen to people than talk, attention’s not for me… I like to sit back & watch, study stuff. The same way we study martial arts, just study the game & the coaching side of it.”

When it comes to coaching Doolan believes it should always be about the fighter first & foremost. James is one of the most down to earth people in the world of MMA & that’s certainly a quality he looks to instil in his own athletes. However, the Scotsman’s main focus is to create a fight style that suits the individual’s personality, one plan certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to coaching a team. James also notes that a fighter will sometimes need to adjust their style depending on opponent & that’s when an understanding of the person can be extremely beneficial.

“You’re trying to tailor a guy who’s not use to that type of fight. It’s about getting them to fight slightly different to how they want to fight sometimes...They’re fighting for their families at the end of the day"

As things currently stand, Doolan has checked in to his hotel on Fight Island & has just completed the initial 24 hour quarantine, a mandatory procedure for every fighter & coach arriving on the island. James offers an incredibly thorough break down of his journey to the island detailing all the Covid-19 testing measures put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved on the card. With staggered isolation phases & minimum contact throughout the journey to Abu Dhabi the UFC have left no stone unturned in their preparations. The Higher Level head coach also offers his views on how the fight will go between Danny & Makwan. Dolan believes no matter what the result it will be one of the most entertaining fights on the card.

Watch episode #129 of Paddy Holohan's No Shame Podcast


James had a formidable career as an MMA fighter with a record of 17-9-2, with his last fight coming in 2013. He retells the legendary story of a weight cut in Japan featuring Paul McVeigh. It was a very different time in MMA back then. Doolan admits he didn’t read the finer print of his fight contract which involved a severe penalty for missing weight, the opponents expense purse, costing anything in the region of £5,000, a fee the Scottish fighter didn’t have. McVeigh, who fas fighting on the same card found himself in a similar situation, panic ensued & the fighters challenged each other to make weight, after a drastic 18 hours of cutting both fighters reached their targets. A picture of the depleted duo on their way to make weight still exists online, despite multiple attempts to have the photo erased from history.



MMA has taken Doolan across the globe, with stops in America, Japan, Thailand & most of Europe, not bad for a person who didn’t step foot on a plain until he was 22 years of age. His current hotel overlooks an F1 track with the beach in close proximity. Despite how it sometimes looks from the outside, James won’t get much of a holiday, there’s no such thing in the fight game.

“People think I’m here on holiday but I’m here working, they don’t see the 20-30 years of training & hurt, helping guys make weight, fighting in clubs, community centres. Driving all the way down to England for guys to win in 30 seconds & then driving back up the road. They don’t see all that work. They think you’re flying all over the world & then they see you on the f**king telly but they miss all the shit that goes into it.”

This Saturday's Fight Island card starts at 2.00 am local time with Danny setting to walk around 4.00am which involves its own challenges in preparation no doubt. Doolan explains how the island has been completely shut off from the rest of Abu Dhabi, making it one of the safest places to be in the world right now.

Also on this weeks podcast Paddy & James discuss how Jiu-Jitsu has improved their overall problem solving skills in life. With the rate BJJ technique evolves at, James believes it should be a staple part of every coach’s arsenal. The mindset Doolan gained from BJJ improved his overall strike game. James has recently began the process of setting up IMMAF Scotland after being approached by Mark Goddard to get involved with the organisation. Doolan believes IMMAF offers the best route for any young fighter looking to break into the sport.

This is a much watch for any fighter in MMA with buckets of wisdom from James, one of the very best coaches the game has to offer & we don't say that lightly. The full episode #129 of Paddy Holohan’s No Shame Podcast is available now across all the usual platforms including iTunes, Spotify & Youtube.

Listen | download episode #129 of Paddy Holohan's No Shame Podcast


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