tazmma Interview With Bellator Lightweight Dave Jansen
This past Saturday featured two Fight of the Year contenders, and was possibly the greatest single night in the history of MMA as far as action goes. While it ended up being overshadowed by the classic Dan Henderson/Mauricio Rua bout, Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez put on their own classic encounter for the Bellator Lightweight Title at Bellator 58. With a new champion in place, and Alvarez’s spot in Bellator now potentially in peril due to Zuffa snatching up as many fighters as they can, this may create a void in this organization’s 155lb division. One man who hopes to fill that void is Dave Jansen. The WEC veteran may have punched his entry ticket to Bellator’s next Lightweight Tournament with a 2nd Round Rear-Naked Choke victory over Ashkan Morvari at Bellator 57. I had the pleasure of chatting with Dave following that fight, and we discussed a myriad of topics, including: some recent changes to his training, how he matches up with both new champion Chandler and former champ Alvarez, and his history in both MMA and Wrestling. Keep reading for some excellent insight, and a very open interview with Dave.
Brad Taschuk: First off Dave, congratulations on your win last Saturday at Bellator 57, and thanks for taking some time out to chat with us.
Dave Jansen: No problem.
BT: Your opponent for this fight changed about a week out from fight time. How did that affect your final preparations, and did the bout go to your expectations?
DJ: A week out from the fight you can’t really change what you’ve done all camp, so I just had to make sure I was ready and that my cardio was there. I was training for Robert Washington who is a bit similar to Ashkan Morvari anyways, so I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments. Also, all the respect to Ashkan for stepping in on short notice. That’s how I got my first fight with Bellator too, the McAfee fight was on like 8 days notice, so I know what it’s like.
BT: And you won that fight with a nice D’arce choke I believe, right?
DJ: Yeah thanks (laughs).
BT: Your teammate, Mike Pierce was obviously training for his fight on Saturday night as well, which he won, so congrats to Mike. How much does it help when you can align your training camps so that you’re peaking at the same time?
DJ: Oh man, it’s a huge help. When you’ve got the whole camp centred around you it makes a big difference. You know at Team Quest there are so many guys, so someone always has a fight coming up. Now at Sports Lab I’ve got so many guys working with me. I actually had a nutritionist for this fight as well. One of my teammates’ girlfriends is a nutritionist and she made a meal plan and everything for me, so that really helped. I’m just glad I’m in a place right now where I’m surrounded by people that care about helping me out.
BT: I heard that you were training a bit at Portland Muay Thai for this fight. Obviously you’ve already got the Wrestling background, and you’ve won 10 fights by submission, so do you feel like that striking is the last piece of the puzzle to your game?
DJ: Definitely. You’ve always got to be looking to improve, and that’s the biggest area I have left. I want to be an elite fighter, one of the best in the world and a champion, so I spent a bit more time focusing on my standup. I’ve just been working with a ton of guys lately, like Mike Pierce. I’ve been working with Jeremy Wijers from Portland Muay Thai and Boxing on my stand up. I still have Robert Follis rounding out my MMA program. He was my head trainer at Quest, he’s not at Quest anymore but I’ve kept him in with my program. But Jeremy Wijers has really added a new set of eyes to the striking. You know, things that I just need to hear more and more, like “keep your right heel off the ground, stay off that right heel”.
BT: Yeah, it those tiny details that really make all the difference, right?
DJ: Yeah. “Hey, move your head”. I rewatched the fight and there’s only one little segment where I do any head movement, and that’s still one thing I really want to incorporate: head movement. Also, being elusive, not getting hit so much, not coming straight in. But I was happy with my kicks. I’ve been really working my kicks, my flexibility has really gone up.
BT: I actually just watched the Shalorus and Lamas fights before we talked and I did notice a huge difference between your kicks, even your movement in general, between those two fights and this fight now, so obviously it is paying dividends for you.
DJ: Well thanks. You know, I started at Quest, that’s where I learned the craft. And I owe a lot to Quest, to Matt Lindland and all my teammates actually. I learned so much from all the guys that were coming and going. But that was the problem, a lot of my teammates were gone halfway through my career. So, I had to put my own program together in the end. I’m really grateful now, Phil Claud is actually kind of like a handler. I’ve got a handler now. (laughs) And it feels good to have somebody so concerned with my progress, where I’m at, texting me throughout the day, checking in on me. He spends so much time with us, and has put so much dedication into my career since April. I got on board with him right after the Scott McAfee fight, I was kind of in limbo there for a minute when I took that fight.
