“You gotta start growing up and taking things serious.”
The words directed at Jacob Volkmann two years ago didn’t come from his wife, his parents, or a close friend, but from the owner of a bank in his hometown of Fergus Falls, Minnesota who apparently believed that being a professional fighter wasn’t the right path for a family man who was also a practicing chiropractor.
“Easy for you to say because I’ve got bills to pay,” responded Volkmann, who was in the early stages of a career that eventually brought him to the UFC in November of 2009.
What he didn’t tell the bank owner was that after being a athlete since he began wrestling at the age of four, turning off those competitive urges doesn’t come easy, and that in mixed martial arts, he found a way to continue being an athlete after a stellar college career that saw him earn recognition as an All-American three times for the University of Minnesota.
“I want to keep fighting as long as I can, until my body gives out,” said Volkmann, currently 10-2 as a pro. “I’m focused on fighting and I want to do it long-term.”
That’s not to mean that he’s abandoned his practice, Volkmann Chiropractic, in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, but he admits that “the office just started, so it barely pays for itself.”
So in the meantime, he coaches high school wrestling and focuses on his career in the Octagon, which got off to a rocky start as he lost his first two bouts, to Thiago and Martin Kampmann. With his back against the wall, he entered his March bout against Ronys Torres knowing that a third straight loss would probably mark the end of his UFC stay for the time being. In response, Volkmann delivered a workmanlike, yet unspectacular, three round split decision win that kept him alive in the ultra-competitive UFC lightweight division.
“Every fight until my new contract is a must win,” said Volkmann, who returns to action this Sunday against the UK’s Paul Kelly. “This fight is a must win. I thought the Paulo Thiago fight was pretty exciting. The Kampmann fight wasn’t too exciting, it was short, and the Torres fight wasn’t very exciting, so I think I’m still on the border.”
And while he got the win against Torres, he knows that it wasn’t going to win any awards for Fight of the Year, something you can tell irks him a bit.
“When I was wrestling in college I always wrestled the same way – keep on moving, keep the pace up, and it was pretty exciting,” he said. “I’ve always trained to make it exciting in the fights too. (Against Torres) I needed to work on controlling him more and I didn’t work on my hands like I should have and that kind of threw me for a loop during the fight.”
Even coach Greg Nelson got on Volkmann’s case, telling him that his standup looked like he was “swatting bees”.
“I was pretty embarrassed at how my standup was against Torres,” he said. “My hands should be better.”
It’s the curse of many lifelong wrestlers, who finally get to throw hands when they crossover to mixed martial arts and either develop poor technique or abandon what got them to the dance in the first place.
“I do so much better when I just straight grapple, but when I throw punches, I keep on forgetting that there are submissions there,” said Volkmann, who has six subs (two via strikes) on his record. “Against Torres, I was just thinking about punching him. That’s what I’m hoping to change with Paul Kelly here.”
To get to where he wants to be, Volkmann and Nelson have been working the pads daily, and have also altered their training regimen a bit.
“We’re intertwining everything with punches and takedowns and submissions,” he said. “Before we were doing punches or takedowns or submissions.”
And if the idea of a second straight UFC win and showing off an improved fight game isn’t enough motivation for him, consider that in Kelly, he’s facing a fighter he doesn’t exactly want to send “Christmas” (pardon the pun) cards to.
“I really don't like Paul,” said Volkmann. “I like him less than all my previous opponents put together.”
So where did all this bad blood come from? All from the fact that the original meeting between the two at UFC 116 in July was postponed because of visa issues on Kelly’s side.
“He had two months to get a visa?” asks Volkmann. “It doesn’t take two months to get a visa. He messed that up and I lost a lot of sponsorships, so I’m pretty irritated with him.”
But despite losing what he estimates to have been three to five thousand dollars in sponsorship money, Volkmann won’t be coming out reckless on Sunday in order to take his frustration out on his opponent, and he doesn’t believe Kelly will either.
“I’m assuming the worst and I’m assuming that he’s gonna play it smart,” he said. “I don’t want to expect him to come at me like an idiot, because what if he doesn’t? I’m expecting the hardest that he can give, and I always train for that.”
As for his scouting report on Kelly, Volkmann doesn’t seem too impressed with the Liverpool product.
“When I was watching his fights, he didn’t move his head as much as I thought a standup guy would,” he said. “He did have pretty good placement with his hands, but it didn’t seem like they had very much power. I’ve been working my hands and my feet and moving my head a lot so hopefully I can avoid his punches. As far as his ground game goes, he doesn’t have much – elbows are about all he’s got and I don’t care about elbows. He’s probably working on his takedown defense, which is fine. He probably thinks that I’m gonna shoot, which is not that smart because I’m a Greco guy. I don’t know if he knows that or not and Greco is a whole different ballgame.”
And Jacob Volkmann is a lot different than whoever that bank manager thought he was two years ago. He’s a fighter, a father, a husband, a coach, and a doctor. Sounds pretty grown up to me.