“My name is Jacob Kasper. I walk around at 220 pounds and have measurements very similar to Jon Jones. I was a Division 1 All-American this year, and 5th at the Olympic Trials. I have no striking background, I just think I could give a good look for Daniel Cormier, and help out a fellow wrestler.
I don’t want to get paid or featured on shows. I just don’t like Jon Jones.”
One short message on a whim one summer night. That was all it took for Ohio native and Duke wrestler Jacob Kasper to gain an invitation to become UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier’s new training partner.
In the intense UFC 214 fight camp, Kasper proved his worth. When it came time to begin preparations for Cormier’s UFC 226 clash with Stipe Miocic, Kasper’s inclusion was a no-brainer.
Through GIFs, brief analysis, and insight from the man himself, we’ll examine the eye-popping and cerebral style of the heavyweight grappler.
MMASucka had the opportunity to pick Kasper’s brain on DC, American Kickboxing Academy, and his lofty ambitions for world championship domination.
If you’re here to see bodies fly, you’ve come to the right place.
Kindred Spirits: Kasper and Cormier
“I was invited by a teammate Trey Adamson to see UFC 182, for the first Jones-Cormier fight. Being a wrestler, I was naturally drawn to root for DC. It was a good fight, but I was upset that he got taken down, I wanted him to win.”
“Afterwards, I followed along with the headlines a little more closely.”
As he renewed his fandom and did some digging, Kasper noticed Jon Jones had a troubling history.
“When I saw Jones making these mistakes, I was not only frustrated but I was upset. There are kids that are going to look up to him. He’s got a great platform, and he had a real ability to lead. Instead, he was doing these stupid things, and buying into his own hype, like a lot of high-level athletes do.”
Growing up, Kasper has had role models that let him down.
“They were doing the wrong things. They were partying, they were womanizing, they were doing drugs. I made it a point to want to model my life for other people to look up to me. I try to always do the right thing.”
Much like DC, Kasper has a zealous dedication to upholding these values.
“I’ve never had a drop of alcohol in my life. I’ve never smoked anything in my entire life. I always go to bed early and get up early. I’ve always gotten my workouts in, I’ve always done well in the classroom, so someone else can do the same.”
Fans have begun to come around in appreciating men like Cormier and Kasper. But the average person cannot relate to their lifestyle, their unfaltering devotion to living righteously. For a long time, it was Jones who was loved, while Cormier was met with a chorus of boos.
Call to Action
When the title rematch was announced, Kasper voiced his disdain for Jones to a teammate, who made an interesting comment.
“‘You know, you’re able to do everything Jones is able to do wrestling-wise, and you’re kind of built similarly.’ I was like, really? That’s a weird thing to say. So I kind of brushed it off.”
But one night, Kasper found himself watching videos of Jones grappling, and made some observations of his own.
“Okay he does a right-hand underhook, he shots a single to this side, he shoots a double. I can definitely do all this. He’s 6’4, 84-inch reach, somewhere around 205 pounds. I’m 6’3, 79-inch arms, I weigh 220. I wonder if I can give this look, or help at all.”
“I saw DC post something with Jamill Kelly in it. I realized he was my best friend Max Rohskopf‘s coach at NC State, and he might know who I was.”
A fan of Kelly’s growing up, the two were already connected on Facebook. It was then that Kasper sent the fateful message.
Days later, he had an invitation to AKA. “I had no idea where the gym was, no idea where I was going, or where I was staying.” As it turns out, he would be living with Daniel Cormier.
This time, it was a smooth transition. “I graduated from Duke on a Sunday, hopped on a plane Monday. I’ve been there ever since.”
“Around 8th grade, I said to my dad, ‘I’m not going to be big enough to play college baseball or football, I want to wrestle.”
At the time, Kasper was one of the smallest boys in his grade. After a typical growth curve, his weight plateaued at 90 pounds for almost four years. In his infinite wisdom, Kasper’s father predicted his son would be well over six feet and near 200 pounds, but he was dead-set on wrestling.
