"If fans have only seen my last fight, then that was me driving a Pinto,
and, hopefully, we can get in there with a V8 and put the pedal to the
metal in this one." - Shawn Jordan
Standing 6 feet tall and as thick as a California redwood at 250+ pounds, Shawn Jordan is not in the business of making himself into a heavyweight. No, Jordan’s business is turning his already heavyweight form into a dangerous, well-rounded UFC fighter. The journey from one to the other will require dedication, resistance to pain, time in the gym, understanding of technique, lots of techniques, and a lot of guidance from those who have completed similar transformations in themselves. Luckily for “The Savage”, he has the required physical tools, the necessary mental ambition, and two teams of highly regarded coaches to set him in the right direction.
“As a heavyweight, you're still a 255 or 265-pound man,” asserts Jordan. “You're going to hit hard because that is a lot of power and weight you're going to be throwing behind your punches. Then you have all these tools. It's like having Legos on the floor. You have all these Legos and you know if you can only put them together, you can make this race car. You just have to figure out how all the pieces go together to make this race car and then you can drive.”
At 28 years old, the native of El Paso, Texas appeared to be stuck in neutral in his second Octagon performance against Cheick Kongo at UFC 149. Following the biggest win of his career, a second round keylock submission of Lavar Johnson in the Strikeforce cage, Jordan made the successful transition to the UFC with a second round TKO of British strongman Oli Thompson at UFC on FX last March. From curtain-jerker to the third spot on a pay-per-view, Jordan took the opportunity to fill-in for an injured Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to face the then 17-7-2, heavyweight stalwart Kongo in Calgary. On paper, two stoppage specialists like Jordan and Kongo fighting each other should have been fireworks, but, unfortunately, sometimes “should” doesn’t show up.
“I really thought we were going to have a fire fight and bang it out,” tells Jordan. “The fight turned out to be a dancing competition and a clinch match. I was really disappointed for me as a competitor and going into a fight with a guy like Cheick Kongo. I thought we would go in there and throw bombs at each other. I'd have to take some responsibility as well. I think the actual size of the fight, I didn't give myself enough time to mentally process it enough and prepare for it enough. I think that it is as much my fault as it is. Usually, when I get in there, I like to throw bombs and I like to push the pace. It just wasn't the way I usually fight. I didn't prepare myself mentally for the size of the arena, the size of the show, and I kind of got a little starry eyed under the lights.”
If anything, it was a learning experience for Jordan. The UFC rookie learned what it feels like to lose in the Octagon, to be in a mentally grueling and taxing fight of that caliber, to be frustrated, to be under those unsympathetic lights, and to know for a certainty that he never wants to be in a situation like that ever again. With an overall record of 13-4 with 12 finishes under his belt, Jordan’s young career has been obviously an exciting one, and a boring bout like the one with Kongo can only help emphasize that high energy affairs are the strong suit for “The Savage”.
“It helped me get a better understanding of how to prepare myself for these bigger fights mentally,” explains Jordan. “Even in the back, I was stale and I couldn't get warmed up. I think winning or losing that fight would have been a disappointment either way. I don't like to get in there and ‘survive’. I want to get in there and compete. Losing a fight is okay; I don't want to, but I'm okay fighting a three round war and losing a decision - I can handle that. Losing a decision like that (against Kongo), it kind of eats away at you and makes you sick to your stomach. Even if I won, it wouldn't have been something I would've been proud of.”
Up next for Jordan is a UFC on FOX Chi-town showdown with heavyweight hometown hero Mike Russow. The full-time Chicago police officer tasted only his second loss in MMA and first in five years at UFC 147 against top contender Fabricio Werdum. Prior to that, the former NCAA Division I wrestler from Eastern Illinois University was on a four fight win streak inside the UFC alone (11 overall), including the one-sided decision victory over John-Olav Einemo at last year’s UFC on FOX event in the “Windy City”. Russow and Jordan are two stocky bulls who should have added motivation to clash horns at the center of the Octagon, much to the delight of fight fans.
“He's a tough guy,” affirms Jordan. “He comes in and competes every time. He can take a lot of punishment and he can dish out some too. He's a good competitor and finds a way to win. I think for the both of us, we're coming off of pretty poor showings. He fought Werdum and just got clipped and went down. It was a slow start. I'm coming off a ‘Dancing with the Stars’ competition with Cheick Kongo. We're both on the chopping block here and we both have to put on a good show one way or another. I think both of us are going to come out hungry. I'm sure he's going to try and take me down because from all his film that's what he does. He's going to try and grind it out. I'm not trying to grind it out again.”
