Last weekend, Bellator promoted a card headlined by Paul Daley and Michael Page. It was billed, and you can debate this, as the biggest fight in the history of MMA in the UK. That probably isn’t true, Michael Bisping defended the UFC Middleweight title in Manchester two years ago, but it is certainly the biggest fight between two fights born in England. The fight wasn’t great, and during one of the duller moments of Paul Daley doing his best Ben Askren impression, I thought about John Hathaway. In a lot of ways, Hathaway’s been totally forgotten. That’s understandable, I suppose, there are a lot of fights every week, there are plenty of fighters, too many frankly, to think about and discuss. Unless they’re being beaten unmercifully under Oscar De La Hoya’s auspices, there isn’t time for has-beens, let alone a never-was like John Hathaway. But, this isn’t a blog that tracks in what other people care about, the signature series of this site is a catalog of one of the most reviled fighters in the history of modern MMA, so I can write about guys like John Hathaway.
There’s a certain barrier of entry in MMA, there’s a certain foundational knowledge that you need to acquire before you can really discuss the sport in a meaningful way. That isn’t to say that you need to have been watching since UFC 1, that a person can’t watch one show, or one fight even, and have a meaningful or insightful opinion, it’s just that, especially for a site that traffics in the sort of nonsense that this one does, you need to have to have a fairly deep understanding of the minutiae and esoterica of Mixed Martial Arts. When I write about somebody like Phillip Miller, it’s with the understanding that if you’ve gotten to this article, to this site, then you’ve seen him fight Mark Weir, or at least know why Phillip Miller is of note, and really, I don’t think that is a good thing, because at this point I don’t know where you would go to find out about Phillip Miller, outside of videos of his fights. I don’t know where I’d point you to find out about the guy, I don’t even know if it is necessarily important that you know about Phillip Miller, but I know that the name Phillip Miller means something to a specific type of MMA fan from a specific period. This is all a long winded way of saying that John Hathaway is a Phillip Miller of another generation.
Oh, and before you think Phillip Miller died or has some sort of crippling ailment, he just couldn’t make enough money fighting in the UFC, even though he was undefeated, so he quit and became a cop.
No one gets out of fight sports for the better, it is a negative sum game, it takes something from everyone involved, well maybe everyone except for the promoters. Everyone knows that going in, but either because they are optimistic, or oblivious, they shut that thought out. Fights take their toll, brain cells are lost, bones are broken, tendons torn. Even the most damage adverse fighters end up broken down; see Dominick Cruz’s fistful of ACL surgeries. But there is something worse than broken down fighters, atleast it’s a whole nother type of sad, it’s the fighters who circumstances conspired against, fighters who, for whatever reason, didn’t even get a chance to see this whole MMA thing out, to see how far fight sports could take them. John Hathaway was one of those guys.
John Hathaway has Chron’s Disease. Ulcerative Colitis to be more specific. It has effectively ended his career. Last year, he talked about trying to find a balance and didn’t rule out fighting again, but he hasn’t fought in nearly five years and made it clear that training for fights made his Chron’s flare up more than it normally wold, so he is, for all intents and purposes, retired.
Hathaway was first diagnosed shortly after his first career loss, a unanimous decision to Mike Pyle. Hathaway has never blamed the loss on his ailment, but it isn’t exactly a stretch to assume that fighting with undiagnosed Ulcerative Colitis isn’t a boon. He tried to fight through it, with some success against nondescript opponents, but it also caused him to pull out of at least three other fights and take extensive periods of time off. He hasn’t fought since a spinning back elbow loss to Dong Hyun Kim in 2014 and has been, for the most part forgotten.
As if this preamble hasn’t been long enough here’s some more context. Before the UFC was spread all over the world, promoting cards on five continents, their international expansion was solely focused on the British Isles. The quality of cards and fighters varied, sometimes you would get a compelling fight that couldn’t carry a standard UFC card, Cro Cop vs Gabriel Gonzaga, sometimes you would get absolutely incredible fights, Pride champion Dan Henderson fighting UFC champion Quinton Jackson, sometimes you would get great fighters against sub-optimal opponents, BJ Penn fighting Joe Stevenson. The one thing you were guaranteed was bad European fighters, fighters who had no business fighting in the biggest MMA organization in the world, except for the fact that they were cheap and could sell a few tickets, basically the UFC’s European expansion was modern day Bellator. The undercards were filled with the likes of Colin Robinson, Jason Tan, Per Eklund, Jess Liaudin, and Paul Taylor. If you think the modern UFC has a problem with depth, you should watch these guys fight, they wouldn’t cut it on TUF at this point. The one glimmering hope was Michael Bisping. An Ultimate Fighter winner, who had shown some promise and was expected to be the torchbearer for the UFC in Europe. The problem was that at this point, and really any point pre-2015, Bisping wasn’t exactly a setting the world on fire. Especially in the early days of the UFC in Europe, Bisping was still undersized at 205 and a poor wrestler by any standard. He had a name, but he couldn’t headline a card and be expected to draw and he wasn’t even remotely near challenging for a title.
