For Dave Jansen, switching training camps turned his MMA career around.
Mired in a two-fight losing streak during a WEC run in 2010, with losses to future UFC fighters Ricardo Lamas and Kamal Shalorus, Jansen decided it was time to move on from the famed Team Quest in Portland, Ore., as things weren’t working.
So the life-long wrestler decided to take a risk and join the up-and-coming Sports Lab. And since then, he’s won four-straight fights in the Bellator cage, validating his decision.
“I changed camps. I went to Sports Lab,” Jansen told MMASucka.com during a phone interview this week before his Bellator 81 bout against Ricardo Tirloni, a fight that will see the winner advance to the finals of the promotion’s latest lightweight tournament.
“We do things differently at Sports Lab. We’re not sparring in a room of 20 guys, colliding into each other, picking our rounds at random. It’s arranged and the biggest emphasis is injury prevention. We’re still going hard but it’s in a controlled, safe environment.”
Jansen believes he’s a perfect fit at Sports Lab and credits the move for the wave of success he’s currently riding.
“I fit in at Sports Lab great. Originally it was just Mike Pierce and Phil Claud on the MMA end of it. When I was looking to move on from Team Quest, me and Mike started sparring and doing workouts, and then we started slowly adding fighters. That was a year and half ago and now we have Tyson Nam and Ian Loveland and some others. Pat Healy popped in to hit rounds with us and Matt Wiman just moved to Portland and has expressed some interest in sparring with us.”
The entire Sports Lab team is riding a high right now. Nam recently knocked out Bellator World Bantamweight Champion Eduardo Dantas, Pierce knocked out Aaron Simpson in the UFC, and Loveland has been doing big things in Tachi Palace Fights. Which is why Jansen is feeling so confident right now heading into the bout with Tirloni, and why the 33-year old finally feels he’s coming into his own as a mixed martial artist.
Like many young Oregon men, Jansen started wrestling when he was five and wound up at the University of Oregon on a full scholarship. But he was tired from the grind and dropped out.
“I actually ended my wrestling career on a sour note. I was at the University of Oregon and I was on a full scholarship, but I just kind of hit a plateau and it was more of a mental block. I was depressed, burned out. I didn’t want to be in Eugene anymore, and the coaches basically said we’d rather give your schalrship to someone else. I could have stuck it out, but I chose to drop out. Then I started doing consutruction jobs and worked in restaurants.”
But, as fate would have it, it was the menial jobs he was doing that brought him into the MMA world.
“I met (former UFC fighter) Chris Wilson, who was working as a bartender at the Portland International Airport, and he took a look at my cauliflower ears and said I need to fight, that I have too much skill. A year went by before I took him up on it. It wasn’t until I saw him fighting in the IFL on TV. Portland had their own professional team, the Portland Wolf Pack, and I thought I’d take Ryan Schultz’ spot. But it was when I went to Team Quest I knew I had to learn how to fight. That was in 2006.”
Training at Team Quest, Jansen won the first 14 fights of his career before getting the call to the WEC. He debuted with a win over UFC vet Richard Crunkilton, but then lost to Shalorus and Lamas. That’s when he switched to Sports Lab, and that’s why he’s the best fighter he ever has been today.
“Every week I’m a better fighter. Every month I make trenendous strides in my game. My mental conditioning. I’ve got all my other affairs in order in my personal life, which is a big boost in my professional life. The mental and the physical go hand-in-hand, connected.”
And that’s why he’s ready to go out there at Bellator 81 and take it to Tirloni, who is a tough Brazilian with dangerous submissions as well as underrated striking.
“I think it’s a competitive match-up. I have to be sharp and on my game. I can’t go out there and not pull the trigger. I can’t be passive. I’m going to take the fight to him. I think we’re evenly matched on the ground and we’re both good at the same submissions — front chokes, darce chokes, arm-triangle chokes — but I think I have the edge in wrestling and striking.”
The winner will move onto the finals and face the victor of Marcin Held vs. Rich Clementi for a shot at Bellator World Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler as well as a cheque for $100,000, and that’s something that’s not lost on the blue-collar Jansen.
“It would just be really rewarding, validating, for all the hard work I’ve put in (to win a Bellator tournament). Hopefully I can inspire others to overcome obstacles because I haven’t had anything given to me. But my mom’s helped me out, shes the one who’s made this opportunity possible. She paid off a lot of my debt from college and with my medical bills, so winning a Bellator tournament would mean I can pay back my mom. It would be really rewarding.”
But win, lose, or draw, expect Jansen and Tirloni to put on a show in a fight that exemplifies what the sport of mixed martial arts is.
“It’s going to be a complete mixed martial arts match. It might be over early, but odds are you’ll see all three aspects of the game.”