JJ Ambrose, a name that flies around the worldwide MMA scene… a man that has fought every where and stays respected throughout the world. After a quick chat with him, he was more than willing to get an interview going with him and tell us about his life, career, and future in MMA and Muay Thai. Lets begin!—–JP: JJ! Thanks again for this opportunity, although I’m not sure you’re prepared for what you’re about to get into, haha. I like to start off getting to know who you are prior to the fight game… Where’d you get your beginning and how was life for the young Mr. Ambrose?JJ Ambrose: I was born in California, moved to Arizona after my parents split. My old man remarried, a fellow divorcee who had three kids, two bros and a sister packaged and ready to go. We were a typical middle class family, unfortunately I was the youngest so I was getting thrown around a bit and wearing last years fashion, got hazed a bit. I’m glad for it, made me stronger and more appreciative of what I have now.JP: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; strength prepares you for the unforeseen future… So you started out with humble beginnings… What was it that introduced you into combat sports? Did you start early?JJ: I started wrestling in fifth grade, boxing in high school, and Jiu Jitsu my senior year. I had my first MMA fight a few months before i graduated, a small show in Lake Havasu. I’ve always liked fighting, my brothers and I would wrestle for hours growing up.JP: Would you say those disciplines at an early age… placed you in a hostile position or did it strengthen you mentally? With the moving and change in lifestyle, did you find yourself living on the defensive side?JJ: I think it steered me in a good direction, gave me discipline. Wrestling definitely made me a better, more competitive person. The moving didn’t really effect me, I was so young and lived inside my own little fantasy land at the time. Everything was a sword or a gun and shadows were imaginary enemies.JP: True, completely understand that. While were on that topic of younger fighters (any form of competitive combat sport)… would you say you promote it? What is your view on those who are starting young (even those fighting at age 5)?Do you think the sports instill discipline and even confidence that apparently the majority of people lack nowadays? Or can it be given a negative light in society?JJ: I think that young people should be in some form of martial arts with a good instructor, not back yard boxing. Some parents are very irresponsible with what they teach. You cant give a kid a gun and expect him to shoot it, you have to teach him proper gun safety and a set of rules. Its the same with martial arts, teach me how to punch someone and its the first thing I’m going to do at school, I need to know the rules and reasonings as well as the techniques…. Sports, especially martial arts, instill confidence in us. The suicide rate keeps going up every year from the lack of self esteem, its sad. People have become recluse and obese, TV, computers, we’ve lost touch with what is important. Of course people are on the other side about it, the sport is violent. Maybe some people just need to get hit when they are young, too many people forget that a few hundred years ago if you opened your mouth you couldn’t hide behind the law.JP: Ah spoken like a scholar… Although I unfortunately tend to fit that American stereotype, I do completely agree and I know its also never to late to begin as I hope 2013 allows me to expand a bit. You definitely hit the full spectrum – I knew there was a reason I approached you!Going to bounce around a bit, here though and get back to your experience… You trained young and kept learning new arts and eventually had your first MMA fight. How did this come about and care to share the experience with us?JJ: So I had just started training No-Gi Jiu Jitsu, mostly with the local police department. I picked it up pretty quick from my wrestling background, BJJ and wrestling have some very similar movement patterns that go hand in hand. Anyway my boxing coach Tom Ramirez was asked by a local promoter if he had anyone interested in fighting. I didn’t need much goading, I would fight for free in someones back yard with 12-oz. gloves on all the time. Anyway, the day of the fight comes around and it all just felt natural, from the warm up in the back to the touching of the gloves. I was matched up with a heavier guy about my age from Mark Laimons Cobra Kai gym. I won fairly quickly with a mounted guillotine. It was one of the coolest moments in my life, all the UFC’s me and my friends watched Saturday night and I was actually doing it. We all talked about how cool it would be, it was a dream come true, haven’t looked back since.JP: Awesome! So after that fight and quick victory… What was next for you?JJ: I went to a wrestling camp that summer where I met Heath Sims, a Greco Roman Olympian and retired MMA fighter. He steered me in the direction of a gym owned by Antonio Mckee. There I studied under Tracy Hess and Mckee, fighting on the local circuit under small shows like KageKombat, TFA, COF etc.JP: Through those experiences and fighting in the smaller