That is why when John Hathaway showed up at UFC 93 people took notice. He was the first guy to show up on the scene who showed some real promise. After his debut, people began talking about Hathaway being the first UK born UFC champion. In what was a total desert of talent, Hathaway’s win over Tom Egan, as nondescript as Egan was, showed the sort of promise that the Jason Tans of the world never did. Hathaway continued to roll through opponents, beating the ever-tough Rick Story and then UK mainstay Paul Taylor. This is 2009 and 2010, putting together three wins, no matter who they were against, was cause for people to take notice. It was clear that Hathaway had some real promise, and in a Welterweight division that needed new challengers for Georges St. Pierre, the UFC give Hathaway a big test. Diego Sanchez, returning to 170 after tearing through a weak Lightweight division and dropping a title fight against BJ Penn. Keep in mind, this is 2010, Diego Sanchez was very much a going concern, for the last 5 years or so Diego has been in the UFC to be a game opponent, but at this time beating Deigo Sanchez got you pretty close to the top 5. John Hathaway did that, and then some things got in the way. So, let’s see what John Hathaway was all about.
The fight opens with Diego shooting for a takedown. At this point, this was Diego’s bread and butter, in later years he became more of a striker, or at least a guy who was willing to strike, but this iteration of Diego Sanchez is about one thing: ground and pound. Hathaway shuts this attempt down.
This is one of the things that set John Hathaway apart from the rest of his countrymen. He could wrestle. It is overly simplistic to say that UK fighters couldn’t wrestle, but in 2010 for the most part UK fighters couldn’t wrestle, John Hathaway was the exception. That’s not to say he was actually a good wrestler, Rick Story thoroughly outwrestled him, but he was capable enough, strong enough to atleast fight off takedowns, which when compared to the rest of his peers was saying something.
Sanchez can’t get Hathaway down, but he is able to pin him to the cage. From here, Hathaway grabs Sanchez’s wrist. It doesn’t seem like much, but with wrist control, Hathaway can control Sanchez’s arm and negate most of Diego’s wrestling from this position. It takes a lot of strength to control a guy’s wrist while being pinned against the cage, but Hathaway does it easily.
Diego settles for an upper body lock and is content to wall and stall Hathaway. however John uses an overhook to spin Sanchez around. throw an inside elbow that rattles Diego, and fights of a subsequent single leg attempt.
With his single leg thwarted, Sanchez again goes for the body lock. Again, Hathaway reverses, but Sanchez slips out and the fighters are back at range. Something that is clear already is that John Hathaway is very strong, from reversing these clinches to the wrist control earlier in the fight, Hathaway, for being a fairly thin guy, has some real functional strength.
At distance, Hathaway is able to get the better of Sanchez. John can stand at distance and land an outside low kick seemingly at will. Sanchez’s recourse is to wade in and throw a left hand, but Hathaway’s reach is such that by the time Sanchez gets the punch off, Hathaway has had enough time to get out of the way or tag Sanchez on the way in.
Diego, in typical Diego fashion, fades into Hathaway’s range again, but this time he doesn’t even bother setting anything up, and Hathaway hits him with a big knee that drops him.
Hathaway tries to finish the fight with elbows, but quickly realizes that Sanchez is somewhat recovered, and slows down his assault. Hathaway has some solid elbows on the ground, but his punches from this position seem uncoordinated and ineffectual. Some credit goes to Sanchez for defending, but when Hathaway isn’t throwing elbows, he might as well not throw anything.
A rest of this round, close to three minutes, is spent with Hathaway on top of Sanchez, not close to finishing, but keeping busy. He lands a good elbow in tight that opens up Sanchez defense for a second, and Hathaway follows up with punches that look passable, but still there isn’t a lot of damage being done.
Round 1 comes to a close and Hathaway is the clear winner. It wasn’t a 10-8 round, but it was a dominant round for Hathaway, outside of the early takedown attempts, Hathaway entirely dictated that round.
Round 2 starts. Diego Sanchez has some redness around his nose, but for all the elbows and and that brutal knee, he looks good. Hathaway isn’t showing any signs of damage. Based on his success in the last round, Hathaway comes out confident. He’s still keeping his distance, but now he’s mixing in headkicks with his outside low kick. The first minute of the fight is a lot of Hathaway, low kicks some tight right hands that land, but very quickly Sanchez starts to find his rhythm and starts landing his left hook. Sanchez is keeping his hands low, which allows him to get some momentum behind his punches, and eventually he starts to lands them. In an attempt to take some of Sanchez’s space away, one would assume, Hathaway comes in closer to Sanchez, despite having some real success at range. Hathaway goes to throw a leg kick, but because he’s in close, Sanchez is able to grab it and take him down.
Sanchez has Hathaway on the ground, but he can’t do much from this position. He tries to pull Hathaway from the cage, but Hathaway is just too strong, eventually he just stands up, leaving he and Sanchez clinched up against the cage.
Again, it is worth mentioning here, at this point Diego Sanchez is a top position grappler. His game is all about getting on top and staying on top and John Hathaway isn’t playing that game, he is strong enough to fight off takedowns, grab wrist control to further stave them off, and strong enough to stand up if he does get taken down.
Back on the fight, Hathaway is able to keep Sanchez at the distance that was working earlier. He keeps Sanchez on the end of his outside low kick and whenever the opportunity presents itself, Hathaway wades in and lands a straight right.
Round 2 ends with both fighters opening up, nothing lands flush, but in the last ten or so seconds both fighters each throw a handful of punches. With 2019 eyes, this is Hathaway’s round, he outstruck Sanchez by a fair margin, but in 2010, judges were even worse, and Diego Sanchez wins, because he kept the fight close on the feet and got a takedown, He didn’t do anything with the takedown, but he got it and that went a long way in 2010. So, Hathaway should be up, but this fight is probably all tied up going into the third round.
Round 3 starts without much action, Hathaway is staying at range, but he ins’t throwing much. He’s even stopped throwing his outside leg kick, which was a big part of his offense in the first two rounds. Now, he’s content to throw a jab and a his straight right. But, without that low kick keeping Sanchez at bay, Diego is able to come in easier and land combinations on Hathaway. Sanchez isn’t landing big, but he’s landing.
We’re two minutes into the round now, its been a lot of the same. Hathaway was able to catch Sanchez coming in once, but otherwise not much has happened. Sanchez is wading in, with a jab and a left hook, John is able to avoid almost all of the punches, and when he backs out Hathaway throws a straight right, but it never lands.
Sanchez is able to time one of Hathaway’s punches, duck under and shoot for a takedown. Hathaway is having none of it, be shuts it down, grabs double underhooks, and catches Sanchez with a knee as he tries to back out.
At the halfway point of the round, Hathaway is starting to take over. He’s back to fighting at a distance, occasionally he lets Diego get too close, but for the most part he’s winning the striking exchanges and fighting off Sanchez’s takedowns. Hathaway isn’t doing anything spectacular, but he’s winning. He’s found a home for his straight right and he’s kept Diego at bay.
With a minute left in the round, Sanchez starts to get desperate, throwing big looping hooks. He seems to have Hathaway startled. The punches don’t land, but Hathaway can’t counter them and so they just sort of push Hathaway back. He’s able to duck one, grab a body lock, and then use a nifty knee to briefly bring Diego down to the canvas.
The fight ends and it easily goes to John Hathaway. It wasn’t breath-taking or explosive, but he convincingly won. He was able to outstrike Sanchez, based on a strong sense of distance and a good straight right and when the fight was in close quarters, he was just too strong.
This fight was a test for Hathaway, the last two guys to beat Sanchez at Welterweight were Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, both fought GSP for the title soon after. Both were, at some point, Top 10 Pound-for-Pound fighters and the win over Sanchez was a big part of their resume. When John Hathaway beat Diego Sanchez it still meant something. On a pay-per-view main card, on a show that sold over a million buys, Hathaway beat one of the UFC’s most recognizable names. It was easily the biggest win an English MMA fighter had ever had, outside of maybe Ian Freeman beating Frank Mir. This is at a time where Michael Bisping’s best win was Dennis Kang, and as much as Dennis Kang was a hero to the people of Spirit MC, he wasn’t exactly a world beater.
It was a big win and an impressive one, but I don’t want to come off too strong. John Hathaway was a flawed fighter, he lost to Mike Pyle after this fight, which ins’t the end of the world, but great fighters don’t lose to Mike Pyle, Hathaway wouldn’t have had a shot against GSP, and if he had beaten Mike Pyle he might have gotten there, GSP rematched Koscheck and fought Jake Shields after this, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Hathaway could have gotten in that mix, but the John Hathaway we see here, he would have gotten taken down, had his guard passed and mauled by Georges St. Pierre. But, he was only 22, thirteen fights into his pro career. Was he ever going to beat Georges St. Pierre? No, I don’t think so.
The thing is, he never even got a chance. Chron’s Disease robbed us of ever seeing what might have happened with John Hathaway. He never got a chance to headline a card in the UK, never got a chance to fight in another really meaningful fight. Like I said, I don’t know if John Hathaway would have ever amounted to anything, but I don’t know if Michael Page will either, I hope he does, I hope he has real success, but in the back of my mind, I’ll always think about John Hathaway, because he was poised to be that guy. We saw what Michael Bisping became, what the UFC was eventually able to do with him in the UK. John Hathaway could have been that guy, maybe he should have been that guy, but other things just got in the way.