“I dedicated myself to wrestling. I made that decision. My dad said, a lot of the matches you’re losing, it’s because you’re getting thrown. You need to figure out how not to get thrown, you need to wrestle Greco like your little brother is.”
The Olympic style of Greco-Roman focuses on upper body techniques, attacking the legs in any fashion is a foul. It was a perfect fit with the dogged determination of Kasper’s style.
“It taught me a lot of the grit, the toughness, the handfighting, the positioning. It became my favorite style because it was like a fist fight, or a street brawl. Basically, it was an MMA fight with more rules, I’d say.”
The Greco-Roman tendencies of Jacob Kasper are what made him such a joy to watch in college.
Chasing Giants at Duke
The Division 1 scene was only put on notice in the second half of Kasper’s career. The arc of his technical improvement, and the decision to make a permanent move to heavyweight, aligned perfectly for Kasper to run through the division.
Unlike MMA, the heavyweight limit in the NCAA is 285. The 215 pound Kasper had no issue with this.
“I wanted to chase giants, I wanted to slay the legend (Kyle Snyder). I wanted to create a story people would tell about me. If you win a heavyweight title, there is not a single person in the country, on the planet that can beat you. That’s something I wanted, so I chased it.”
There are advantages to being a lighter heavyweight. Speed, conditioning, and positioning are sometimes in your favor. His length was still a factor, Kasper was able to utilize a lot of the “lanky” techniques he was used to, like leg riding.
For the most part, he was able to outhustle his stockier foes.
In the national tournament, Kasper finished twice as an All-American, placing 6th in 2017 and 4th in 2018.
The Style of Jacob Kasper
“I was fortunate enough to begin coaching as soon as I got to college.”
“I took a team down as a freshman in college to Disney Duals. Then I coached at Virginia Beach, and Fargo, and Junior Duals. I’ve coached a lot, that’s how I’ve molded my mentality where I’m able to think a lot out there through positions.”
More superficially, Kasper is known for high-amplitude techniques. “I go in with a workman, blue collar attitude. I’m gonna grind, I’m gonna get my hands on this guy, I’m gonna try to get to his gas tank, get him tired.”
“I’ve got a saying I use with some of my coaches.”
“A workman attitude creates showman opportunities.”
On the Feet
“I’m focused on heavy hands, finding angles and changing levels. When I’m flowing and having fun, I fall into the upper body positions that I can execute really well.”
“I can shoot real well with my cross-pick, I can look for my double, which has been my bread and butter since I was in high school.”
While Kasper is excellent from tie-ups, he also has a swift low double from space.
Kasper is clear on what in his process leads to such spectacular, feet to back maneuvers.
“All those things are a consequence of having a workman type of attitude, of making it a brawl early. Then it’s just trusting in my moves, trusting in my training, trusting in what I believe is going to be there and hitting it when I feel it.”
In folkstyle wrestling, you’re often unable to avoid working from the bottom position, as wrestlers are given a choice on how to start the second and third periods. Competing against heavyweights that can outweigh him by more than 60 pounds, getting up off bottom could have been a tremendous challenge for Kasper.
But it never was.
“I have a kind of system that I like to run. It’s a three-part system. If you control hands, don’t let them in the windows underneath your elbows, and do not let their hips ride parallel to yours, you can get up to your feet and get out every time.”
“I had a lot of success with that, I didn’t get rode my last two years of college, with the exception of one match, the longest I had gotten rode was maybe thirty seconds total.”
“I developed a claw series. I don’t really know if I would ever teach it to anyone else. It’s really a feel-type series. I have college and high school coaches asking me all the time, ‘Hey can you show me? Can you teach the kids?’ I just tend not to, because a lot of it was wrestling on a hip, which some people aren’t a big fan of.”
Nonetheless, his style of claw ride can open up valuable opportunities. While riding, Kasper uses the claw to pull his opponents to their backs. Riding on the side with one leg hooked, he could usually scoot his hips out and work for near-fall points and pins.
“It was a big feel thing. I love chasing after the side on claw, and letting someone’s hips come out. Letting them think they can stand, so I can lift them, and dunk them on their dome.”
“I love throwing people on their head.”
Training at AKA
Coming straight from collegiate wrestling to a powerhouse MMA gym, Kasper felt right at home.
“It’s just a rough and tumble gym. They’re widely criticized for sparring too hard, but in wrestling, you go live every day. It’s a wrestler’s gym, that’s what I love about it. They’re tough guys, they work hard, they’re serious about their business.”
“Kyle Crutchmer, James Lawson, Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, Khabib, Shawn Bunch, Kyle Driscoll, Romero Cotton, the list goes on of the great wrestlers that are here and have been here.”
The culture of wrestling at AKA extends beyond national lines, as well.
“The Russians are there. Khabib is not right now, but Islam Makhachev, and those guys are all there. We got to watch some dirty wrestling today, they’ve got some great footsweeps, some wrist tie snap pull throughs, they’re just hitting some wicked stuff that we’re not used to seeing.”
While many are critical of the gym’s attitudes towards training, Kasper wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You’re at each others’ throats, but when you walk off the mat you’re best friends again. That’s just an environment I love being in, it’s fun.”
Disgust at the character of Jon Jones drove Kasper to come to the aid of Daniel Cormier. But is he the genuine article?
“He’s the most caring guy to be around. He’s very humble, he’s always complimentary, he’s always making you feel good about yourself.”
According to Kasper, DC is the real deal. He is held in such high esteem, he grew into a head coaching role at AKA almost instantly.
“I think he’s a natural born leader, they joke that he’s the captain of the gym. At the end of workouts when all the coaches are getting the opportunity to speak, they always ask if he has anything to add.”
“He’s always coaching, he’s always helping people. He’s always available, his phone is constantly ringing, people are asking not only about MMA or wrestling, but financial questions, questions about life. He’s a mentor to everyone here. He’s just a good person that is always there for you.”
Grand Designs: WWE and the Future
While Kasper was originally just at AKA to help with wrestling, it was inevitable the fighting environment would draw him in.
“I’ve sparred. I’ve full on sparred this time. I’m hitting mitts, I’m doing jiu-jitsu. I’m not only DC’s main wrestling partner, I’ve been his main jiu-jitsu partner throughout this camp.”
As many observed on The Ultimate Fighter, Coach Cormier likes to put his athletes through the ringer.
“I mean, DC put a picture on Instagram of him punching me in the face.”
“I’ve tried to figure out the game as much as I can in the limited amount of time that I have out here. I definitely think I have a desire to get into the octagon at some point in my career.
A man with limitless ambitions, Kasper does not feel he has to choose between “amateur” wrestling, the WWE, and the UFC.
“In a dream world, to be completely honest, I go to this WWE workout tomorrow morning, I kill it. I have the negotiating power to work out a contract starting after 2020. I wrestle through the Tokyo Olympics, and win a gold medal.”
Olympic gold? That’s just phase one.
“Then I go into the WWE, and build a huge platform. I win a belt there, along with a lot of notoriety and fans. In order to stay in shape for the WWE and keep my physique the way it needs to be, I train MMA the entire time.”
“After I win a WWE belt, I start bouncing back and forth between organizations, kind of like what Brock is doing, but a whole other committed and dedicated level, and with greater success. I think I could hold both belts at once, and do so being a well-rounded fighter, someone that’s really successful in both organizations.”
While the vision has always been clear for Jacob Kasper, his new network of coaches and teammates are now available to make it all a reality.
“I’ve talked pretty extensively with Bob Cook about it. This is probably who my management team would be. In an ideal world, that’s what I’d like to happen. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I could bring fans over to mixed martial arts, I could bring MMA fans over to wrestling, and kind of merge the communities, growing both sports entirely.”