promotions, what did you learn as a new fighter on the scene? Any horror/success stories worth sharing?JJ: It humbled me quickly, I wasn’t going to get by on wrestling and muscle alone. I was triangled in my 3rd or 4th fight, after that I decided i better take this seriously or I’m not going to get far. I’ve always been like that, slow learner, have to learn the hard way…. I remember one time I went to Tiki Ghosn’s gym in Huntington with Antonio on one of his crazy errands. We were rolling around a bit, then I looked up and Tito Ortiz walks through the doors. I’m a bit star struck, he was a huge name at the time. He walked over slapped hands with us and asked to join in. Was really cool for me as an upcoming fighter to roll with a high level guy such as him. That same day, Rampage walked in, and in typical Rampage fashion he goes to shake my hand but slaps my face instead, made me laugh.JP: Hahaha that’s great! Definitely must have been a crazy experience seeing the guys you saw on TV getting paid very well to do what you were just beginning to do, let alone the celebrity status of both of those guys! At this time where did you stand in your career? What did your training consist of and how motivated were you to succeed in this sport?JJ: I was 18 years old, had just moved and was competing on the semi pro (same UFC rules, few hundred dollars) circuit, nothing on Sherdog.com yet. I was just basically Antonio Mckees sparring dummy. Dude is one of the strongest guys I’ve ever gone with. Consequently for that first year I didn’t learn much, I just got beat up a bit at practice. Then after I lost my first fight I started training with Tracy Hess, a Chris Brennan black belt. I learned a ton after that, getting my blue belt after just 6 months… I was 18 at the time all of this was happening, very green and very naive.JP: Nice, must be a great feat from being a sparring dummy to a TUF contestant, Affliction, and Bellator fighter… Lets fast forward a bit and discuss when you took this sport more serious and gotten your big breaks while in the states… Just a few more fights from a naive 18 year old – what was the next step for you?JJ: I received my blue belt under Tracy Hess, fought that weekend and won by RNC in the first round. It was a good feeling coming back from a loss, after that i won a few belts in small shows. I wouldn’t lose again for a few years when I matched up with Mike Pyle, who showed me what the next level looked like. Back to the drawing board.JP: Watched that fight… Came in real strong and even wrestled strongly in the beginning, once you fell to the ground – it seems your Jiu Jitsu wasn’t up to par with his, but you were also 21 years old; I assumed this was your next lesson up on the drawing board?Since the Pyle loss, you’ve only had one more out of 10 fights and seemed to dominate the PXC promotion. Also earning a win in Bellator just recently… Honestly, I could go all over the place with questions – but instead, I’m going to give you the floor. The Pyle loss was in 2008, roughly 5 years ago… What’s changed for you within that time frame?JJ: After the Pyle fight, I took a long break from fighting, kind of became a recluse at my future wife’s apartment, played video games all day and ordered take out. Was a bit depressed.
My trainer Tracy called me one day and asked me if I was ready to start training. I was there that night, defended a title a few months later. It was good to be back.JP: Video games and take out, boy do I know that experience! You got back in the game, it felt good; were you back to 100% in immediately? How was it finding fights at the time, as a pro fighter?JJ: After the first come back win, my pace slowed considerably. I got married and my wife got pregnant with my daughter, Juliet. I fought a few times in her family’s small organization based on Guam. Having a kid changes your perspective on things, added pressure from the family to get a real job didn’t help, I considered retirement. Soon after I had a failed stint on The ultimate fighter, which I blame my mental condition on my poor performance, my head just wasn’t in it.JP: Very true, I read in an interview that you were almost relieved you didn’t make it in the house as you didn’t want to be away from your family for so long? From then you’ve continued fighting, but as were friends on the wonderful world of Facebook… You’ve spent an awful long time in Phuket (God, I love that name) – when was it that you left the states and placed you in your current position of “living the dream”?JJ: Yeah what a wreck I was. It’s not my wife or kids fault, I was just an emotional wreck. I was relieved but so lost as go what to do or where go. My buddy told me I should check out Thailand, train Muay Thai and clear my head. A month later I was on a plane. I fell in love with the place, improved my stand-up and picked up my first win by KO a month later. A local gym offered me a position as a wrestling coach, so I went home, packed my stuff and moved over full time.JP: Must be an awesome experience, that’s actually one of my dreams to learn Muay Thai in Thailand and live there for a year… You’ve made it your life. Care to share some experiences or changes you’ve