This is number fifty-two in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature World Series of Fighting lightweight, Jacob Volkmann. Volkmann is a UFC veteran who was released by the promotion after his last fight, a loss at UFC 156, in February. A talented wrestler, who has always been outspoken, Volkmann certainly has an opinion on his somewhat surprising release. Volkmann will be debuting for the World Series of Fighting at WSoF 3, against Strikeforce veteran, Lyle Beerbohm, on Friday, June 14th. Fans can watch it live on the NBC Sports Network, starting at 11PM ET/8PM PT. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Jacob Volkmann: Sean Sherk and Greg Nelson came to the University of Minnesota, where I was training Greco. I was trying to make the World’s team for Greco. Either Greco or freestyle, I don’t remember. They were showing some submission moves, and after they showed us the moves, we went live with submissions. That was the first time I ever rolled. That was back in 2007. And after we rolled, Sean Sherk asked me to help him train for the Hermes Franca fight. I started training and fell in love with it.
JB: You were a highly decorated Division I wrestler and part of a very successful program at the University of Minnesota. How do you regard your accomplishments in wrestling and why did that sport suit you so well?
JV: I started wrestling when I was four years old. My dad made me wrestle. He wrestled when he was young so it kind of in the blood. I didn’t really have a choice. I kind of fell in love with the sport of wrestling right around eighth or ninth grade. I stuck with it and wrestled in college. I had some matches I’m not too happy with, but I’m happy with most of them.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, submitting your opponent with strikes back in 2007, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
JV: For that fight, I was good enough. Ha-ha. But I only trained for seven months before that fight. So I didn’t really know too much. I’m still learning now. I was kind of nervous going into the fight. I didn’t know what to expect. But I was plenty trained for it compared to him. I had so many years of wrestling in my background, top level wrestling. I already knew how to work out and train for events. I punched him and took him down. I don’t remember if I punched him and he fell down or I punched him and took him down. I just started punching him when he was on the ground and he tapped.
JB: You entered the UFC as a welterweight, and you were undefeated, 9-0. What would you attribute your success to in that early part of your career and how did you develop your MMA skills to compliment your high level wrestling?
JV: I was training at the best gym in the state, probably one of the best gyms in the nation. I had some of the best partners - Sean Sherk, Nick Thompson, Derrick Noble. I had a really good group of partners that beat the crap out of me for three months. Then it started getting pretty close to even. That was the main thing. That was the biggest reason I got to 9-0 when I first started.
JB: Your first two fights in the UFC were losses at welterweight to tough opponents, Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann. After that, you went on a 5-0 run at lightweight in the UFC, and had a record of 6-2 overall at lightweight in the UFC. What were your most satisfying performances in the UFC?
JV: My favorite one, obviously, was the Shane Roller fight because that was in my hometown and I had most of the guys there. They knew me. I had a lot of my fans there. All the friends and family that went to that fight, that was pretty cool. Then they did the Minnesota cheer afterwards. That was probably my favorite fight so far.
The reason I lost those two at welterweight was because I underestimated the UFC. I didn't think that fighting would be just as hard as division I wrestling. So I didn't train nearly as hard as I did when I won my next five. That was kind of a rude awakening for me.
JB: After your last fight in the UFC, a loss to Bobby Green at UFC 156 in which you had dominated early, you, Jon Fitch, and others were released from the promotion. Now that some time has passed, how do you make sense of your release?
JV: It doesn't make sense to me. That loss was a horrible loss. It was a fluke loss. I dominated that first round, and then after that first round, I was dead. That doesn't happen. I was sick. They knew it was a fluke, but they just wanted to get rid of me because they didn't like my style of fighting. So I'm not too happy with the UFC at all.
One thing I'd like to change is how they pay the fighters. What they do is sign you to a four-fight contract. What I'd like to change is make it a minimum of a two-year contract, a minimum of two fights per year, and the pay would be 15,000 a fight. So a minimum a fighter could get paid is 30,000 a year. If they lose, obviously, it's not going to go up. But there's got to be a minimum that makes it affordable for the fighter to live off of. And it gives them two years. Because the first two fights in the UFC, man, you got to deal with the stress and the fear of being cut right away. Most of the fighters, it seems, get cut after two fights. That's way too much stress for when you're beginning.
JB: Your next fight will be against Lyle Beerbohm, at the World Series of Fighting 3, in Las Vegas, on June 14th. What do you think of that matchup, Beerbohm as an opponent, and the WSOF promotion?
JV: I think he's all-around average to above average. He doesn't really have really good strengths, or high level Muay Thai, or boxing, or Jiu-jitsu, or wrestling. But he is a dangerous fighter because he goes hard. So I'm going to treat him like I treat everybody else, even in the UFC. I'm going to treat him like he's the best fighter out there. It's the only way you can fight. If you underestimate somebody, you're going to lose.
World Series of Fighting has a lot to things to work on, a lot of kinks to work out. The last event, they were waiting until the last minute. Two hours before the fight, they got the cage cleared, which shows me they don't really have all their kinks worked out yet. I hope they get their kinks worked out and they become a successful promotion because my future is with the World Series of Fighting.
JB: What do you still hope to accomplish in your MMA career and what issues concern you most in the sport?
JV: I want to win the next fight and have a consistently good record. You always want to win the next fight. The goal eventually would be that when they come out with a belt for the World Series of Fighting, to get that belt.
The issue that concerns me most is the UFC trying to squeeze out another promotion like the World Series of Fighting, kind of like they squeezed out Strikeforce and merged that with the UFC. I'm hoping that doesn't happen again. I’m hoping the fighters can actually form some kind of union or association or get together so that they can negotiate and get better pay and get better benefits. The UFC's got plenty of money that they can throw around and try and bully all these other promotions out. It's not really fair for the fighters. The fighters should have health care. They should have retirement. This is a living. It's not that much to ask for.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
JV: Outside of training and fighting, I have three kids. I'm married still. Ha-ha. I like to spend a lot of time at home with my family. I have a six, four, and two year old. They're just a ball of energy and they're fun to hang out with so most of the time I'm with those guys.
To thank, I would say The Academy, obviously, because that's where I've trained, The Academy in Minnesota. And there's my sponsor - Infinite Insurance. They've been with me for a while. There’s Total Martial Arts Center in Timmins, Ontario. MMA Overload, they've always done my printing for me. Heat Wave, they've always been a good sponsor. I'm trying to get Athens Archery to sponsor me. And I'm trying to work with Fusion in the future, the ammunition company.
JB: Last question, Jacob, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
JV: Most of the stuff that I enjoy is the training. I've always loved training. You got to get up and run in the morning, work out in the beginning of the afternoon. That's the training part, but there's the freedom during the day. I get to hang out with my family and I have another job. I'm a chiropractor too. I have a chiropractic job on the side. So I get to treat people on the side. It's the freedom.
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