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The Interview: Bellator MMA’s Dave “Fugitive” Jansen

Bellator MMA’s Season 7 Lightweight tournament winner Dave “Fugitive” Jansen is 19-2 and knocking on the doorstep of the Eddie Alvarez Vs Michael Chandler winner. Next in line for a shot at the Bellator MMA Lightweight (155lbs) title. Fighting in promotions like M-1 Global and WEC, “Fugitive” is a 6 year veteran of professional MMA and continues to get better and better. Currently out with a knee injury that sidelined him and forced him to wait, he’s almost back and ready for more action!

Coming out of the Sports Lab Fight Team in Portland, you made your debut over 6 years ago. Since then you’ve gone 19-2. Fighting in both the WEC as well as currently Bellator. What has the journey been like and what made you want to get into MMA in the first place?

Jansen: Well, initially it was when I met UFC vet Chris Wilson back in his days as an amateur fighter while working in the service industry. I was cooking. He was bar-tending. This was at a German restaurant inside the Portland International Airport back in 2004. Chris basically took one look at my cauliflower ears and told me that I had to fight, that I couldn’t let all those years of wrestling go to waste. It took me a year or two to get started after that initial conversation, but that’s how my curiosity was piqued.

And I’m no longer with Sports Lab. I started by following Chris Wilson to Team Quest back in 2006, made the move to Sports Lab mid 2011, and I recently opened my own MMA studio in SE Portland, Oregon.

I told the owner of Sports Lab, Phil Claud, about my plans to open a spot about 3 months back. I told him I needed to get paid to coach fighters since I’d been out of action while healing up from knee surgery, that I needed to start my own brand to prepare for a future for when I’m not fighting. He didn’t take it too well. He told me “The doors of Sports Lab are now forever closed to you…You are never welcome here again.” Then I didn’t take hearing that too well. I’m not really sure what I expected. I definitely didn’t want it to end like that but I’ve got to tend my own garden. I feel like I helped Phil and that program and he helped me, but it was time for me to change it up and get a fresh perspective and get my own brand going. His style of coaching just isn’t for me and I felt like the gym was being poorly managed and any input I offered was rejected. I miss training with some of those guys. They know where to find me. I’ll always have Mike Pierce’s back and I hope he does well wherever he trains.

The journey has been and continues to be amazing. Some highlights have been my international M-1 Global fights in Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea, competing in the WEC under the Zuffa banner, and of course my current 6 fight win streak in Bellator including the Season 7 Lightweight Tournament Championship.

What is the back story on the nickname “Fugitive”? Is there something you want to tell us?

Jansen: It’s a classic TV reference to The Fugitive television series which aired on ABC from 1963-1967. The show’s lead actor’s name was David Janssen. Kenny Rice made the connection of our names when one of my early amateur fights made the regional highlights on HDNet’s Inside MMA. I remember hearing Kenny say “Dave ‘The Fugitive’ Jansen escapes with a submission victory!” and thinking that I’ve finally made it big.

The lightweight division has long been considered a gateway division. Probably the most versatile fighters on the planet. You have speed, power, slick submissions. What’s it like fighting in such a competitive division and who were some of the fighters you looked up to getting into the sport? Was there any one fight that you remember that was an inspiration?

Jansen: For me, I draw a comparison to my collegiate wrestling career. I wrestled at 151 lbs my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. The 151 lb division always seemed to be particularly stacked in comparison to some of the others. I think it’s because the weight classes that are in the middle of the pack are the weight classes that have a greater percentage of the general population to draw talent and athleticism from. I know I’m overstating the obvious when I say that there are more average sized humans than small or large ones. Think of a bell curve.

I didn’t necessarily have the natural talent, but I started at a young age and had a solid work ethic. The most inspirational martial arts figure for me isn’t a fighter, but a wrestling coach from my club wrestling days. USA Wrestling Hall of Fame Coach Marc Sprague is the person who most influenced my entire athletic career by giving me a solid foundation. Everything that I’m able to do in MMA today is built on Marc Sprague’s USA Cobra Wrestling System, and he’s still coaching an elite club program today. Someone needs to write a biography on that guy. I’ve had other amazing coaches as well (Robert Follis mentored me through most of my early professional MMA career and I’m forever grateful), but my hat goes off to Marc Sprague and his vision and drive for helping me and hundreds of other wrestlers grow from boys to men.

I drew a lot of inspiration from my teammates at Team Quest when I first started training and then competing shortly thereafter. Besides Chris Wilson, Ryan Schultz had the biggest impact on me when I watched him make his run through the IFL and Schultz captured the belt in devastating fashion. Ian Loveland was also, and still is a teammate of mine who inspires me to this day.