BT: You’ve fought all over the US, a lot in the Northwest there in Sportfight. You’ve also fought in Japan and Korea, but this was your first time fighting in Canada. How did the Canadian crowd compare with some of the others that you have experienced?
DJ: Wow you know, I was actually taken back to Japan in that the crowd was really attentive and quiet unless there was action. Except for maybe one or two lone souls shouting rubbish, which the whole place could hear because everyone else was quiet. It was different.
BT: Did you manage to stick around for the Lima/Saunders fight?
DJ: Yeah, I did.
BT: With that one girl yelling, and somebody else in the crowd telling her to shut up just before the knockout happened?
DJ: Oh, for sure. She was obnoxious. A lot of other places a crowd that size could have drowned out that woman, but in Canada it was cool because you could really hear what was going on in the entire arena. Oh, and the level of politeness of the Canadian people, unparalleled.
BT: Yes, we’ve gained that reputation.
DJ: You know my father became a Canadian. He was a Dutchman, but he gave up his Dutch citizenship to become a Canadian. And that’s where my folks met, Vancouver, B.C. actually. So for a while there I had dual citizenship, but that kind of went by the wayside because I couldn’t get up there to take a test and live there for a minute. But wouldn’t that be awesome if I could be a Canadian and an American once again?
BT: That would be very cool. Do you still have that option available?
DJ: I imagine. I’d just have to put in the time, like a year or so. Who knows what will happen in the future? But right now I am really content. I love Portland, Oregon, my home. I’m really glad I found a group right in my area that can take me to the next level where I want to go, instead of having to move halfway across the world. Some of my teammates in MMA moved to Colorado, to Florida, just kind of getting out of this area. But you know, Mike Pierce and I, we can represent the Northwest and remain here. You’ve got Randy Couture, you’ve got all these people that started here and aren’t here now.
BT: A lot of it moved with Randy, and I guess a lot of it followed Dan to California.
DJ: Dan was pretty much always in California except when he was doing some of his fight preps, but those were before my time. I didn’t get there until 2006.
BT: That actually gets to something I’ll be bringing up a bit later. Before that though, you’re now 2-0 in Bellator, with both wins coming by submission. Have you spoken with Bjorn, or has he spoken with you, about competing in the next Lightweight tournament?
DJ: I spoke with him, but I didn’t bring anything up. I’m definitely on their radar. I have a lot of support in the entire promotion. He hasn’t contacted me, but I ran into him after the fight said thanks for the opportunity, thanks for letting me plant my flag, because he said “I want you guys to go out and look to win by a finish, whether it’s a knockout or submission, use it as a chance to plant your flag,” and that’s what I did. I love Bellator man, I really do. I’m such a fan of the promotion. Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock do such a good job. I go back and they were the commentating team for M-1, doing the M-1 challenge.
BT: And the tournament format is just so much different than anything else in MMA right now.
DJ: In fact, I told them in the interview I believe I could have won that tournament, the last one. The stars don’t have to align, it’s not like I have to hit some jackpot, get lucky. It’s just I’m a bad fight for just about anybody in this Lightweight division, I can be, I can pose a lot of problems.
BT: I would definitely agree with that. So hypothetically, if you get into that next Lightweight tournament, flash forward to the end of it, after you’ve had your hand raised three times. How does Dave Jansen spend a $100,000 cheque for winning the tournament?
DJ: Well, I’m going to pay my mom back a lot of money that she helped me out with. She got me out of debt with some of these bills. I fought in some promotions where I ended up in collections because I had to get a ride to the hospital and go get stitches or whatever, and the promotions were one and done, and now I’m in collections. I’d pay her back everything she put in right there. And then some of my student loans she helped me out with. She’s been really supportive, so I’d take care of family first. And then I’d make sure the ’89 Toyota pickup runs a little smoother (laughs), buy a new X-Box because mine’s broken.
BT: Uh-oh, that takes away one of my questions at the very end there. Because you’re a big gamer, right?
DJ: They’re just good ways to unwind after workouts.
BT: So you have no games available to you right now?
DJ: Not in my house, no. I’ve got Plants vs. Zombies on my phone. Probably get a new iPhone, somebody gave me this phone, it’s an iPhone 1. So I just put my SIM card in there, turned it on and it actually works. I need a data plan. Sick of going to the coffee shop to tweet. That’s one thing about this trip I’m really proud about. I got on social media, and Bellator started retweeting me. So that’s a skill I’ve been developing as well besides my Muay Thai.
BT: In today’s environment that makes a huge, huge difference.
DJ: You’ve gotta be a promoter, you’ve got to self-promote. That used to be out of our hands, but to be in this time it’s amazing. That I get to fight for a living, that I can talk to people all over the world, whoever’s interested.
BT: The next step after winning that Bellator tournament would be a shot at Eddie Alvarez. How do you think you match up with him?
DJ: Or Michael Chandler. (-ed: Nice call, Dave)
BT: Or Michael Chandler. Very true.
DJ: You know whoever’s got the belt, I think I match up well, especially at the rate I’m improving. With my new camp and my new system, making sure my body works. Steady improvement, steady training. Like a drop of water, keep making gains. I match up well with either. My Wrestling’s on par with Mike’s and I’m a little longer, little taller. Might be able to prevail in the striking and the grappling, it just depends on the circumstances, but I think it’d be a good fight.
BT: Either way it would definitely be an entertaining fight.
DJ: And then with Eddie, it’s the same thing. He’s lightning quick, but if I get a hold of him, he’s going to have a hard time breaking free of my grip, my subs and me getting on his head. He knows that’s what I’d be going for and that’s what they’d be preparing to defend, but everyone knows that, and I’m still having success. But that being said, those are the two guys that pose the most problems for me in the Bellator division. Those are my two toughest tests, so I’d be looking forward to that… four fights from now. (laughs)
BT: I know it’s a little ways down the road, but you’ve got a little bit of time off, so it doesn’t hurt to look ahead a bit. Looking at 155 in a larger scope, a lot of people think it’s the deepest division in MMA. How do you feel about the division as a whole, and where you sit in it?
DJ: As a whole, yeah it’s really deep. But it’s kind of deep in that 151-160lb weight class in Wrestling as well, and that’s the mix I was in. I don’t know where I fit in on some of the rankings, I might be top 100 now after the win. But I know I can smash plenty of those guys who are in the top 30, top 20. What happened was I lost a couple decisions, I didn’t perform. I broke my thumb in the first round against Kamal Shalorus, so that kind of put a damper on things.
BT: And even then that fight was competitive, as was the Lamas fight.
DJ: Thanks, thanks. Lamas man, he’s quick and crafty. I’m impressed with his big win over Cub Swanson.
BT: That was an incredibly fun fight. He’s knocking on the door as a top 10 Featherweight, and I saw a couple people score that fight your way, so you’re obviously right up there with some of the top fighters in the world.
DJ: The Lamas fight was really close. I thought I won the first two rounds, and you can even make a case for the third. He hit me with that elbow, and there was all the blood. But I’ve won some really close fights and I’ve lost some close fights.
BT: That’s just the way this sport goes, right?
DJ: Looking back on the Lamas fight I could have pressed the submission. I could have threatened with more submissions. I chose not to go for guillotines at times against the fence. I probably should have just slapped on more submissions like I did in this last fight against Morvari. Because that opened up the strikes in some instances. I worked the Kimura, and knew I wasn’t really going to get it but then I postured up, and I only landed the one elbow, but it put him back on the canvas and that’s when I got his back. He tried to sweep me and it was kind of feeble, and I got to mount and it was the beginning of the end. I think the threat of submissions will open up strikes, just like the threat of takedowns will open up strikes. And that’s why Wrestling is the best background for MMA.
BT: I think that’s been proven pretty well at this point. You mentioned how much you love Bellator a little bit earlier, what are some of the major differences between working for Bellator and working for Zuffa. If there are any?
DJ: They both have great staffs, and I got to know people in both the WEC and Bellator. Burt Watson is such a great guy, he’s firing everyone up, “Let’s go gentlemen!” I really enjoyed the times hanging out with Burt, talking to him. But I feel like I know everybody at Bellator now. From the guy who drives to the show, his name’s Bob, he’s one of the drivers anyways. The cutman is super cool, Dale, I appreciate him working on my eye both fights now. Jimmy and Sean, huge fans of theirs. Bjorn is such a well-spoken representative of the company.
BT: And of MMA as a whole.
DJ: (laughs) Yeah. It’s like Dana White is super entertaining as well, but I think Bjorn can speak to the masses better. This reminds me of a Joe Rogan podcast, I listen to those all the time. It’s like the difference between Bill Cosby comedy and Sam Kinison comedy, no one is gonna reach everyone.
BT: I hear you there. I’ve read a couple interviews in the past that said once you got into University, I think it was Sophmore year, you got burnt out from Wrestling. You’ve now been in MMA, fighting professionally for a little over five years, how do you keep it fun, keep it fresh so that you don’t burn out from MMA?
DJ: It really has to do with being balanced as a human being outside of training. In college I was just a kid. A kid trying to go to classes full-time and wrestle full-time, and still be a human being outside that and experience life. Now I’m a 32 year-old man, I’ve had my hardships, and I used those hardships to find my resolve for the challenges MMA brings. The training I enjoy though.
BT: I guess there’s a lot more variety in MMA training than in Wrestling, right?
DJ: Wrestling stopped being fun a long, long time ago.
BT: Well it’s tough work.
DJ: I listen to Mike Chandler talk, and somebody said Wrestling as tough as MMA, and Mike said “I’ll say it’s 11 times tougher.” Yeah, he’s right. Maybe even 12 times tougher. (laughs) It’s not easier, just because you’re not getting hit. It’s everything else that went with Wrestling. The weight cuts were an hour and a half, two hours out from the competition. As well as the frequency in which you competed. You wrestle four times a day in some tournaments. The practices, because it’s more of a team sport but still individual, made it more of a grind. My body was broken down more consistently. And I don’t even know about being in better shape when I Wrestling, because I feel like what I’m doing now, the training I’m doing now, had I been doing that at the U of O, I would’ve probably been an All-American. I mean I only wrestled two years and kind of called it quits at Oregon, and to be honest that’s probably why I’m fighting now is because I didn’t set out to do what I initially wanted to do in High School, which was be an NCAA champ, and I kind of let myself down, and I’m making amends through fighting now.
BT: Sounds a lot like what Chael Sonnen said, that he’s always striving to be a champion because he never quite got there in Wrestling.
DJ: Yeah, exactly. Chael put in the time at Oregon. He was actually the wrestler who took me on my recruiting trip. It was really cool because I’d always watched Chael. I was a couple years younger, four years younger, three years younger. So when I was a freshman he was a senior at Oregon, and man he was entertaining back then. He was kind of into the fighting back then, it was right around the time he was starting the FCFF, an organization in Portland, the Full Contact Fighting Federation. Oh man, I don’t even know what we were talking about, I can’t stop tripping on Chael and what a good job he’s doing.
BT: Well, everybody’s talking about him now. Has he always been that entertaining a character?
DJ: Yeah. He’s funny. I can’t try to be anything like him, because there’s only one of him. I’ve just got to be Dave Jansen. I’m talking about tweeting and all that stuff, but I can’t come up with those one-liners.
BT: It’s certainly a gift. Anyways you don’t need to be able to come up with those one-liners as long as you keep taking people down, smashing them and submitting them. I think that’ll do just fine. Just before I let you get back to it, do you have any shout outs you’d like to make before we finish up here?
DJ: Yeah, totally thankful to Clinch Gear, Hostility Clothing, and Source One Wellness for sponsoring me for this fight. As well as Electric Visual, they gave me some gear a bit ago. I wasn’t able to connect them with this fight, but I love Electric Visual, hoping to work with them again. Especially if I’m in that tournament. I’ve got Paradigm MMA Management representing me now, and they’ve been awesome, Audie Attar has been a huge help. Then my friends and family, my girlfriend for putting up with me. I’m always moody before fights, I’m just not myself but she gets it. My mom for being my biggest fan. Sports Lab, Portland Muay Thai and Boxing, Phil Claud, Jeremy Wijers and Robert Follis the MMA shrink, the general on the battlefield. Even when he’s not in the ring with me I can hear him whispering in my ear, “Come On!” (laughs) He was with Mike, so I’m glad he was able to help Mike win.
BT: November 12th was definitely a good night for Sports Lab.
DJ: Thanks very much for the publicity.
BT: Not a problem, thank you very much for your time, and hopefully we see you in a Bellator tournament sooner rather than later.
DJ: Yeah, you and me both.
Bjorn, I think you know what you’ve got to do.