Following an impressive career on the gridiron at Louisiana State University, you wouldn’t think Shawn Jordan would be fazed by stepping into an athletic competition in front of a packed arena.
After all, LSU plays their home games before more than 90,000 people at Tiger Stadium, and Jordan was a part of two National Championship teams during his time donning the purple and yellow. But there is a difference between stepping onto the football field with your teammates and walking into the Octagon solo, and despite his big game experience, the UFC heavyweight is still getting used to being one of two men underneath the bright lights when the cage door closes.
In just his second UFC appearance, Jordan stepped up to square off with veteran Cheick Kongo. The bout was featured on the main card of last summer’s debut event at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, a cavernous venue that housed more than 16,000 somewhat frustrated fans by the time the heavyweights hit the cage.
“I thought I would be fine,” admits Jordan with a laugh that says he was dead wrong. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, but fighting in that arena was completely different than fighting at The Pearl (at The Palms) in Vegas. It’s a great place to fight, but it’s a small, intimate venue; we were fighting in a packed arena. It changes things a little bit.
“I’ve played on some of the biggest stages in sports playing football, but you have a team there, a helmet on, and you’re with a group of guys. To get out there and compete under the lights, just you and another guy, it’s different; it changes things in your head.”
Jordan froze up, and spent the duration of the dull 15-minute affair unable to mount much offense. The golden opportunity that came with stepping up on short notice to face a perennial contender came and went, leaving the former fullback no further ahead in his climb up the divisional ladder, and coming off a loss.
His next appearance came in January against hometown heavyweight Mike Russow as part of the first UFC on FOX card of 2013. As the first round got underway, Russow landed some heavy shots on Jordan, who once again looked flat and unable to get off with his striking.
“At the start of that fight, I couldn’t get warm in the back,” recalls Jordan, who splits his training time between Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico and American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. “I was feeling kind of stale and stiff. I think some of that was coming off the Cheick Kongo fight where I kind of froze up, I couldn’t think of what to do. I was kind of worried about freezing up again that whole week of being there. That was weighing on me mentally, so I was shaking those cobwebs off, and Mike surprised me.
“For a huge dude, he threw that right hand a lot faster than I thought it was going to come, and I was standing there when he threw it every time; I didn’t even move. I was watching the film afterwards thinking I was moving, but I was moving my feet; my body stayed in the exact same spot the whole time. Your perception during a fight isn’t always what’s going on.”
The charismatic and talkative heavyweight cackles as he reflects on his lack of movement in the early stages of his last appearance, something that is surely easier to do given that he eventually got loose, and earned a second round stoppage win over Russow.
“Chris Leben said it best at one point: I gotta get cracked a couple times before I remember I’m in a fight,” Jordan says, paraphrasing the long-time UFC middleweight competitor. “I think I need to shake that off and stop doing that because the more I move up, the competition gets harder, and we’re heavyweights – everyone hits hard in the heavyweight division. You can’t really risk coming out stale when these guys are wearing four-ounce gloves.”
Figuring out how to avoid slow starts is just another part of the rapid learning process Jordan has been immersed in since making the transition from football to fighting over the last four years.
The fact that he’s already competing at the highest level in the sport speaks volumes about his natural talent, especially when you consider that Jordan didn’t really start training until 18 months ago, and remains a work in progress.
“I’m going on my fourth year fighting, but I kind of just started legitimately training and doing things the right way in the last 18 months with going to Jackson’s, and now with American Top Team. I’m learning, and I’m still trying to figure out what kind of fighter I would like to be.
“That competitiveness and that raw athleticism I was blessed with and conditioned to have growing up in Texas, playing football for LSU (has paid dividends),” explains Jordan, who credits LSU strength and conditioning coordinator Tommy Moffitt for helping him develop his mental toughness during his time as a football player.
“I think that mindset has really helped me and gotten me to where I’m at. Training is giving me tools and things to work with now; it’s sharpening my abilities and helping me mold myself into a fighter and develop in this competitive atmosphere. I know that I like to win, and now I figure out how to do it, which is a big plus.”
Jordan’s next opportunity to “figure out how to win” comes Saturday night in Winnipeg, where he’ll share the cage with fellow Louisiana heavyweight Pat Barry.
From the time the contest was announced, fans tagged it as a potential Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night contender, given each man’s penchant for putting forth entertaining performances. Just one of Jordan’s 14 career victories has come by decision, while Barry has been to the scorecards just once in his 13-fight career in the cage.
Just as Jordan earned a second round KO win in his last appearance, so too did Barry, who stopped Shane Del Rosario at December’s Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale in Las Vegas. With both looking to establish some consistency, build off their most recent victories, and take another step forward in their careers, don’t expect their friendship to get in the way of them slinging leather and looking to knock each other out on Saturday night.
“We’re good friends,” Jordan says of the man he’ll share the cage with this weekend when the UFC debuts at the MTS Centre. “We text all the time, but this is our job. It’s business; it’s not personal. We’re not trying to hurt each other. He didn’t call my mom names or anything. He and I are buddies. It’s business. It’s what we do. It’s nice to know that we’re just competitors.
“Pat’s powerful, man,” continues Jordan. “It’s great to get this kind of fight. Pat and I are friends, and we both have similar thoughts. We’re going to come out, throw bombs, be fast, and be athletic. It’s exciting to do it and to train for it.”
Jordan also likes that he won’t have to prepare for any mean-mugging Friday afternoon at the weigh ins.
“The worst thing – and it always makes me laugh is at weigh-ins – is when you have guys that are all upset and want to get in your face during the staredown, acting all tough. It’s like, `Really? You do realize we fight tomorrow? Why are you wasting this energy right now? Don’t worry about it. Save it. We’ll fight tomorrow. You still have to get in the cage with me. You’re not scaring me.’”
Maybe the heavyweight friends will fake animosity with each other when they stand face-to-face in front of Dana White and company Friday afternoon. Perhaps they will reenact the salute to John L. Sullivan and the bare-knuckled boxers of old like they did at a regional event in their home state earlier this year.
Either way, when the cage door closes on Saturday night, they’ll be trying to take each other out from the outset, and Jordan is intent on getting the best of his friend.
“I’ve got to be faster than Pat, and I’ve got to use good technique. Take what he gives me and do well with it. Use what he gives me and dominate him wherever I can. I’ve got to bang it out.”
Shawn Jordan: The Savage is Still Learning
"We’re going to come out, throw bombs, be fast, and be athletic." - Shawn Jordan
click to watch Shawn Jordan vs. Oli Thompson free through 6/15
click to watch Shawn Jordan vs. Oli Thompson free through 6/15