If I have to pick one fighter who instills me with inspirational feelings that I don’t personally know, then that’s Kazushi Sakuraba. I’ve been re watching a lot of old Pride DVDs as my good buddy Cory Butcher gave me his entire MMA DVD collection! He scored dozens for next to nothing when the video rental stores were dying en mass and liquidating stock years back. Thanks Cory Butcher! Anyways, you could say that watching these old Sakuraba fights inspires me to try my best to put on entertaining fights and be creative and have fun out there. He seemed to really embrace the competition and enjoy the process. He had the skill and a ton of heart, and he seems to have a good heart, and he just comes off as super likable and genuine in and out of the ring. And it doesn’t hurt that he had an exciting, complete style with slick wrestling, solid submissions, and effective striking. I can’t pick just one of his fights though.The Sakuraba/Gracie fights, his fights with Vitor Belfort, and Carlos Newton were all spectacular. And then this comeback win later in his career. That’s inspirational!

Having a tendency to choke people out (10 of 19 victories via a form of choke), is that your favorite position to finish and is that something you look for?

Jansen: I always look for chokes. Because of my wrestling background and longer reach, it’s no secret that I’ve been able to work chokes into my MMA game nicely. It’s my moneymaker for sure, but to be honest, I’d prefer to knock my opponents out. I’ll take what I can get and I’ll never pass on a choke in order to hunt for a KO. That being said, my hands are finally catching up to my grappling thanks to all the work I’ve been putting in with my boxing coach, 1984 Olympic Trials Tournament Champion Andy Minsker. FYI, Minsker is also currently coaching out of my gym two nights a week. Hopefully I can add another boxing class to the schedule soon.

Here’s a little anecdote. I have the most loving, peaceful, conservative mom. She was unsure about the fighting at first, but quickly became supportive as it brought her back to the days of watching me wrestle in tournaments and dual meets. Pretty soon she was even offering me advice before my amateur fights. In my 3rd amateur fight, I KO’ed a kid in bad way within 10 seconds. Before my 4th fight she asked me “Do you really need to go out there and hit them? I think you could go out there and just choke them.” She was coming at it from the compassionate angle of winning without rattling their brain, just depleting said brain of oxygen temporarily. It wasn’t really hard for me to “just choke them” for the most part because my grappling was so far ahead of my striking for the longest time.

You only have 2 loses on your impressive resume. Both in WEC versus Kamal Shalorus and Ricardo Lamas back to back. What did you learn from those loses that made you turn the corner and go on this impressive run in Bellator?

Jansen: With the Shalorus fight it was glaringly obvious. I needed to iron out my striking. When I couldn’t get that fight to the ground, I was just rolling the dice with those punches. It didn’t help that I broke my right thumb in the first round. Maybe it did help though after all. While recovering from that break, I could only work my jab and kicks and I finally got away from always throwing that sloppy, overhand right.

The Lamas fight was different. It was a much closer fight. Looking back, there were some opportunities for me to go for the kill with the guillotine that I passed on. I used to get cut often in sparring at Team Quest and I had two facial lacerations going into that fight that were a few weeks old. They opened up early and may have swayed the judges perception to score some rounds for Lamas that I might have won. He flayed me with an elbow at the end of the 3rd. That last cut was definitely all his doing.

The big change I made after the Lamas fight was leaving Team Quest Management behind. I felt Matt Lindland dropped the ball and didn’t even bother picking it back up after that loss. Lindland and I had our falling out and Team Quest suddenly felt like a very uncomfortable, hostile, toxic environment for me, so I left.

Back in March of this year you defeated Marcin Held to win the Season 7 Lightweight Tournament and earning a shot at then champion Michael Chandler. However, you tore your ACL during training and the fight got postponed. Now that Eddie Alvarez is champion, and of course pending the 3rd fight in their trilogy, do you still have a shot at the title when you come back or will you have to take a warm up fight first?

Jansen: No tune up fight. My next fight is for the Bellator MMA Lightweight World Championship. Bjorn and I discussed it months ago. My guess is you’ll be seeing me get my title shot in May or June of 2014.

Since suffering that ACL injury, you’ve been on the shelf now 9 months. How far along are you in your recovery and when are you looking to get back in the cage? What challenges have you faced in this difficult time and what advice can share with other fighters going through the same thing?

Jansen: I’m just over 6 months out from the surgery and I feel amazing. I’ve regained most of the strength in my healing leg, but I’m so much stronger than I was before. I had an amazing surgeon in Dr. Robert Sotta, a wonderful PT in Chris Panagos at Black Diamond Physical Therapy, and I’m really fortunate to have met Megan Ursin at Training Day PDX. Megan’s strength and conditioning programs make the stuff that I was doing with Phil Claud at Sports Lab seem like child’s play. And she inspired me to take a risk and open my own studio in the same building as her studio. It’s paying off big time. Synchronicity.

For those fighters facing a similar challenge, remember that this too shall pass. The first two weeks were misery. It gets better little by little. Be diligent with your rehab and surround yourself with real PT’s with degrees. I’m talking about experts who went to school, got certificates, and who continue to further their education and career. And use the time off to develop talents you have outside of training and do things that bring you joy. Naturally supply your brain with all the serotonin and dopamine that you can by pursuing activities that you enjoy, whatever it is that makes you feel like you belong. If all you have is fighting, you’re probably gonna have a hard time. I think that in order to be a well rounded fighter, one needs to be a well rounded person.

