A person’s surroundings help to shape them in many ways. Where a person lives, and especially where they grew up, can influence everything from the subtlest nuances of their day-to-day life to the most significant aspects of their existence. Grow up in a fishing community, for example, and you’re more likely to become a fisherman. Grow up in an area where a certain sport holds a particular influence over a community, and you’re more likely to be involved in that sport.

The Boston area, as combat sports fans know, represents one such area. UFC notables Joe Lauzon, Joe Proctor and John Howard represent the city, as does World Series of Fighting lightweight Dan Lauzon. The Lauzon brothers created an impact all their own in this sport, but despite still holding court in their own respect as part of the current generation of fighters, the best representation of the Lauzons’ influence on the next generation of mixed martial artists comes in the form of a gentleman named Jim MacDonald.

MacDonald holds an 8-2 Muay Thai record, as well as one victory in the amateur MMA circuit, and as one might expect from a Massachusetts native, the man loves to fight. When it comes to MacDonald’s beginnings, the story feels incomplete without mentioning famed trainer Mark DellaGrotte, whose training facilities would eventually lead MacDonald to a meeting with those Lauzon boys.

“The way I got into it was my brother was doing karate a while back, when we were kids,” MacDonald told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview, “and he’s two years older than me, and I was basically 13 [or] 14 years old. He was doing his karate thing and a guy came in and did a jiu-jitsu seminar, and my brother fell in love with it, so he asked my mom to cancel the karate contract.”

This series of events brought MacDonald and his brother to a MMA school down the street from where his family lived in a town just south of Boston. The school featured a number of students who trained under DellaGrotte at the Sityodtong Gym. The training environment resembled an abandoned factory more than it did a conventional MMA gym, but it gave MacDonald and his brother a chance to learn. MacDonald experienced plenty throughout his training, but one of the biggest moments of his career came at age 16. Did nerves kick in at the time?

MacDonald (Rich O'Sullivan/Rich O's Photography)

MacDonald (Rich O’Sullivan/Rich O’s Photography)

“Yeah, definitely,” MacDonald admitted. “The first Muay Thai fight was hilarious, man, and it’s actually a great story. I was 16 years old, and we fought at this police athletic league. It’s this place just south of Boston, and they put on a lot of Golden Gloves fights and a lot of amateur stuff, and they tried some amateur kickboxing. It was sanctioned by the New England Amateur Kickboxing League.

“I fought this dude out of a gym called Boston Muay Thai, and originally, back in the 90s, they were affiliated with Fairtex Gym, so they were a real legit Muay Thai gym. And I’m 16 years old and I’m pretty nervous, but now I have that 16-year-old spastic energy or whatever you want to call it. I knew I was going to throw caution to the wind and be a 16-year-old, so I go out there in the ring, I look across the ring, and the dude’s got the legit Muay Thai shorts. He’s all oiled up. He’s Asian, which obviously made me think, ‘Oh shit.’

“I know he’s from Thailand, and he looked pretty serious. And I just went out there that first round, didn’t know what I was doing, and punched him in the face repeatedly.”

In a nutshell, MacDonald maintained that routine for three rounds. When the smoke cleared, the 16-year-old went from competing in his first official fight to securing his first official win in the Muay Thai circuit. Reflecting back on what he did at a young age allows him to appreciate his evolution into the man that plans to one day take the professional MMA circuit by storm.

“If I were to watch the video of that fight now, I’d probably just be punching myself in the face with how sloppy I was,” MacDonald said, jokingly. “It must have looked like a drunken street brawl in the ring, but I got the win. And it was crazy that, being a 16-year-old, I fought this grown-ass man, but it was funny back then. They weren’t checking people’s backgrounds, they weren’t doing licenses and stuff. This was 2007, so, it was hilarious. I would love to see a video of it now.”

While kickboxing and boxing received sanctioning on the amateur circuit with little issue, MMA still remained illegal in the state of Massachusetts. The state always held a home for proud, hungry fighters, especially in boxing, but even during a number of the UFC’s best years, the rising sport of MMA could not secure sanctioning in the state of Massachusetts. However, that didn’t stop the sport from making some noise.

“It was alive and kicking, I’ll tell you that, but it was totally illegal,” MacDonald said. “For example, I was really young, about 14 [or] 15, and they were still doing those weird eight-man fight tournaments every night. I remember Joe Lauzon fighting to get in the UFC. They fought in this little town—they fought at a bar—and they had an eight-man tournament, and Joe fought three dudes in one night. And in the last fight of the night, he submitted this dude in the first round, and then his next fight was against Jens Pulver in the UFC.”

If any doubt exists, check Lauzon’s record, which recently improved to 23-9 with a unanimous decision win over Mac Danzig at UFC on Fox 9. In that early portion of his career, Lauzon participated in the World Fighting League Grand Prix as part of WFL 6, which featured the tagline “Real: No Fooling Around.” The aforementioned submission win, which came against Douglas Brown, followed a knockout slam of Zane Baker and a submission win over Adam Comfort. As MacDonald recalls, though, the fighters competed in a format that resembled what one might see if they watched some of the UFC’s earliest events.

“That shit was going on in the mid-to-late 90s before I was doing it,” MacDonald said. “And I’d see the old tapes of my coaches. What they would do was like a boxing show. They would do intermissions in the middle, and they’d call them exhibition matches, and they would bring out two guys.”

The people involved in those exhibitions would normally feature two vastly different styles. For instance, if one competitor specialized in karate and the other specialized in jiu-jitsu, the people at the event during intermission would announce them as such before the bout began.

“Some of the fights were crazy,” MacDonald recalled. “They would end up in a rear-naked choke, and then the next thing you know, they’re on the judges’ table outside the ring. But that was before I started training with the Lauzon brothers and all those guys. That was my old coach. He was a student of Mark DellaGrotte and Sityodtong Boxing and all those guys.”

It comes as no surprise whenever anyone talks about the Boston MMA scene and finds the conversation coming back to DellaGrotte, whose name resonates as one of a Massachusetts legend. DellaGrotte’s influence resides in the northern part of the state, where the respected trainer honed the skills of Kenny Florian, Jorge Rivera and others. In contrast, guys like the Lauzons and Proctor represented the South Shore area and excelled in the grappling game. MacDonald describes it best when defining this competitive nature as a “North vs. South” rivalry, which certainly came to a head when Lauzon headlined UFC Fight Night 13 against Florian.

Fast forward to the present day, and the more things changed with Lauzon as a fighter, the more things stayed the same with Lauzon as the person that MacDonald befriended and trained alongside. Only MacDonald and the other students of the Lauzon MMA gym know just how humble of a person Lauzon can be.

“You know, what’s cool is there’s been days at the gym where he’s in the middle of a class, and two or three 13-year-old kids will come stumbling in the gym, and they want just a picture or autograph of Joe, and he’ll stop whatever he’s doing to hook it up,” MacDonald said. “He’s a really down-to-earth, humble guy, man. He keeps it real. He’s super close to his family. Out here at Grudge, I certainly would not badmouth anybody, but you’ve seen guys that totally let that shit get to their head, and Joe is just a nice guy. That’s why, for me, he’s not just a coach, a friend or a mentor, but he’s such a good dude that I always root for him to win. Some guys get turned off by the whole Boston thing, but Joe’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.”

Yes, MacDonald mentioned the Grudge Training Center in Colorado. His ties aren’t solely to the Boston area, after all. MacDonald has a sister in Denver, and he was stationed in Colorado as a member of the U.S. Army. Therefore, he has honed his skills at the Grudge gym in Colorado and is doing so again as he prepares for his next bout. To completely understand MacDonald’s journey from Massachusetts to Colorado, we must venture back to MacDonald’s youth.

“I enlisted in the Army when I was 18, and I got out of [basic training in] Georgia, and I ended up in Colorado,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t able to train at Grudge until I deployed to Afghanistan. I did a year in Afghanistan, and while in Afghanistan, I fell back in love with fighting, because there was a guy at my base that was a fighter and we used to beat the shit out of each other every night and have fun with it.”

When MacDonald returned and purchased a car, he made up his mind and decided that he wanted to compete once more. He looked up gyms, and Grudge presented the best option for him as a training facility. Yet, after nine months of trying, MacDonald still couldn’t get a fight in Colorado. This left him no choice but to end his time with the Army and return to the Boston area.

“What happened was that I got out of the Army, went back to Massachusetts for about another year and started training with the Lauzons, and I’m only out here [in Denver] right now because there’s some kind of property dispute going on in my unit right now, and basically, I’m back…doing paperwork and just doing some administrative stuff,” MacDonald explained.

The drive MacDonald brought to the Muay Thai circuit helped him get off to a good start in MMA, thanks in part to his gym. The same gym at which he trained in Muay Thai also doubled as a MMA gym, complete with a wrestling coach, an array of jiu-jitsu players and a professional team of MMA guys. MacDonald took classes at that gym as he grew up, and even trained in MMA throughout his high school years. However, because of his youth, his coach felt hesitant to find him a fight until he actually hit the age of 18. Training in jiu-jitsu, boxing and wrestling helped add to MacDonald’s Muay Thai game and also aided him in emerging as a multi-faceted threat on the feet. Unfortunately, by the time MacDonald proved ready to compete in MMA, he had already enlisted in the Army. His MMA debut would need to wait until he finished his service.

Things looked to be moving in a positive direction for MacDonald this past July, when he finally got his first amateur MMA fight. There was a big difference between this and his Muay Thai debut.

“[My coach and I] were hitting mitts, getting warmed up,” MacDonald said, “and I could see all the other guys punching themselves in the face, getting as psyched up as they could be, and I was as calm and cool as could be.

“I don’t think being deployed to Afghanistan makes me a better fighter than anybody or gives me some sort of advantage at all, but mentally, it puts me at an advantage that a lot of guys don’t have, because I think for a lot of guys that fight in these local shows, and even at the pro level, they get nervous, you know? The fear of getting knocked out or choked unconscious is pretty frightening.”

MacDonald had come to the realization that only his ego would truly get hurt with a loss. The important thing, though, was that he would still be alive. The former Army grunt and rifleman will always feel as though the things he saw in Afghanistan gave him that mental edge. It taught him to fear nothing, not even fear itself.

MacDonald (L) (Rich O'Sullivan/Rich O's Photography)

MacDonald (L) (Rich O’Sullivan/Rich O’s Photography)

He went on to catch his first foe with a mean switch kick knockout just 18 seconds into the bout. The finish generated such a response that someone wound up sending a whole beer flying down to the cage, soaking a number of cageside officials and leading to the arrest of the person who threw the beer.

With one fight under his belt, MacDonald plans to keep moving forward.

“Once I’m done [in Denver], I plan on going back to Boston and training with the Lauzons. In the meantime, I’m training out here [at Grudge], and I tried to get that fight, but it fell through,” MacDonald revealed.

The fight that fell through was slated for Prize Fighting Championship 5 this weekend. Prior to the situation that brought MacDonald to Colorado, he had planned on fighting in Massachusetts on Jan. 25 for a local promotion. But when it was clear that he would be forced to stay in Colorado for a longer period of time and would not be home in time to fight in January, MacDonald’s strong work ethic prompted him to approach Trevor Wittman about securing a fight in the Colorado area.

MacDonald fights as a natural featherweight, and luckily for him, Wittman first came to MacDonald with a featherweight in mind, but it was an old buddy of MacDonald’s from the Elevation Fight Team. MacDonald knew he could never get motivated to fight one of his buddies, and so Wittman then brought another featherweight to MacDonald’s attention. That featherweight elected against taking the fight.

“Trevor’s like, ‘Alright, this is the last chance, man,” so I got an amateur 155er, which is out of my weight class, but I was like ‘Fuck it, I’ll take it. I want to fight so badly,'” MacDonald said.

MacDonald prepared himself mentally for the bout, but less than a week out from the fight, Wittman sent MacDonald an early-morning text that said that the lightweight fighter did not want the fight. Furthermore, nobody else wanted the fight.

“It’s not like I’m super badass or whatever, but it’s like most guys, for their first couple of MMA fights, want to fight a guy that’s got a couple of fights, and it appears that I do on paper, but then once you read about me, you’re like ‘Oh shit, this kid’s got fucking 10 Muay Thai fights? Nah, I don’t want to have my first fight against that guy.'”

Now, MacDonald plans to compete in Boston this April for a promotion in the area, though it remains in question whether or not it’s the same promotion that planned to feature him in January.

“I don’t have a name yet, but my promoter gave me two names of guys that I’m looking at,” MacDonald said. “There’s one that I’m looking at who’s a student of the Florian Martial Arts Center, and he’s real tall, skinny for his weight class, really lanky, and he’s got really good jiu-jitsu, so I’m looking at him and looking for a possible way to beat him. The other dude I’m looking at is more of a Muay Thai kickboxer, but he’s really, really traditional, and I feel like nowadays, in this sport, you can’t rely on one style. You need everything going for you.

“The one thing about the fighters on the West Coast, compared to the East Coast, is that the fighters are much more well-rounded. It’s funny, [the East Coast] is still that, ‘Oh, this is a jiu-jitsu gym,’ and they might have a half-assed striking program or something, but these are jiu-jitsu guys. And then you’ll have another gym, and they’ll all be nasty Muay Thai dudes, great kickboxers and good striking, and then you’ll have [straight]forward jiu-jitsu. I know here on the West Coast [and] here in Colorado, I’m seeing way more well-rounded schools. Even Grudge is bringing in good jiu-jitsu guys. Steele [McCall] is doing no-gi. Grudge has a guy here named James Fleming, and he’s a high-level champion wrestler. Justin Gaethje is a high-level wrestler, and I hear Factory X has a well-rounded program up there. Not so much on the East Coast, but in Massachusetts, people have their one style, and they want to win fights like that.

“My main thing is I want a guy who’s going to try and fight with me. I understand the nature of the sport is to win, and you want to win, and that’s great, but I feel that because I’m an amateur, I want a guy who’s going to come out and give me a bloody, messy, grinding fight, because at the amateur level that’s what will point me in the right direction and build up my experience for when I go pro. Say, for example, a guy with a Georges St-Pierre style, where he shoots in on you and holds you down to get a win—if a guy’s doing that in the amateur career, it’s kind of silly because you’re not having those fights where you’re getting hit really hard. If I’m going to fight an amateur guy that is going to coast his way towards a decision, then I’m not going to want to fight that guy. I want to fight a dude in the amateur ranks that will come at me swinging hard leather, going for submissions and push me because we’re just amateurs. We just need to feel the sport out.

“It’s almost up to us fighters to put on a good show, because the only reason why we’re allowed to pursue this crazy, ridiculous hobby of cage fighting is because our friends and family come out and support it. Every time I go out, I want to make sure people get their money’s worth and they’re not seeing a boring fight.”

Jim would like to that Trevor Wittman, Dan Kuhl, Steele McCall, LT Nelson, Brian Youngs, everyone at the Grudge Training Center, everyone at the Elevation Fight Team, all his other training partners and the Lauzon brothers.
  • Joe Snuffy

    Wait a minute you didnt mention going AWOL 3 times you turd!!!

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  • Jack meeoff

    Wait wernt you the dirtbag that went AWOL right before this deployment. The one the real soldiers are on ? Ya thats you fuck face!

  • 11BRAVO

    After the dudes sister got raped! I dont blame him !

  • jb1990

    real deployment to kuwait? hah get the fuck out of here… this kids a beast.. one to watch for sure…. haters gonna hate … go MAC!

  • 91bullchamp

    Wow funny to see how how much shit People talk I know who you guys are that are talking shit. You will be a little bitch till you step in the cage with Mack. Fucking pussys leave his sister out of it punk ass bitch. I’m calling all 3 of you you out for being this fucking pathetic.