Jake Butler: The NCAA Division I Wrestler Set to Make His MMA Debut in Asia

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Jake Butler: The NCAA Division I Wrestler Set to Make His MMA Debut in Asia

Jake Butler is a decorated wrestler who has been up against the likes of Mark Munoz, Phil Davis, Jake Rosholt and Chris Weidman and was a long-term training partner of Frankie Edgar. He was captain of the Varsity Team at Princeton University and an NCAA Division I Qualifier and New Jersey State Freestyle Wrestling Champion who also finished third at the Junior National All American Championship.

It is a distinguished background, but there are no shortage of decorated wrestlers in the UFC.

What makes Butler remarkable is that he has elected to learn his trade as a mixed martial artist in Asia, a place more readily associated with Kung Fu fighters than collegiate wrestlers.

Butler is the latest addition to the Evolve MMA fight team and will be working on both his stand-up and ground game with a team of trainers which includes multiple world champions in Muay Thai, boxing and BJJ. Holding pads for the New Jersey native will be the likes of Thai legends Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Anuwat Kaesamrit and Yodsanan Sityodtong while he will be rolling under the supervision of BJJ royalty Rafael "Gordinho" Correa de Lima, Leandro Issa and Zorobabel Moreira.

Evolve MMA is the No. 1 MMA academy in Asia and is in many ways the perfect environment for someone with Butler's skill set to develop into an elite mixed martial artist. He will be learning from the very best in the business and in return will be able to bring his 20 years of wrestling experience to a fight team which includes Shinya Aoki and Rafael Dos Anjos.

Helping him make the adjustment from wrestling to MMA will be a man who has not only made the transition successfully himself but also has a proven track record of helping world class fighters like Dan Henderson do it. US Olympian Heath Sims has sold his share in Team Quest and moved to Singapore to become the head of the wrestling program at Evolve MMA.

4 of the 10 BJJ black belts who will be helping Butler at Evolve MMA

If Butler has any potential at all as an MMA fighter, and given his wrestling credentials he clearly does, Evolve MMA is the perfect place for him to realize it.

He has already secured a contract with ONE Fighting Championship, Asia's most prestigious MMA promotion, and his takedowns promise to be a potent threat in their middleweight division.

If you wanted to create a blueprint for a fighter who could be devastatingly effective at ONE FC, which already has champions on its roster in every discipline except wrestling, then you would probably come up with someone who had a background like Butler's. And if you were looking to the perfect furnace in which that wrestler could be forged into an elite mixed martial artist you would probably pick Evolve MMA, which has a higher concentration of world champions in BJJ, boxing and Muay Thai than any other MMA camp in the world.

There is still a lot of work to do before he will be ready to make his ONE FC debut, but Butler is already loving life in Singapore and straining to be let off the leash.

 

How did you end up at Evolve MMA?

I spent some time living and working in Asia and through that started following the Asian MMA scene. Naturally, following the Asian MMA scene, I started to hear a lot about Evolve and the more I started reading about what Chatri was building the more I wanted to be a part of it. I have been looking for somewhere to train seriously and have really wanted to compete for a long time but things just never aligned or came together right, until I found Evolve. Short story, I reached out to Chatri, he invited me over to try out for the team, we talked about Evolve and his vision, and I am honored and grateful to be a part of the team now.

Rich Franklin and Matt Hume giving an MMA seminar for Evolve MMA students

 

What is your wrestling background in terms of accomplishments, achievements etc?

I come from an area with a very strong tradition in wrestling and started at a very young age. At this point I have been wrestling for over 20 years. In high school my greatest accomplishment was earning All-American honors (third place) at the Junior National Freestyle Championships. I was a member of the New Jersey State Freestyle wrestling team for a number of years. In folk style wrestling I won a New Jersey Regional title, and placed third at the State Championship tournament. In university I was team captain of the Princeton Wrestling team and twice named Most Valuable Wrestler. I was a qualifier for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships and competed numerous times at the US Open of freestyle wrestling. I was also a member of a collegiate All Star team that toured Beijing, China.

 

Have you ever done any MMA in the past?

I have not yet competed in any MMA competitions. I have done some limited MMA training over the years, but nothing substantial and certainly nothing on the level of training and instruction I am receiving at Evolve. I consider myself a beginner and have a lot to learn. That being the case I think there is no better place in the world for me to learn MMA and compliment my wrestling background with the skills I'll need to compete.

 

How excited are you to be working with the world champion trainers at Evolve MMA?

Excited is a vast understatement. In just the short time I have been here I have learned so much. Chatri has put together such a diverse stable of instructors, each one has something unique to offer within their discipline. It is really quite humbling to work with these guys, and I am very honored to have the opportunity.

 

How excited were you to discover that Heath Sims would also be joining?

This is great news! On a personal level, I can't imagine a better person to work with in terms of leveraging my wrestling background to be successful in MMA. Heath has been doing this since the very beginnings of MMA and has competed against, trained with and coached the best in the world. Working with him every day is going to make my transition into MMA so much smoother and successful.

Heath is also going to have a massive impact on the team level. There are no MMA wrestling coaches in Asia anywhere near his level. He is one of the top coaches in the US which by default puts him in the top of the world. All the guys on the team are masters of their respective disciplines, and Heath is the last piece of the puzzle. He is going to add another dimension to everyone at Evolve's game, and add to an already very dangerous arsenal of skill sets at Evolve.

The ONE FC cage, where Butler will be making his MMA debut

It's also great for MMA in Asia because Heath Sims is a very well respected name in the MMA world, and will bring a great deal of recognition to the Asian MMA scene.

 

Wrestling is not as prevalent in Asia as it is in the US. Do you think that will give you a big advantage competing in MMA here?

I wouldn't say it is a big advantage at this point, but sure, it could be advantageous. Right now my focus is really on Muay Thai and BJJ. Without them my wrestling is nothing in an MMA fight. If I can develop a strong Muay Thai and BJJ game, the wrestling combined with them will be a real threat. With Heath's instruction I am also going to benefit a lot as he is going to be able show me how to make my wrestling a big advantage.

 

Are you looking forward to making your debut for One FC? What weight class will you be competing in?

Absolutely! Everyone on the Evolve fight team was just over at the One FC offices signing contracts. As a team we are all excited and looking forward to preparing each other for our fights. Victor Cui is doing an amazing job, very professional, and One FC is going to be big. I will be competing at 84 kg.

 

Valerie Macon/Getty Images
DREAM Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki will be one of Butler's team mates

How soon do you think you will be ready for your first pro MMA fight?

As soon as possible! As an athlete I am dying to get in there and compete. Luckily, I have coaches who can make that decision for me. This is completely Chatri's decision. My job is just to train hard and get better everyday. I have complete faith in Chatri's abilities to judge my development, and he will know much better than I when I am ready to get in there. I'd like to give you a date, but it is still too early to say. Chatri will decide when I am ready to compete and against whom.

 

How long have you been doing BJJ and when did you start and why?

Similar to my MMA training I have sporadically trained BJJ over the years, primarily no-gi. There are some really good schools where I'm from, New Jersey, and a lot of people I grew up wrestling with are now reaching black-belt level and opening their own schools. It seems like a pretty natural progression for wrestlers and requires many similar skills. After rolling with the guys at Evolve, though, I can see I have a lot of room for improvement.

 

You've wrestled against a lot of current UFC fighters. Have you followed their MMA careers and if so does that inspire you to compete yourself?

Definitely, watching these guys have great success in their transition to MMA is inspiring. I have been a huge fan of MMA for a long time. I watch all the fights, spend more time than I would like to admit on the blogs, and so naturally I keep a close eye on how my former teammates and opponents are doing. Just in the past year it seems a lot of very familiar names from my wrestling days have broken through to the top ranks of MMA. It is exciting to see and a source of motivation.

 

What do you think of the Evolve MMA facility? Were you surprised when you first saw it?

It is state-of-the-art, as good as it gets. You can instantly tell that a lot of thought and expertise was put into how it is designed. Chatri has obviously spent a lot of time around gyms, and as such has put together the ideal training facility. The supporting facilities like the reception area, lounge, locker rooms and juice bars are all amazing, but for me the most impressive part is the training areas. It has everything. I had seen photos and video footage of it prior to my arrival, but even then I was surprised by how nice it actually is.

 

Have you trained MMA at many camps in the US and if so how does Evolve MMA compare?

I have been to a few smaller MMA camps in the US, but not enough of the major camps to make a fair comparison. That being said, I would be surprised if any of them were as well run as Evolve. The excellent facilities at Evolve are great and it is run with incredible efficiency. But the thing that in my mind, as a fighter, stands out is the amount of world champion instructors who are actually there every single day working with us. Everyone at Evolve is very close. There are no egos. It really is operated like a family.

Jake Butler was talking exclusively to Bleacher Report.

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