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Jake Hadley of England punches Cody Durden in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on August 05, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Jake Hadley: Feeling At Home In Enemy Territory

Jake Hadley May Be Fighting In Charles Johnson's Backyard At UFC St. Louis, But That's Nothing New To The English Flyweight.

The UFC flyweight division is absolutely wide open in 2024, and one man who plans to take full advantage is England's Jake Hadley.

"White Kong" returns to action at UFC St. Louis this weekend, buoyed by recent developments at the top of the division, where Australia's Steve Erceg, ranked 10th in the division at the time, landed a title shot against Alexandre Pantoja, and pushed the champion all the way in a very competitive main event at UFC 301.

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It showed just how open and competitive the UFC's 125-pound division is, and it's given Hadley even more hope for the future as he looks to put his own stamp on the weight class.

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"With him getting the title shot so quick, it's kind of motivating," he said.

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"It can all change in one fight, two fights – I could be there fighting for the belt myself. I've watched both guys fight before and I feel like I match up well against both of them. So I'm looking forward to that in the future."

Jake Hadley of England punches Malcolm Gordon of Canada in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jake Hadley of England punches Malcolm Gordon of Canada in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Hadley sees the flyweight rankings as something of a mixed bag, with longtime contenders occupying many of the ranking positions, while a host of talented young fighters are bidding to usurp them. It's a process that Hadley sees playing out over the next year or two, and he plans to lead the way.

"It's a weird one, because I feel like there's some guys in the Top 15 who I would say don't necessarily deserve to be in the Top 15," he said. “But the cream always rises to the top. And eventually, all the best guys are gonna meet at the top."

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Hadley takes on former LFA champion Charles Johnson at UFC St. Louis this weekend. It's a matchup between two of the top unranked talents in the 125-pound division, and a challenge Hadley says should produce a fun scrap for the fans in Missouri.

"He's got a split decision loss to Brandon Royval, who is number one in the world, number one ranked. Charles took him to a decision and gave him a hard fight. 

Jake Hadley of England reacts after his TKO victory over Malcolm Gordon of Canada in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jake Hadley of England reacts after his TKO victory over Malcolm Gordon of Canada in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

"And Charles has been fighting all the top guys and been doing pretty well against them. He's obviously lost more than he's won, but they've been close decisions. He's coming off a win against a highly ranked prospect who was 17-0, and did a good job on him.

"Obviously, everyone knows I've got potential, and I've got title aspirations. So yeah, I think this is one of the better fights (featuring) two unranked fighters. I think we're both well rounded, and we've both got fan-friendly styles. So, I think the fans are in for a good fight."

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Facing a seasoned pro like Johnson is a test in itself, but Hadley will face the additional challenge of doing so in "InnerG's" own backyard, with Johnson training out of St. Louis. Despite this, Hadley is unfussed.

"I've done it before," he said. 

Jake Hadley of England kicks Allan Nascimento of Brazil in a flyweight fight at UFC APEX on May 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jake Hadley of England kicks Allan Nascimento of Brazil in a flyweight fight at UFC APEX on May 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

"I've gone to South Africa and fought a South African in his backyard. I've fought loads of Americans in America, so that's technically their backyard. I've fought in Ireland against an Irish guy. It doesn't really make a difference to me. 

"If anything, I like the boos more than the cheers, because I like to prove people wrong. And I don't think I'm a guy who's liked, anyway, so it doesn't really bother me. I don't care.

"I like upsetting people, so you'll probably see more swagger from me walking to the cage, and after the fight, just based on the fact that, 'Ha! I proved you wrong!' 

"But it's all good, man. It's what I fight for. I fight for the crowd and the people (and) the feeling of the fight."

Jake Hadley punches Mitch Raposo in a flyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season five, week seven at UFC APEX on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

 

 

Jake Hadley punches Mitch Raposo in a flyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season five, week seven at UFC APEX on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Aside from the crowd, Hadley knows he'll be facing a man with significantly more experience than he has, and many of those fights have been wars. Johnson is as battle-tested as anyone in the UFC's flyweight division, and Hadley knows he'll be facing a tough operator inside the Octagon on fight night. 

"His biggest challenge is probably his experience," he explained.

"He's had 20 fights – I've had 12. So not only that, a lot of his fights go to decision, and he's been in a lot of closely contested fights, whereas I've fought tough opponents, but most of the time I've just dominated them and finished them. 

"He's got a lot of cage time. He's been in a lot of hard back-and-forth fights. I've had hard opponents, but I beat them quite easy. I haven't had as many tough three-round fights as he has, so that's one thing he's got – he's got his experience. 

Jake Hadley punches Mitch Raposo in a flyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season five, week seven at UFC APEX on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jake Hadley punches Mitch Raposo in a flyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season five, week seven at UFC APEX on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

"I think he's very fit ,as well. I think he was a track athlete or something like that, and he's quite fit. So they're his main strengths, I believe. Obviously, he's well rounded, but skill-wise I just don't think he's on my level anywhere."

And, as is the case with any UK-based fighter competing at the moment, there's half an eye on the UFC's upcoming pay-per-view event in Manchester later this summer. Hadley knows he has a tough test ahead of him, but admitted he'd love to experience some home-field advantage for a change by getting on the card for UFC 304 on July 27.

"Yeah, God willing, I'll come out with no injuries, then I'd be more than happy to be fight in Manchester," he said. 

"Having someone come over to my back yard instead of me going to theirs all the while – that'd be nice. But I'm not looking past Charles Johnson. He's a tough opponent, and I'm ready for that."

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UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento took place live from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri on May 11, 2024. See the final Prelim and Main Card results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass