John Salter Balancing Head Coaching Duties While Being Top Bellator Contender

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At 37 years old and in his sixth year fighting for Bellator, John Salter finally seems to be receiving the recognition he deserves. Since Bellator began releasing rankings in March, Salter has held firm as the top-ranked middleweight contender for the organization. Meanwhile, he also serves as the head coach for Salty Dog Jiu-Jitsu in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is home to several up-and-coming fighters. Being successful on just one of those fronts is impressive, but doing so for both puts the Gardendale, Alabama native in rarified air.

John Salter: “Great Guys” in Gym Allow for Successful Coaching

When it comes to fighters that also serve as their gym’s head coach, UFC welterweight and Glory MMA and Fitness head coach James Krause is widely-recognized as the cream of the crop. Salter, however, is slowly building his own stable of fighters while maintaining a top-flight fighting career. Salter himself recognizes the rarity that it is to be a good coach and top athlete.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have the guys training in the gym that I do,” Salter tells MMA Sucka. “So many guys try to do it because obviously you want to have another source of income other than fighting, because injuries happen and things like that, but then it becomes really tough because you don’t really get to train while you’re there. You’re spending all this time coaching and running the gym, but I’m very fortunate.”

He continues to credit specific fighters: “You got Joe Solecki, who right now is 3-0 in the UFC. Jamie Pickett is in the UFC. I got Cory Crumpler, who is just an absolute stud fighter, but he doesn’t even fight anymore. He just trains to help me. Trey Woods is an undefeated pro right now, and then others. Gustavo Trujillo, who is 3-0 as a pro right now. So you got all of these great guys in there that are training while I’m coaching and running practice, so I get to jump in. I’m basically just running practice for myself that works well, and it works well for everyone else. I think that’s why our guys do so well in competitions.”

John Salter Has a Fight Lined Up, but Welcomes Middleweight Grand Prix

When the only man to defeat Salter in Bellator, Rafael Lovato Jr., vacated the middleweight title and retired from MMA, Salter’s path to the title got a lot clearer. With Gegard Mousasi regaining the belt last year, most are expecting Salter to be the first fighter to challenge “The Dreamcatcher” in his second reign. A couple of weeks ago, Salter seemed to indicate that “big news” regarding a fight announcement would be coming soon.

While nothing has been made official yet, Salter indicated that should be coming soon.

“We got pretty much everything lined up. Until Bellator releases it, I can’t say anything. Well, I say we got it lined up, but we don’t have a date or anything, but things are looking good, and just waiting on complete confirmation on everything. Then Bellator releases it so then I can start talking about everything. It should be in the next month when we can start talking about everything.”

Although he does seem to have a fight lined up, it is possible that Bellator could eventually do as they have done with most of their men’s divisions in the past couple of years and hold a Grand Prix tournament, where the tournament’s winner is the division’s champion and walks away with $1 million. As it stands, middleweight, lightweight, and bantamweight are the only three men’s divisions out of seven to not have had a Grand Prix tournament. Salter believes the talent is there for middleweight to be the next one up, however.

“I’d love to see that. I think it’d be great,” Salter said. “Especially now, we have so many tough guys at middleweight. When I signed with Bellator, there was pretty much me and Brandon Halsey, who was the champ. There wasn’t really anybody else that I was too worried about. Then I beat Halsey in a round, but I couldn’t get that title shot. I really don’t think there were that many guys at the time who were that tough, so there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about.”

“But now, you’ve got Costello van Steenis, who for some reason is ranked fifth under (Fabian) Edwards, but he just beat Edwards. One of the toughest fights of my career was against Costello. You got (Austin) Vanderford, who is a stud. You got Ed Ruth back up at 85. Obviously, there’s Mousasi and Anatoly Tokov. There’s just so many guys at 185 now that it’d be a really exciting Grand Prix, and I don’t think there’d be an easy fight in the top eight anywhere.”

John Salter Hopeful for Return to Jiu-Jitsu Competition

Salter is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who won the ADCC West Coast Trials in 2017, and has won other large-scale tournaments over the years. When asked if he’d like to return to the mats competitively, he was hopeful to make it happen, albeit not his top priority at the moment.

“I’d love to do the ADCC Trials again, but it kind of falls at a bad time sometimes, like when I’m getting ready for a fight or something like that. That’s why I didn’t go to the Trials in 2019. The Trials in 2021 have been pushed back because of COVID, so there’s a possibility I may go to the East Coast Trials this year depending on the fights for me, Joe, Jamie, and everybody else at the gym. Especially when I get done fighting, I’ll definitely go back to competing in jiu-jitsu, but right now fighting’s a little more important to me and you got to really focus on what makes your career and what’s more important.”

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Nate Freeman is from Birmingham, AL, and has been an MMA fan since 2013 after buying UFC Undisputed 2009 for $2 from a second-hand electronics store.


  • Roy Farhi says:

    Great guy as well as a great fighter. He is so well rounded too in his game and was close albeit a loss to Lovato Jr. should not compromise this man’s legacy at all.

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