As a fighter, what was your most memorable fight and as a fan what is the one fight that either made you love this sport or really stands out as your favorite of all time. If you had your pick, anyone throughout the history of MMA, who would be your dream opponent?

Jansen: My most memorable/grueling fight for me was against Dennis Davis in the Thomas and Mack Court at UNLV. I fought him at a catch weight at 150 lbs and I had to make scratch. This was my first fight outside of my home state of Oregon. It was awesome to be on the road with Chris “The Professor” Wilson in my corner. Randy Couture was in Davis’ corner. Davis had roughly 4 times the MMA experience and had a home court advantage. For some reason I bought my girlfriend a plane ticket to the fights and she wasn’t exactly being supportive. Rounds 1 and 2 went my way but I tried to throw him with a hasty suplex midway through the 3rd, he hooked my leg with his, and I seriously rung my bell when I dropped him on my own head. Some of you are thinking of Matt Lindland vs Falaniko Vitale 1. That was pretty close to happening to me. I hung onto a single leg for the final two or three minutes of the round but he couldn’t really capitalize on the situation. The whole round just turned to garbage right there. It’s not fun to watch past that point. I won the fight but it definitely didn’t feel like it. The 3rd round was so ugly Chris Wilson and I agreed to never discuss it again. Here I am talking about it now because it stuck with me. I’m an entertainer and those final three minutes were anything but entertaining. It was a good fight but it’s hard for me to let go of the last half of that 3rd round. I rode in an ambulance to the hospital, got stitched up, and later ended up eating the entire ambulance/hospital bills (as did every other fighter that night) because Banner Promotions – Night of Combat didn’t have all their t’s crossed and i’s dotted. I may have bled more in my two decision losses in the WEC, but I didn’t feel as beat up as I did from that fight with Dennis. That was my most memorable, toughest fight to date.

As a fan I’m drawn to Shinya Aoki’s gogoplata of Joachim Hansen or Nick Diaz’s gogoplata of Takanori Gomi not just for the rare finish, but for the contrasting styles, all very entertaining fighters in their own right. I love showing friends of mine who are new to mma those two fights.

My dream opponent would be Eddie Alvarez. I’m pretty sure he’ll relinquish the belt and sign with the UFC if he wins the rubber match, but that’s a fight I really want to happen someday. I like that match-up, I’ve always been a huge Eddie Alvarez fan, and I think it’d be really cool to have that historical connection.

Dave, thanks for taking the time. Anyone you’d like to thank (Sponsors)? And where can fans find more info on you or stay up to date with you?

Jansen: Big thanks to my students at Unaffiliated MMA! Thanks to my sponsors Onnit, Future Legend, All Pro Science, Heads High Barbershop, and Float On! Thanks to my boxing coach Andy Minsker for believing in me all throughout the tournament and for the continued support throughout my rehab and title shot. Thanks to Ian Loveland for your friendship and for taking a chance and coaching at Unaffiliated MMA with me. Thanks to Robert Villardi for the work you’ve put in with Loveland, myself and the others. Thanks to Megan Ursin and Training Day PDX for everything! Thanks to my knee surgeon Robert Sotta and my PT Chris Panagos at Black Diamond Physical Therapy. Thanks to Clayton Hires for bringing in Uriah Hall to spar last week and the week before! Good luck next weekend in Vegas! Thanks Jamie Huey for reconnecting as well. Good luck in Brazil coaching on TUF! Thanks to coach Robert Follis for being a voice of reason to me and a fantastic coach. Thanks Michael Chapman and Impact Jiu Jitsu for the advice and all the workouts you let me get in on throughout the years. Same goes to you Eric Hemphill and Nemesis Jiu Jitsu! Big thanks to Keisuke Andrews and Enso Jiu Jitsu for schooling me on leg locks before the Marcin Held fight and for working my corner. Thanks to my brotherhood of wrestling; Donny Kersey, Travis Bonahue, Dave Wolfe, Travis Johnson, Ryan Crandell, Ryan Frashour, Drew Jensen, Marc Sprague Sr and Jr, Matt Sprague, Roger Sayles, Bruce Robnett, Llamar Hiatt, Randy Hiatt, Gary Head, Dave Head, Scott Luna, rest in peace Drew Jensen, Dave Abraham and Kenny Cox… I could go on and on. Thanks Tom Palmer for all the help you’ve given me throughout my career. Thanks to my mom! Thanks Paul Nelson Photography for capturing these amazing images and these ones too! Big thanks to my good friend and sports massage therapist Bill Proppe. Thanks Bill for helping me win that tournament by putting me back together after every fight and the majority of the sparring sessions and for being so resourceful with helping me find a knee specialist. And thanks to all my Fugitive Foot Soldiers on Twitter and Facebook and the love from the UG!

Follow me on twitter and hit me up at @DaveJansen155 and @UnaffiliatedMMA and facebook.com/davefugitivejansen and facebook.com/UnaffiliatedMMAPDX.

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