As for the previously mentioned evolution of the former Louisiana State University fullback into a fearsome fighter, Jordan is an active member of two world renowned fight camps on opposite ends of the United States: Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA in New Mexico and American Top Team in Florida. Jordan’s new presence at ATT is a mix of a previous relationship between the camps, and with Jackson’s key heavyweight Travis Browne being injured, Jordan’s friendship with ATT members like Dustin Poirier and the availability of a certain two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion as a training partner has been beneficial. In such a young career as Jordan’s is, being exposed to multiple endless pools of fighting knowledge like that of striking coaches Mike Winkeljohn and Vitelmo “Katel” Kubis has to help quicken a warrior’s aging process.
“I was not actually very comfortable standing and striking with people,” reveals Jordan. “I did it because I was pretty tough and, again, I'm coming from football, so I'm thinking if it doesn't hurt then it's not worth it. Stupid (laughs). I've grown up and matured since then. I've improved my skill set as far as striking goes thanks to Coach Mike Winkeljohn and now Coach ‘Katel’. Both of them have had a huge part in the development of my standup. It wasn't really until last year working with Coach Wink that I was like, ‘I can do this. I can stand and do this.’ I finally started understanding that the point is not 'get hit, but hit them harder;' the point is 'to not get hit and to hit them' (laughs). It sounds simple. But I've only been fighting professionally for three years and overall for four. It's funny how you learn that stuff. It just clicks one day. Oh, that's what they mean! It sounds silly, but that's how it has developed for me.”
On the feet, “The Savage” has gotten a crash course in caged combat from two unique and expertly skilled technicians: Winkeljohn and “Katel”. “Coach ‘Wink’ takes tools that each athlete has and designs specific styles for them for their own abilities, and Coach ‘Katel’ takes what your style is, cleans it up, and makes it functional in every situation,” says Jordan, who only a short time ago walked into Jackson’s as a simple, powerful, but uncomfortable tank. “Coach ‘Wink’ took me aside and said, 'You're fast, you can move, and you're athletic. Use your speed and adjust.' He started building me off of that principle. Now Coach ‘Katel’ is watching me and cleaning that up to where as I finish all my stuff that I can still stand in there and still be balanced enough to keep fighting.”
On the ground, a literal beast of a man waits for Jordan every day to put Jordan through the toughest grappling training he’s ever faced. That “beast,” aka Steve Mocco, was born in New Jersey, won the 285-pound NCAA Division I National Championship in wrestling at University of Iowa, transferred to Oklahoma State University to win his second wrestling National Championship, competed in the 2008 Olympics, and is 1-0 by way of kimura in MMA. To prepare for a wrestler, Jordan has found arguably the most qualified and terrifying training partner he could.
“I've trained hard for three or four years, I don't get taken down very often and I don't get thrown,” states Jordan. “The first week at ATT with Steve, in our first grappling session, I got thrown four times and I got subbed twice. I got up and felt like I needed a 12 step program. He's great! We go at it. We have similar statures. We're both unassumingly athletic, being short and stocky guys. We're surprisingly quick in scrambles. I know he's been good for me; I hope I'm doing him justice helping him. He's a great training partner. He'll stay late drilling stuff with you. Where he helps me with my grappling, I help him with some of his standup and helping him get more comfortable with it. I've grappled with really tough competitors, but when I'm going against Steve I really have to use every ounce of my athletics to get away from him or get back to my feet. He's a handful.”
Once a decorated college football player and, now, a possible rising star in the UFC’s heavyweight division, It’s been a relatively short amount of time for him to go from deciding to even try MMA to fighting his third time in the Octagon. With teammates like Mocco, coaches like “Katel” and Winkeljohn, and the personal desire to reach the top of this sport’s mountain, Jordan has a bright future ahead of him even if he’s just starting to walk the correct path today.
“I think Yves Edwards put it best,” undoubtedly utters Jordan. “We were joking around the gym and he said, 'You know what's funny? We've forgotten more about fighting than normal people will ever know.' There's so much truth to that. You learn the basics early on and you think, 'That's it! That's how you fight.' Then a couple camps go by and you're like, 'Wow! I didn't have a clue what I was doing.' That's how the sport is for me right now. I played football and the basics are the basics. I love football, but if you can learn the basics then you have to know when to play and play the speed, and you can play from there on. But fighting, every opponent is an entirely different fight, an entirely different animal for you to take on.”
This Saturday, heavyweights Russow and Jordan will collide to prove their previous performance was only a minor speed bump on the road to UFC stardom. “If fans have only seen my last fight, then that was me driving a Pinto, and, hopefully, we can get in there with a V8 and put the pedal to the metal in this one,” affirms Jordan, who is ready to get back to his winning via stoppage ways and race Russow to a fan-friendly finish. “I'm hoping to have an exciting fight with big exchanges, showing a lot of movement, and I want to keep the pace up.”