Filth ain't filth if it's funny!
“Pretty much every superhero I can think of has some form of alter ego. Whether it’s who they were before they became a superhero or a disguise to hide their abilities. When the mask comes off, those that have superpowers and don’t have an alter ego become something else entirely: The Super Villain” – JJ Ambrose’s blog
Or a talented mixed martial arts fighter becomes a Journeyman in the real world.
The abilities are definitely possessed by JJ Ambrose but the setbacks come at the precipice of greatness.
A brush with fledgling fight promotion Affliction early in his career resulted in a submission loss against the durable Mike Pyle.
An impressive six fight winning streak later with another promotion and JJ Ambrose is on Ultimate Fighting Championship’s The Ultimate Fighter: GSP vs. Koscheck. He lost via unanimous decision in the entry into the tournament.
Next, it was on to Bellator MMA’s Lightweight Tournament quarterfinals. Submission loss.
He would go on a jagged streak with Bellator; a quick comeback win in his next bout via submission in the second round.
Ambrose ended his stint in the promotion with a devastating technical knockout by David ‘Caveman’ Rickles in Wichita, Kansas.
The blank months in between fights stateside are what I find interesting.
Being an avid reader of his online blog, that’s filled with tales of travels to exotic places, and the wisdom he absorbs from it, I realized he’s more than a winning fighter who has unfortunate losses in what could have been breakthrough performances.
“As fighters we need to have an alter ego. When we go to the gym or the cage it’s all business. We become animals and tear each other apart. It’s part of the sport. The savage in us should not be exposed to regular people. We need an off switch.” – JJ Ambrose’s blog
I know the bare bones history that’s available online and in your wonderful blog.
In one entry you wrote about knowing War Machine before his accusation of violence against a woman and how you should have an ‘off switch’.
Do you believe that is a lack of control or a character flaw?
JJ: I’ve hung around War Machine quite a bit, he always came off as a happy, outgoing person and had a good work ethic in the gym.
The stuff that happened outside of the gym, behind closed doors, is a guy I never met.
I don’t know what his upbringing was like, but I definitely see it as both a lack of control and character flaw.
How do you control your ‘switch’? Beyond the basic road rage thought or rude person, have you ever been in a situation outside of competition, that was a close call to losing control?
JJ: You know, I’m very introverted actually. I tend to keep to myself and hang with people that I enjoy being around.
If I don’t like someone, I tend to avoid them to deter a potentially bad situation. If someone is rude in public I’m usually calm enough.
I have been in the odd out of the cage fight in my time, but nothing in the last few years.
Never any contentious romantic relationships?
JJ: Never. I met my wife when I was 20, she can be irritating at times, but for the most part we get along.
We know each others boundaries. The most we argue about is what’s for dinner.
When you’re in Thailand for extended periods of time do you take your family with you?
JJ: Yeah, the most we’ve been apart is 3 weeks. It gets rough, now that my kid is older (Juliet,5).
She knows more about what’s going on and why I’m not around. I hate missing out on things with them like the Disneyland trips, it’s hard.
Why did you choose to train outside of the U.S?
JJ: In Thailand I don’t have to worry about anything other than training. The commute to the gym is just a few minutes walk and I can train as long as I want.
The pad holding and sparring with the Thai fighters is awesome. Coconuts are a dollar each. The beach is close by, it’s always warm. Easy choice for me.
There’s a gap in your public fight record in the U.S after your Bellator bout with Brian Warren in January 2013. The next stateside contest was with David Rickles in October 2013. Where were you and what were you doing?
JJ: It’s interesting. I used to be crazy active with MMA, fighting once a month at times, and then at some point it was 2-3 times a year.
It seems like it was easier to get fights five years ago, tons of shoes and less politics.
I’d love to fight more frequently, but so many fall through. Outside of the U.S everyone is a bit behind, for the better in some cases, [so it’s] easier to get fights.
Do you discount those wins due to the lower level of competition?
JJ: I do. No one is going to remember the time I fought on a show that wasn’t televised in my hometown.
I have a fight coming up in Japan I’m looking forward to because it’s been a dream to fight there, but realistically, I want in the big show, UFC or bust.
An RFA title is becoming an almost guaranteed key to the UFC cage. I know you’re signed for a challenge for the (Lightweight) title, any timeframe for the match yet?
JJ: I got injured then he got injured. The nature of the sport is that the training camp is harder than the fight.
We haven’t set a new date, I’m hoping it’s not too far out from the May 31st fight in Japan. I want to get the call up already.
Looking at your fight record I noticed that you’ve had several fights that might have propelled you to the UFC promised land that most fighters want.
There would be long winning streaks and then The Ultimate Fighter show loss that halted your momentum.
From there it was to Bellator all the way to the LW quarterfinals. Another loss when you were so close.
I understand that’s part of competition, but how do you keep the setbacks from turning into self doubt?
As you mentioned before, fights outside of the States seem to be easy pickings for you. I see win after win. Trophies and belts. But not here.
JJ: I think the pressure has gotten to me to be honest.
Not taking anything away from guys that have beat me, they were better men on those nights. I just haven’t risen to the occasion when I needed to the most.
I just need another opportunity. I’ve grown a lot as a fighter and person over the last couple years. I’m ready now.
I never consider a reason as an excuse, but I’ve noticed some combat athletes try not explain a loss. As if doing so is somehow shameful. Did you fear success?
JJ: I don’t think I fear success as much as I’ve had just straight up self doubt.
I become a little kid again sometimes when I’m in there. I forget that I’m pretty good at this thing.
I’ve sparred with the baddest guys on the planet and have done well against them. It’s just when it comes fight night I’ve underperformed where it counted.
You appear so confident and grounded. Very practical. What tools have you tried to conquer your self doubt?
I read about your India travels, so I can’t picture you rubbing beads together or running over hot coals wearing MC Hammer pants.
JJ: I’ve spoken to a sports mental coach, done the sessions and found some success with it.
Everyone tells you to just relax out there but no one says how. Fear is one of those things no one wants to talk about.
Recently, Donald Cerrone made a video where he commented on the hours and minutes leading up to the fight.
Hearing him talk about fear really made me feel better, like hey, I’m not the only one who is nervous before a fight. Good.
Can you categorize your fears? Is it just a general dread of potential pain or loss? Or just a hodgepodge of fearful outcomes?
JJ: No pain, I’m never worried about that. I think losing is scary. So much pressure all of the time. It’s a nightmare.
It’s like standing in line for a roller coaster that is 8 weeks long and knowing that the roller coaster could derail once you’re on it.
Do you feel all that you did during those 8 weeks were a waste of time if your hand isn’t raised? Logically, of course it isn’t, but emotionally?
JJ: Emotionally I feel like I have to start all over. While I feel like I grow a lot in the process, it does feel like I need to prove myself all over again.
If there’s a violence on and off switch there should be a fear switch as well, if our brains worked the way they should.
Are you viewing your upcoming fight in Japan, a place you’ve always wanted to compete in, as an RFA test run? To see if you can master the doubt and fear?
JJ: Well I haven’t really given it a lot of thought actually.
I’m just going to treat like I do a BJJ tourney; just go out there and have fun.
I kill myself mentally leading up to MMA fights; BJJ or wrestling, I’m nonchalant.
Right now I’m just focusing on training and getting better. I’ll let the rest take care of itself.
Thank you for your time and honesty JJ.
JJ Ambrose fought Kazuki Tokudome on May 31, 2015, for the mixed martial arts promotion Pancrase. No date has been announced for his RFA debut.
*Originally published as The Journeyman in April 2015 on MMA Sentinel.