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MMA For Real Exclusive Interview with Jake Whitfield

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Jake Whitfield is a very accomplished jiu-jitsu competitor that has recently translated his skills into the pro ranks of mixed martial arts. Jake began training in jiu-jitsu when he was 16 years old. Before entering the cage, Jake had quickly made a name for himself on the grappling circuit. In 2003, at only the age of 18, he became the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) world champion in the 170 pound Advanced Division. Since then he has also added many other grappling tournament championships to his resume and has even earned his brown belt under former UFC champion Royce Gracie. Jake has made a name for himself as a talented instructor at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The 24 year old also owns a 2-1 professional record that followed a 6-0 amateur run. He recently added some hardware to his collection for the first time as a professional fighter when he claimed the CFP Welterweight Title in June with a victory over Roger Carroll. I recently caught up with Jake to find out more about this exciting fighter that is also considered to be one of the top young jiu-jitsu instructors in the state of North Carolina.

Rich Wyatt: How did you first get into training jiu-jitsu and, eventually, MMA?

Jake Whitfield: I started martial arts when I was 6 years old taking American karate from Jessie Bowen at Karate International in Durham. When I was 8, he invited the students over to his house to watch this pay-per-view thing that he had seen advertised in Black Belt magazine. That pay-per-view thing turned out to be the very first UFC. That night I watched Royce just run through everybody and I knew that I wanted to learn that Gracie jiu-jitsu stuff. After the UFC, one of the instructors at the karate school ordered the Gracie basics and started a little ground fighting class. It wasn't much but it got my feet wet and got me interested. When I got to middle school I ordered Carlson Jr's tape set. Looking back on it, those tapes were horrible but it was another step. Me and a couple of the other younger black belts started our own little fight club. We'd get together and learn from the tapes and spar. Then in eighth grade I started wrestling. I wrestled all the way through middle school and high school. I was a good wrestler but definitely not great. I'm honestly not a natural athlete and that hurt me a lot but it also hurt me that I was only wrestling because I didn't know where to train jiu-jitsu. After my junior year I got a flyer for a local BJJ tournament and I decided to do it. I'd been competing in karate for ten years and been wrestling for four so I was already comfortable competing. I really thought I'd do well, I had no idea how little I knew. I won my first match basically off of takedowns and scrambling then got triangled in my next match. After the tournament Spencer from Team-ROC approached me and told me that I should train with them. So I started training at the old Hillsboro Team ROC school. Spencer was my first real teacher then later Greg too (when I started Greg was out west working with the air marshalls). I trained with them four or five hours a day every day and they helped me progress really quickly. Sometimes I would even skip school to train. I think I made the right choice. (Laughs) Thanks to that training I got my blue belt in six months. I started fighting MMA a year after I got my blue belt and then got my purple belt a little less than two years after I got my blue. That's where my training with Greg and Spencer really stopped. I only rolled with those two maybe three times each since I got my purple in 2004. Since then I've trained more with Jason Culbreth and Billy Dowey and Royce and Rodrigo.

Rich Wyatt: As a jiu-jitsu practitioner, what has it been like to get to train with a man as admired and revered as Royce Gracie?

Jake Whitfield: When you first meet Royce you have to be a little star struck. I mean, he's the guy that started it all. If it wasn't for Royce none of us would be training and we wouldn't be doing this interview. But the longer I've known Royce the more I see him as a regular guy. He's always been willing to help me or answer questions but at the same time he has pulled some serious pranks on me. There was one time at Fort Bragg that seriously could have been on Punk'd. The thing with Royce is that he has seen it all. He's been training for forty years and he's seen a lot of fads come and go. That makes his jiu-jitsu very pure. The jiu-jitsu that Royce teaches worked forty years ago and it will still work 40 years from now. Just good solid basics.

Rich Wyatt: Tell us a little about the team that you train with at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu.

Jake Whitfield: I started Triangle Jiu-jitsu two years ago when I left Team-ROC. We have two schools, one in Durham and one in Goldsboro. The guys at the Durham school have been with me a long time, most of them were with me before I left Team-ROC. The Durham school has almost 20 blue belts and two purple belts. The Goldsboro school is only a year old. We have two blue belts but it's mostly white belts and guys with less experience. This past weekend I took a team from the Goldsboro school and we actually won the team title at the Grapplemania tournament so the guys are really improving. We have two guys fighting in Virginia next month and I'm expecting two wins.

Rich Wyatt: How many hours a week do you typically train and what types of things do you focus on?

Jake Whitfield: I usually train Jiu-jitsu on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at eleven and again at 6. I train between an hour and a half and two hours each time. I also do about half an hour of intense conditioning on my jiu-jitsu days. Tuesdays and Thursdays I train kickboxing at 11 and 6. I'll do about an hour of pads and defensive drills then spar for about half an hour. Saturdays vary a lot. Sometimes I stay in Goldsboro, sometimes I'll train in Durham. I like to go to Crossfit a lot. They've got some great guys. And I try to go down to Evolution in Wilmington whenever I can. I've also been training with Tim Kennedy for about four years and I never feel ready to fight unless he's beaten me senseless at least one time before a fight.

Rich Wyatt: What aspect of your game do you work on the most?

