Banker Turned Fighter, Princeton Grad Jake Butler Focused on Training and Winning, Not Titles

August 7, 2013

Jake ButlerJake Butler has made headlines all over the world due to his status as a Princeton University graduate who decided to turn his back on a career on Wall Street in order to follow his martial arts dreams, but after two outings in the ONE FC cage, the novelty is starting to wear off and reality is setting in. The New Jersey native could be a serious light heavyweight contender.

If there is one skill set that is almost guaranteed to bring success in MMA, it is wrestling. Butler, who competed at an NCAA Division One level and captained the wrestling team at Princeton, brings much more to ONE FC than just an inspiring life story. He has the ability to take opponents down and keep them there.

His two fights to date have lasted a total of four minutes and 58 seconds. He is two for two with takedown attempts in his MMA career. No fighter put on their back by Butler has ever been able to escape or work their way back to the feet again either.

His first bout, at ONE FC: Return to Warriors, was against a 1-0 Indonesian wrestler, Antoni Romulo, who was taken down and stopped with strikes. His second fight saw the New Jersey native matched against 2-0 Swain Congco at ONE FC: Kings & Champions, where Saipan’s top light heavyweight suffered exactly the same fate as Butler’s previous opponent.

Up next for Butler, at ONE FC: Champions and Warriors on Sept. 13, is an opponent with an entirely different skill set. He is taking on Hong Kong based Canadian kickboxing champion James Kouame and feels that this will be the biggest challenge of his fledgling MMA career.

“He is a good striker with a strong background in Karate,” said Butler. “Relative to my previous opponents, I think he is a much more experienced and accomplished martial artist and I believe his striking will be at a much higher level as well. That being said, I am sure that his striking is not anywhere near the level of striking I see every day with the Muay Thai World Champions at Evolve MMA.”

Butler’s transition from standout collegiate wrestler to MMA title contender is taking place in Singapore under the tutelage of Chatri Sityodtong’s highly decorated team of trainers. Although takedowns have been key to both his victories, he was able to land a head kick against Congco, which seemed to take the Pacific Islander by surprise.

“I think that given my background, Evolve MMA is the perfect place for me to become a complete mixed martial artist. I came in with a strong wrestling base, but not much else, but every day I am surrounded by some of the best strikers in the world and I am extremely lucky to have full access to all the Muay Thai World Champions at Evolve. You just cannot get that kind of high level Muay Thai and striking knowledge anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Wrestling and Muay Thai are at opposite ends of the martial arts spectrum with the stance and style of each sport dramatically different from the other. It would be a surprise if Butler started winning fights with his striking, although given the caliber of his trainers this is far from impossible, but his base is always likely to be grappling.

“I get to work with a bunch of BJJ world champions, and for MMA and wrestling I work with Heath Sims. Heath comes from a wrestling background and not only did he make the transition to MMA himself, but he has a long history of training wrestlers to become MMA fighters. With so much experience and knowledge at my fingertips, there is really no excuse for me not to realize my full potential.”

Since signing for Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, Butler has competed in Kuala Lumpur, his adopted home of Singapore, and next up is a trip to Jakarta. While NCAA Division One level wrestlers have been setting out to compete in this sport since the earliest days of the UFC, few can have taken as scenic a route a the Princeton graduate and he says he is relishing the opportunity to get to see so much of the world.

“It’s great! I get to travel around to the biggest cities in Asia and compete in MMA. I couldn’t ask for a better job. ONE FC always sets us up in a great location, and although I am there for business, I do get to spend a little time checking out the city.”

There were 9,000 fans in the building when he made his professional MMA debut, 10,000 in attendance for his second fight, and 15,000 are expected to fill the Istora Senayan to see him take on Kouame. It’s been a baptism of fire, but with his performances Butler is slowly proving that he can be a genuine contender for the inaugural ONE FC light heavyweight title.

From the New York Post to the Wall Street Journal the media has shown an insatiable appetite for Butler’s life story, but as his MMA career progresses there is increasingly less focus on his background, as more attention turns to his undeniable ability.

Nothing would complete this transformation from banker-turned-fighter to genuinely elite level mixed martial artist more emphatically than a ONE FC title, but for the time being Butler just wants to keep on winning fights.

“Down the road, of course I would like to compete for a title, but I let my coaches at Evolve take care of the matchmaking. I am just staying focused on my training and winning fights and, right now, I am only thinking about ONE FC Jakarta on Sept. 13.”

(Follow @jamesgoyder on Twitter)

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