By: Kalle Oakes
Humility is the undertone for any conversation with Jimmy Jackson about his mixed martial arts career. It was a humbling experience that twisted Rafael Velado’s arm into the world of combat sports in the first place.
One of the men will depart Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston wielding a source of pride – the New England Fights amateur lightweight championship belt – after their clash at “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains” this Saturday, September 10.
Mention the idea of his earning a title shot in the hexagon and Jackson (3-2) almost can’t withhold a laugh.
“It’s a big opportunity for someone like me,” Jackson said. “I never thought I would be fighting for a title. I’ve had a ton of teammates come up to me and say, ‘You deserve this! Way to go!’ I just never thought of myself as that top-tier fighter. I’ve always been the guy kind of behind the scenes.”
Easy enough for the Bangor fighter to blend in, considering that he trains at Young’s MMA with the likes of Aaron “Relentless” Lacey, “The” Ryan Sanders, and Josh “Hook On” Harvey.
Fighting for the belt vacated by stablemate Harvey isn’t an endeavor that would have entered Jackson’s mind back in 2012, when he accepted a fight in Vermont on a relative lark. He won via submission, with a choke, in 96 seconds.
“My training started out as me and a few other guys messing around in a basement,” Jackson said. “My first fight was spur of the moment. I won and it sort of got the adrenaline going, like, ‘I can do this. I did pretty good.’”
Through a co-worker, he connected up with Young’s MMA.
After a learning curve that included back-to-back losses in 2013, Jackson steadily improved and defeated two consecutive opponents to earn his title opportunity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s truly a family. These are guys who truly stand by each other, in hard times, bad times, in and out of the gym,” Jackson said of wearing Young’s colors. “But on the flip side, everybody’s watching you, expecting a certain amount of entertainment from you. I want to perform at such a level that people are excited to watch me fight.”
While most fighters go through the drudgery of training in order to bask in the glory of fight night, Jackson contends that it’s the training he loves most. And entering the cage, he claims, is not about him.
“Fighting, to me, is just what I can do to show everybody what my coaches have accomplished,” Jackson said. “They sacrifice so much to give us fighters the recognition and they get very little recognition in return. The only reason I get in the cage is to represent them.”
Jackson gravitated to MMA with minimal experience in combat sports. Velado, of Norridgewock, brought a decade of jiu-jitsu and a black belt to the table.
That journey had less glamorous beginnings, however.
“In July 2005, I was playing basketball and a guy on my own team, if you can believe it, punched me in the face. He took exception to something and he messed me up pretty good,” Velado said. “From watching UFC, I thought I knew what to do to defend myself, and I pulled him down with an arm bar. Pathetically, but I pulled him down.”
Velado called it a reality check, one that led him to enroll in jiu-jitsu classes taught by Aaron Blake in Boothbay Harbor.
“I think all guys think they will be able to defend themselves in a situation, and most of those guys are wrong,” Velado said.
In more than three years of tournament competition, Velado said he fought more than 50 times and lost only three matches.
He grew restless and sought a new challenge. It led him to John Raio’s First Class MMA in Topsham. Velado was primed for his debut, but a sparring session with heavyweight teammate Nick Gulliver led to a torn MCL in his knee.
“That took about six to eight months before I fully recovered,” Velado said. “I dropped in on John again in April 2015, and we got a plan together. He got me in there with a lot of good wrestler types, including himself. He let me train with Marcus Davis and some other guys to expand my skill set.”
Velado has won three times in NEF, capped by a split decision over Mike Peitersen of Young’s.
“You’re in for a war. Young’s guys, they’re great. They’re all respectful. They train like savages,” Velado said. “Look who he’s training against…Those guys could fight anywhere in the United States and do well. You can’t not get better training against guys like that. You can’t not be a stud.”
Jackson, who said that MMA has lowered his stress level while reminding him that there is nothing else in life he can’t handle, hinted that he is the underdog on paper.
“He went three rounds with Mike Pietersen, and Mike is a tough dude. I know he’s a black belt in jits,” Jackson said. “I’m taking a realistic approach. I’m more focused on what I need to do and can’t worry about what he’s going to do. I don’t think he’s going to show me anything that I can’t handle.”
The question, Velado said, is whether or not Jackson’s modesty suggests any level of uncertainty.
“The difference between us is that I know I have jiu-jitsu in my tool box. He doesn’t have anything like that in his tool box that I know of,” Velado said. “He’s going to see what level he’s at in this fight. He’s going to find a way to get past me, or he’s going to take a step back and say is this something I really want to be doing? He definitely has to have confidence if he wants to beat me.”
The opening bell on this Saturday, September 10 is set for 7 p.m. The current docket for “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains” includes three professional boxing matches, five pro mixed martial arts bouts and five amateur MMA scraps. Tickets start at $25 and are available at www.TheColisee.com or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.
For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com. In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”
About New England Fights
New England Fights (“NEF”) is a fight events promotions company. NEF’s mission is to create the highest quality events for Maine’s fighters and fans alike. NEF’s executive team has extensive experience in combat sports management, events production, media relations, marketing, legal and advertising.