Jake Whitfield: Without a doubt jiu-jitsu. I believe that jiu-jitsu is a perfect martial art. If you can go out there and follow the basic strategy of jiu-jitsu it's impossible to lose a fight other than by just a lucky punch. I'm a very predictable fighter. Every fight I'm going to try to take the guy down, pass his guard and finish him. My one loss in MMA is because I deviated from that strategy. When I fought the Russian I got caught up in just trying to punish him and ground and pound him. Punching inside the guard is like playing with fire, if you do it long enough you're going to get burned. And that's exactly what happened to me. I'm always looking for the cleanest and most decisive way to finish the fight and that is always the submission and preferably a choke. Everything else I do (striking, conditioning, etc) is all geared around being able to use my jiu-jitsu and impose my game on my opponent.

Rich Wyatt: You recently had a great fight against Roger Carroll back in June at a Carolina Fight Promotions event where you won their welterweight championship. Tell us a little about that fight and how you were able to pull out the victory.

Jake Whitfield: That fight was pretty much perfect. Honestly for two months I kept waiting for something to go wrong. I kept waiting to get injured or have trouble with my weight or something. Then once the fight started I was waiting for him to do something crazy. Roger is a really dangerous fighter because he has a ton of heart and he is willing to go for absolutely anything. He catches people because he isn't afraid to go for something crazy and go balls out for it. Royce helped me a lot in the strategy for that fight and the strategy was pretty much just not to let him do anything. I tried to stay very tight and just grind on him so he couldn't do anything funky. Thank God it all worked perfect. In the first round, I had him mounted and saw that he wasn't keeping his elbows down so I knew the side choke was a possibility. I just had to wait for the right opportunity. I wish that opportunity had come sooner!

Rich Wyatt: So what's next for you? Do you want to stay active?

Jake Whitfield: Next is a fight in Raleigh at the RBC Center. I'll be on the Carolina Crown event October 24. Not sure who I'm fighting yet but it doesn't really matter. Whoever fights me is really fighting jiu-jitsu.

Rich Wyatt: Do you have any long-term goals in regard to professional MMA?

Jake Whitfield: I want to be done fighting by the time I'm 35 at the absolute latest. If I'm not in a big event like the UFC or Strikeforce by the time I'm 30 I will call it quits. I'm not interested in fighting just to fight. I fight to make money and bring attention to my school. And I fight to gain knowledge so that I can pass that knowledge on to my students and make them more prepared. This is a really unpopular statement I'm about to make, but I don't think that MMA has a long term future. Right now MMA is the hot thing. It's the popular thing but I think it's just a fad. I think that ultimately Dana White's micro-managing combined with cookie cutter type fighters will drive the sport into the ground. The sport will stick around on some level, but I don't see MMA growing beyond where it is now. I predict that in two years or maybe three the sport will be out of vogue and 75% of the new fans won't care anymore.

Rich Wyatt: There has been an explosion in recent years in the number of schools here in North Carolina that train fighters to compete in MMA. How do you view the MMA scene here and do you see it improving?

Jake Whitfield: I think it's horrible. Everyone that wrestled a couple of years in high school is opening up their own gym these days and claiming to be a MMA expert. But what are their qualifications? What have they done? Who have they trained with? Today everyone fights and trains exactly the same. The mold has been set: lots of boxing, the ability to throw a round kick and a flying knee, basic takedowns, funk move jiu-jitsu and lots of strength. That's how 95% of all the fighters look these days. The exceptions, the guys that bring something unique to the table, are the top guys. The exceptions are also the ones that people want to watch: BJ Penn, GSP, Anderson Silva, Demian Maia, Cung Le, Lyoto Machida, Fedor, Brock Lesnar. These are the best guys in the game and these are the guys that the fans want to see. Why? Because they're special. They're unique. They have something that no one else has. Another huge problem is a lack of basics. Look at Youtube: submissions101 is headed up by a guy that is a very suspicious purple belt AT BEST. Yet his channel has, like, 30,000 subscribers. Whereas Rener and Ryron Gracie, two phenomenal and well accomplished black belts, only have a fraction of that. Why? Because Ari Bolden and submissions 101 shows flashy funk moves while Rener and Ryron show traditional basics. Nevermind that the vast majority of Ari's moves wouldn't work on either of my dead grandmothers. MMA is an extremely demanding and tough sport. Every week I have someone come into my gym and tell me they want to be a fighter and most of them don't last a week. There's another gym here in Goldsboro, that I won't name, that let's their students fight after only three months of training! At my school you can barely get one stripe on your white belt in three months! But I can't even blame them because they don't know any better. The gym was opened by a guy that owns a nightclub and a tattoo shop but who has never trained before in his life. He just saw that MMA was popular right now and that maybe he could make some money. I think that's where most of the gyms are coming from right now. I don't want to offend anyone or leave anyone out but basically you have us (triangle jiu-jitsu), Team-Roc, and Evolution down in Wrightsville Beach. Everyone else in North Carolina is way behind us. That doesn't mean they can't catch up, but I think those three teams I mentioned stand head and shoulders above everyone else and will for a long time. thanks Jake Whitfield for taking the time to speak with us and we wish him the best in his upcoming fights.