When it comes to mixed martial arts, just about every figure in the sport can recall the day they knew they wanted to participate in it, regardless of whether they wanted to fight or function on the corporate side of things. In any event, those in the sport can remember that day because of one fight that inspired them to believe that they could actually perform in the sport with a strong probability of success. Once they follow through, they never forget what brought them to the point of wanting to do it, and they never look back with regrets about their decision to chase that goal.

The date of May 27, 2006 holds a great deal of significance to the MMA world, because on that night, UFC 60 emanated live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles with MMA legend Royce Gracie facing then-welterweight champion Matt Hughes in the main event. For some, it seemed like a surreal moment in the MMA world, as few thought Gracie would ever return to the Octagon and even fewer expected his return bout to come against one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world at that time. For a young Utah native named Jason South, however, seeing Hughes’ performance over Gracie changed his life.

“I started watching Royce Gracie and Matt Hughes fight, and they showed all of Royce’s old fights from when he had the gi on and everything, and I just laughed at him and thought, ‘This guy is going to get smashed,’ and Royce was choking everybody out, so I was very intrigued. I didn’t even know what jiu-jitsu was,” South told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview.

South (R) (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

South (R) (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

South’s intrigue about the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, spawned in that moment of watching Gracie and Hughes do battle, would eventually lead him to find a gym in which to train in the art. He found himself with a size advantage over other people who, much like himself, desired to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Considering that some of those people tipped the scales at as much as 70 or 80 pounds lighter than him, South could easily overpower his smaller counterparts, right? Wrong. He quickly learned one of the oldest rules of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which states that size does not always matter. Rather than get discouraged about it, though, he used it to drive himself mentally en route to beginning his run as a fighter.

“I went in there and I just got destroyed,” South recalled. “I was about 215 [pounds] at the time, and I got destroyed by guys who were 135-145 pounds, and I was basically hooked after that. I trained in jiu-jitsu for about a year, had my first fight about a year and a half later, and I’ve just been glued to it ever since.”

Given that “The Mover” owns nine of his 10 pro wins by submission, fans unfamiliar with South’s career might seem justified in thinking that after that initial training session, he kept up with a more grappling-oriented regimen and simply picked up a few good striking techniques here and there. On the contrary, South knew that mixed martial arts requires a mix of skills, so even if he excelled at grappling, he needed to carry a striking base. Recognizing that he would not get the chance to take all of his opponents into a ground battle, he took on another martial art and included it into his repertoire.

“It was mostly jiu-jitsu, [but] I did a little bit of Muay Thai,” he explained. “And I’m one of those guys that always works very hard. What I lacked in skill, I made up for in heart and talent, so that’s the big thing I had at the time.”

The blend of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that South possessed did pay dividends in his career, especially in his first pro bout, which currently stands as the only one of his 10 pro wins to come by a form of knockout. Successful game plans always stand out as the absolute reason for why a fight went a certain way, but the secret to a fighter’s success, especially in debut-fight scenarios, lies within a fighter’s nerves.

“I’ve always done really well with nerves,” South explained. “With the nerves for fighting, I don’t pretend they aren’t there, but they really just don’t bother me. I’ve just been blessed that way.”

It helped in his first pro bout, when he combated Joshua Lannon, who himself made his pro debut against South. South improved plenty from that bout, which took place at Ultimate Combat Experience’s “Round 32″ event in August 2008. Although 2008 appears like so long ago because of the multitude of events that the MMA world has experienced in the time since then, South still holds on to the memory of how it all began for him.

“I remember that fight very well,” he admitted. “The way that fight went, it was, ‘Do you want to be here or not? Do you want to do this?’ And he broke my nose in the first 10 seconds of the fight. Honestly, I remember clips of the fight and being able to TKO him towards the ground.”

Fast forward four years from that fight with Lannon. South was coming off a win over Jarome Hatch, and a promotion by the name of Showdown Fights was set to host an event in the city of Orem, Utah, that would inevitably showcase Steve Sharp and Lance Palmer, as well as recent WSOF contender Josh Burkman. For South, the opportunity to fight in his home state enthralled him enough, but the opportunity required him to make a decision between one rising foe and one relatively established veteran of the game.

South (R) (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

South (R) (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

“At the time they offered me [the fight], it was either Brandon Melendez or Tim Ruberg,” South explained. “Ruberg would’ve been a bigger opportunity because he was 8-0 as an amateur and 7-0 as a pro, so I’ve always wanted to test myself and that was a good test.”

Ruberg was forced to tap to South in the second round of that bout. Some time later, Kyacey Uscola and Phil Dace looked to test South. Uscola lasted until the second round, but he tapped just minutes short of the time to which Ruberg survived. Dace, in contrast, was submitted in a little over four minutes of the first round. South looked in all different directions for another opportunity to fight, and he received a good sign of things to come in the form of a phone call from MFC President Mark Pavelich, who offered him a title fight with Sam Alvey at MFC 38 last October.

“He offered me a title fight at 185 and, you know, I couldn’t pass it up,” South said. “It was one of those ones where I took it, I gave him hell, and it didn’t go my way, but that was another good learning experience.”

In an intense five-round battle, South pressured Alvey without hesitation. Alvey landed the more significant strikes in the bout, but South never allowed him to stay in the driver’s seat for very long. Still, the bout ended with Alvey sticking a last-minute counter shot that dropped South and eventually put him out. In a career already loaded with valuable lessons learned along the way, South picked up a number of things that would help him in his quest to show the world that he stands among the world’s elite middleweight fighters.

“There are some things in the fight that I wasn’t very happy about with my stand-up game,” he confessed. “Doing a couple of things different, set things up different, punch as much as I can while fighting against the ropes—that was different as well. Just little things like that to get used to, adapt to, that’s how I’m getting better at it.”

Those improvements are part of South’s plan when he crosses The Ultimate Fighter 17 alum Gilbert Smith at MFC 39, live from the Northlands Expo Center in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada this Friday night. A strong person in his own right, Smith also owns the majority of his wins by submission and can go the distance in any bout if need be.

“He’s a strong wrestler, looks like a really strong person, too, and looks pretty well-rounded,” South said of his upcoming opponent. “I think this is a really good match-up, because most likely it’ll end up on the ground. That’s where I thrive and that’s where he likes it. I could see a very good grappling match with punches thrown and some elbows.”

Smith likes to gain control of bouts via his wrestling game, whereas South likes to pressure opponents on the feet and on the ground. Does that mean that South expects Smith to try to take him down, overpower him and possibly look to throw short shots?

“I never go into a fight expecting anything,” South admitted. “I go in there with ideas of how things could go and just go accordingly. I’m not going to go in there assuming this can happen. If it doesn’t happen, then I’m caught off-guard, so I’m just going in there with ideas of what to do everywhere the fight goes, so I’m just prepared no matter what happens.”

It may be far removed from the day when South knew he wanted to be a fighter, but Friday night is another chance for South to create a memory. Perhaps one day, his performance will even stand as the inspiration that led another person to take to the mats.

Jason would like to thank his coaches, teammates and training partners at Unified BJJ and The Pit Elevated Fight Team, as well as Mark Pavelich and the MFC for the opportunity to compete for them. Follow South on Twitter: @jasonksouth

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.