UFC Vegas 54 Fighter to Watch: Jake Hadley
Unbeaten British newcomer makes his promotional debut in a dangerous matchup that should instantly establish where he fits in the flyweight division
Name: Jake Hadley
Nickname: White Kong
Record: 8-0 overall, UFC debut
Team: Fearless MMA
Opponent: Allan Nascimento (18-6 overall, 0-1 UFC)
Jake Hadley sat in the winner’s area following his Contender Series victory over Mitch Raposo, waiting to hear what Dana White had to say about his performance and his potential future in the UFC. As the UFC President began to address his effort and his situation, Hadley couldn’t hold back the tears.
He tried, but the emotion bubbled up inside of him and came out in little hiccups, his body lurching as he sat with a crestfallen look on his face, certain that his dreams were about to be deferred.
“There are two rules that I have,” White began. “No. 1 — if you don’t make weight, you don’t get in here. Obviously Jake is an unbelievable fighter. He didn’t make weight, which is a really big deal here. If you don’t make weight now, trying to get into the UFC, what’s it going to be like when you get to the UFC?
“The other thing was there were a lot of other issues with Jake this week, behind the scenes; lots of issues with him,” he continued. “. My other philosophy in life is when somebody shows you who they are, believe them. I think that Jake Hadley is special. I think this kid is super-talented. I asked him, ‘Who is your jiu-jitsu coach that you’re only a purple belt?’”
White paused, and on the other side of the split screen, Hadley looked like a toddler primed to start sobbing.
“Don’t make an asshole outta me, Jake. Get over here.”
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Hadley is special.
I’ve been hesitant to make calls on fighters coming off the last season of DWCS because the level of competition many of them faced prior to arriving in the UFC was limited and felt it would take a coupe fighter inside the Octagon before I was able to make a read on any of them, but Hadley is different.
The unbeaten 25-year-old won gold with EFC by defeating former Ultimate Fighter contestant Nkazimulo Zulu, made a pit stop in Bellator to choke out Blaine O’Driscoll, and then earned a pair of wins under the Cage Warriors banner, getting Shadijul Haque out of there in the first before out-hustling Jack Grant for the flyweight title.
Against Raposo last fall, he adjusted after falling behind in the first, taking a more aggressive approach in the second and showcasing the diversity of his game, backing the Fall River, Massachusetts native into the fence, landing a body kick, and then taking him to the canvas, where he quickly worked around to the back and finished with a painful looking neck crank.
I know it says it was a rear-naked choke, but it was a neck crank, and it look wildly uncomfortable.
In the lead to his appearance at the UFC APEX last year, Hadley called himself the most accomplished fighter to compete on the Contender Series, and the fact is he’s no worse than second, depending on what you think of Julio Arce’s time under the Ring of Combat banner. He won titles in quality outfits against high caliber regional competition, and has all the markings of someone that can eventually thrive in the UFC.
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What really has me excited about Hadley’s debut is that he’s going to have to prove himself straight out of the gate, as Allan Nascimento is no joke.
In addition to being five years Hadley’s senior, the Brazilian has three times the experience of his British counterpart, and showed in his own UFC debut that he’s capable of hanging with — and arguably beating — legitimately talented fighters, as I still contend Nascimento deserved the nod in his split decision loss to Tagir Ulanbekov last October at UFC 267.
A member of the Chute Boxer Diego Lima team — you know, the camp where lightweight kingpin Charles Oliveira trains — he has good size for the division and will own a slight height and reach advantage over Hadley on Saturday.
This is a daunting test for a debuting fighter, but it is also an opportunity for Hadley to show his levels right off the hop, and given the way things went the last time he ventured to Las Vegas, I would not be the least bit surprised if the confident newcomer is dialled all the way in and driven to show Dana White made the right decision in awarding him a contract last fall.
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