At an advanced age when most fighters have either retired, or are being urged to retire by those around them, 41-year-old Jason Reinhardt finds himself on the cusp of finally “making it” in the UFC.
Much of the fuel for Reinhardt’s fire can be traced to this: job hatred. Disdain for his vocation has been parked in the recesses of the Illinois native’s mind as he prepares to step into the Octagon on Feb. 26 against Chinese sensation Tiequan Zhang (17-1).
Don’t be confused -- Reinhardt’s deep-seated resentment is not directed at professional fighting, where he has amassed a spectacular 20-1 record. It’s his other job, the one Reinhardt has reluctantly mastered and refined over the past 22 years, the trade his father began teaching him at age 19. It’s a tedious gig that causes him to walk door-to-door delivering a rehearsed pitch to perfect strangers.
“Hi, I’m Jason Reinhardt. I’m in the area talking to people about life insurance and I wanted to share some information with you about ….”
Waking up every day and soliciting others is not for the meek of heart or easily discouraged.
“I’d knock on about 120 doors a day,” Reinhardt said. “Maybe 1 in 20 would say ‘yes.’”
1 in 20, dismal as it sounds, actually qualified him as a success. Reinhardt, married with an 11-year-old daughter, said he has made north of $100,000 a year selling life and funeral insurance policies to people at their dinner tables. But boredom trumped finance, and Reinhardt sees a breakout performance against Zhang as the freedom he’s been awaiting for two decades.
“I hate it. I don’t want to sell life insurance door-to-door any more so I have to win this fight,” he said. “This is my only way out, it’s do or die with this fight. I’m going to fight until the end in that cage. This is my only shot.”
Reinhardt has been in this position once before. More than three years ago he suffered the lone loss of his career to Joe Lauzon at UFC 78. He rebounded by winning his next two bouts, then stopped fighting for three years because he refused to compete on smaller shows. It was back to selling insurance full-time.
And then, the call Reinhardt craved came late last year. One more time, it was UFC or bust, only this time Reinhardt opted to compete at featherweight, closer to his natural weight.
His life has been uprooted. Reinhardt, who lives in Decatur, Ill., had trained for most of his career with former UFC champion Pat Miletich in Iowa. Yet Miletich’s gym, once an admired factory of champions that produced UFC kingpins such as Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes and Tim Sylvia, closed down late last year.
Reinhardt searched for a new home to train, and found it at Wanderlei Silva’s gym in Las Vegas.
“Wanderlei Silva has been my favorite fighter of all time,” Reinhardt exclaimed. “When I broke my neck back in 2001 I would lay in bed and watch highlight videos of his fights. I love his aggressive style and his mentality, and on top of that he is a great guy who truly cares about his students. I believe he’s going to be the champion again and he believes that, too.”
A fighter since the turn of the millennium, Reinhardt said that for this camp he did not sell insurance on the side. He pronounced himself in the best condition of his career, but conceded that stubbornly chasing his unfulfilled dream has “not been easy” for his wife.
“It’s a struggle to be honest with you, but she’s stuck by me and now here we are,” said Reinhardt, who hasn’t seen his wife or daughter for months while training. “I’ve given up everything and sacrificed everything for this sport. My wife has been very patient. A lot of times she has said this sport has ruined our lives. And I’m out to prove that it hasn’t ruined our lives. The time is now and I’m going to win this fight and she’s going to see that it’s all been worth it.”
One thing about Reinhardt, he is never passive inside of the cage. Amazingly, all 21 of his fights have ended by finish (he has subbed 16 foes and technically knocked out four others). Only two of Reinhardt’s fights have ever stretched past the first round. Something will have to give against Zhang, who is also a first-round dynamo.
“If he gassed out in that fight against Danny Boy Downes, I hate to see what he’s going to do against me,” Reinhardt said, referring to Zhang’s only defeat. “Because the pace that I set is 10 times Danny Boy’s. So I hope he’s done his cardio, because I have. And if he hasn’t, it’s too late.”
This may well be the twilight of Jason Reinhardt’s career. Or it might be the highlight of his career and the start of something special.
“It’s all about being happy,” he said. “I mean, how happy can you be knocking on doors selling life insurance, man?”
Jason Reinhardt: 'This Is My Only Way Out'
"I hope he’s done his cardio, because I have. And if he hasn’t, it’s too late.”
Watch Past Fights
Saturday, December 3
Las Vegas, Nevada