encountered while adjusting to the different cultures?JJ: It’s been good, Buddha has been much kinder to me than Jesus ever was. This place is backwards in technology but so far ahead in compassion. People work 10 hours for ten dollars and smile from ear to ear. It’s amazing how happy the Thais are. Tourists on the other hand are terrible. They take advantage of the laws, with the binge drinking/drug use and prostitution. It’s almost time for me to head west (Europe).JP: How has the change effected your family life and whats over in Europe?JJ: My wife was born on the island of Guam, so she doesn’t really dig it here so much. My kid loves it, she gets to feed elephants and monkeys, and outside of her window she can see Big Buddha, Phuket’s massive statue on top of a mountain. I’ve always wanted to live in Italy, explore my family’s roots a bit. I’m currently looking into a wrestling/MMA job over there, so if you know of anything let me know (haha).JP: Haha, I’ll keep my eyes peeled, but that must be a great experience for your child and your family as a whole to explore the world while pursuing your dreams… Whats next for you (besides dreams of Italy)? I know that you just pulled off a recent Bellator win.JJ: Yeah so after I lost in the Bellator tournament, I hired a sports psychologist to work with me. Right away I found out I had a lot of mental bricks holding me back from what I wanted to accomplish. I fought in Taiwan, ko’ing the guy in the second round. There is definitely something to this mental coaching stuff. I did a proper 12 week training camp for the first time in my career in prep for my last Bellator fight. It paid off, I dropped my opponent multiple times and finished with a guillotine. Best feeling in the world getting a win in the big show!JP: Interesting, also a huge fan of psychology – crazy how talking with someone to understand something you don’t personally see can make a world of a difference… I also did watch the second Bellator fight and you definitely looked much more focused and came out on top. Will we be seeing you more in Bellator? Anything you can discuss as of now?JJ: Yeah I actually told them I wanted a little break. I want to do some traveling, but ill be ready to fight again in May or June.JP: Well alright then, guess I’ll stalk you as we approach then, although my Birthday is in May, I’ll even allow you to dedicate the win to me, haha. Lets get into the fun stuff… Superman, from the tighties at the weigh in to the photoshopped images – where did the name originate?JJ: The Thai trainers gave it to me. In the beginning I used so much strength rather than technique, it was more of an insult than compliment. I’ve picked up some technique since but the name stuck. It’s a lot to live up to, can’t have off days, have to always be at my best. Don’t want anyone to question the nickname.JP: Wasn’t expecting that, but also from your character – you took something that was “bad” and made it work for you, that’s admirable in itself. What would you say is your proudest moment in MMA,from day 1? Proudest moment of your life?JJ: Everything about this journey has been memorable, every moment that something cool happens I’m just amazed. Ive met so many cool people and seen places I dreamt about when I was a kid. The proudest moment of my life was a couple weeks ago, I was walking out of the cage at Bellator and my daughter ran up to me as security were escorting me to the locker room and she said “Daddy win?” It was a great moment for me.JP: What is your biggest inspiration in the sport as well as your biggest fear?JJ: My biggest inspiration, what drives me the most is the people that talk trash or say I shouldn’t or can’t. It is the fuel to the fire. Id love to say I fight for my family, but its not true. I fight for me, and to prove the naysayers wrong…. My biggest fear has nothing to do with the sport, I’m not afraid of failure, I risk that all the time. My biggest fears are childish, the dark, spiders, things I cant see. I never really grew up, I still have those same fears, I just changed the way I dealt with them. Ill go open up the closet door and make sure nothing is there, because if there was Id sure love the confrontation.JP: Probably one of the deepest responses I’ve gotten to that question, and show no fear in being yourself… I applaud that. Winding down as I feel I’ve kept you awake for a day doing this interview – up and coming fighters as well as fans; do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share?JJ: Be a sponge, listen more than you talk, nothing is gained with an open mouth. Be open to new to ideas. As Bruce lee said, be like water.JP: Nice, nice and very true – be a sponge. Well man, now the floor is yours; any special shout outs or thanks?JJ: Phuket Top Team, forty thieves, Kuwait combat athletics, pony grappling and Sub-fighter. I also want to thank John and Janet Calvo for keeping the dream alive. Thanks!JP: Awesome man… We survived this grueling interview process and now the whole world gets to read and enjoy your life story! I thank you for your time, brother and I assure you next time I bug you for an interview well keep it short and sweet!JJ: Thanks dude, my pleasure