For 33-year-old Portland native Dave Jansen, a career hiccup turned out to be exactly what he needed to take his fight game to the next level. After opening his career with 14 straight wins, the former Team Quest product dropped two straight decisions in the WEC. While his subsequent release was a bit surprising, Jansen used it as a wakeup call.
“At the time [of the release], I was devastated,” admitted Jansen in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Looking back at it now, I think it was a positive. Honestly, I had gotten to the bigger stage without refining all my skills. I was a little out of my league with my striking. It actually opened up some doors for me to branch out with my training and find better training outside of Team Quest.”
The back-to-back losses led Jansen to the Sports Lab, home to UFC veterans Mike Pierce and Ian Loveland. Since changing gyms, Jansen has won three straight fights under the Bellator banner, ultimately earning him a spot in the Season-Seven Lightweight Tournament.
“I’d say overall that it’s been really good for me to change gyms,” explained Jansen. “[It’s great] to get into a gym and contribute from the ground up; that’s been the case at Sports Lab. Mike Pierce and Phil Claud had their split with Brave Legion, then I came in. The gym has been growing ever since. That’s been a real boost for me.”
Switching gyms has allowed Jansen to work on the biggest deficiencies in his attack, but also has taken away some of the mental stress associated with his training regimen.
“My striking was just a glaring hole,” declared the 19-fight veteran. “But it wasn’t just my striking; my ground game had room for improvement as well. I’m really good at chokes, but for whatever reason, arm attacks weren’t really in my arsenal yet.
“I used to be in charge of my own conditioning, but now I have a trainer that oversees that. I’ve always been in pretty good shape as far as endurance goes, but it takes a lot of the load off of my mind to have somebody watch over that.”
With his training situation settled, Jansen has turned his attention to the Bellator tournament, which gets underway on Oct. 19 from Reading, Pa., at Bellator 77. The other seven competitors are a mixture of experienced veterans and international fighters. Even with a bit of mystery behind some of the participants, Jansen is confident in his abilities going into the quarterfinals.
“Everyone in the tournament is dangerous, but at the same time, I feel like I matchup well against all of them,” he said. “I know that [Alexander] Sarnavskiy has a lot of hype. And for good reason, he has a really great record, he’s dynamic and he’s a great striker. Also I see Marcin Held as a really dangerous opponent. I’m kind of rooting for [Rich] Clementi because I’d like it to be two Americans in the final.”
One of the reasons behind Jansen’s positive outlook on the tourney stems from his background. He’s competed in both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, winning an Oregon high school title in the process. Despite dropping out of the University of Oregon—where he had a wrestling scholarship—his amateur background is still one of the best in the field of eight.
“I may not be a great wrestler on paper, compared to guys with college credentials. But I don’t think anyone else in the tourney has the same kind of wrestling,” he said of his opponents. “It’s not just my wrestling, but my tenacity. I can keep going when the outlook is not good. I can fight out of submissions. I’m pretty dangerous once I get on somebody’s neck.
“A lot of these other guys don’t have a wrestling background, except for the guy I’m fighting,” Jansen said with a chuckle.
Standing across the cage will be Russian Magomed Saadulaev, who carries with him a sparkling record of 14-1. Although he’s yet to compete in the United States, the submission specialist has been training at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M. But it’s Saadulaev’s grappling skills that make for an interesting match-up with Jansen.
“He would have been the opponent I handpicked in this tournament,” Jansen said of his Russian counterpart. “I’m grateful that Bellator matched me up with him.
“I think our wrestling is going to neutralize one another. I’m not afraid to go to the ground, but I know he’s definitely looking to take it there. He’s going to wing a big shot and get in on the legs. I’ll be ready for that. I’ll be ready to wrestle and strike.”
One of the most surprising aspects is that it was Saadulaev who has competed at welterweight in the past, not Jansen. At just 5-foot-5, the Russian will be giving up four inches in height and six inches in reach. That’s something Jansen plans on taking full advantage of once the cage door shuts.
“With my height and reach, I have the size advantage,” said the Oregonian. “Honestly, in all due respect, when he was fighting at welterweight, he was giving up quite a bit of size. He should be fighting at lightweight.”
Regardless of who stands in his way during the upcoming tournament, Jansen hopes his years of hard work and sacrifice will pay off with not only a title shot, but also a $100,000 check.
“When I first started fighting, my trainer told me that mixed martial arts was a war of attrition. Whoever sticks out long enough and stays injury free are the guys that are going to reap the rewards at the end,” he recalled.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m still in the game at this point; I’m still persevering. The money hasn’t been there for me, and I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices.”
With a clear head, a healthy body and a strong team behind him, Jansen is looking to turn some heads with his tournament run.
“I’m in a really good spot mentally and physically. I feel like I’ve paid my dues and now I’ve got huge opportunity. I’m really grateful to Bellator for that. I think some people will be surprised after I win this tournament.”
Top Photo: Dave Jansen (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog)