“They trained us to break people.”
Those are the stark and intimidating words of Jacob “Christmas” Volkmann. The UFC lightweight is not referencing the mysterious Russian military doctors who trained Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Volkmann is referring to the very real teachings of the Division I wrestling coaches at the University of Minnesota. A “Golden Gopher” sounds a lot less friendly now, doesn’t it?
“That is what I'm trying to carry over to the UFC - the idea of breaking somebody,” states the three-time All-American wrestler, who has shown dramatic improvement with each of his appearances in the Octagon. “It's getting closer. I still have to open it up more like I did back when I was at the U of M. I'm still holding back a little bit.”
After suffering two losses in his first two fights in the UFC’s welterweight division, “Christmas” dropped the 15 pounds to make lightweight and has walked out of the cage a winner in his past two fights. Volkmann’s most recent victory was against hard-hitting Brit Paul Kelly on August 1st. “The main thing that I did that I feel like I accomplished in this fight was simply moving more,” said Volkmann, who outworked Kelly for the unanimous decision. “I felt my movement was pretty good against Kelly because he really couldn't hit me.”
Besides better movement, the 30-year old father of three showed off a better overall striking arsenal, namely leg kicks. “I just started doing it because he kicked me first, so I started throwing kicks back at him,” explains Volkmann, noting that he had no specific strategy to batter the lead leg of Paul Kelly with kicks. Nevertheless he landed a bevy of them in the first round. “They were definitely effective because I could see in his face that things didn't add up, it confused him a little bit, so I kept on throwing them.”
The Minnesota native’s stand-up and movement aside, it was Volkmann’s vaunted wrestling pedigree that sealed his second straight win in the UFC. “I felt like I dominated him on the ground,” Volkmann continues. That should have been expected, but there was something amiss: “There was one thing that did bother me when I got full mount on him; he bridged and my balance wasn't there and he rolled and got on top of me - that shouldn't happen. I need to work on that.”
Volkmann’s self-effacing criticism is accurate, but it may be the only mistake that he made in those 15 minutes. The rest of Volkmann’s fourth fight in the UFC was a wrestling clinic for Kelly with the University of Minnesota alum on his back as his teacher. “I was hooking his ankle, so he can't stand-up, and it should force him to go to his back, or if he doesn't go to his back he'll take some punches. That's straight wrestling right there.”
The UFC’s next test for “Christmas” will only be a week removed from the holiday, at UFC 125 on New Year’s Day in Las Vegas. This will be the second time Volkmann has fought on the UFC’s New Year’s card, the first being against Martin Kampmann, so this is all old news for him. The same cannot be said for Volkmann’s opponent, UFC newcomer Antonio McKee.
At 40 years old and with 30 total fights to his record, the term “rookie” feels inappropriate to describe Antonio McKee, who recently signed his first fight contract with the UFC. “I'm not thinking about how old he is,” says Volkmann who thinks age is just another number. “He could be wrestling and training like he's 20 years old. Who knows?”
“I had no idea who he was,” admits Volkmann when he was offered the January 1st fight with Antonio McKee. Since then, Volkmann has studied McKee’s past fights like any opponent, and has come to two conclusions: “He's powerful” and “He's really boring.” The latter is most likely alluding to McKee’s inordinate amount of decision wins: 18 of his 25. The former is unmistakable about his foe’s muscular physique and explosive double leg takedown.
Regardless, Volkmann believes that power is as much a positive as it is a negative. “He's got good power, but with that there is a downside that your endurance is not as good. It's pretty obvious that he is powerful, but it doesn't seem like he's been pushed. He's hardly been in any scrambles and that really wears on a guy. He's got a good power double and that's pretty much it. ”
The buzz word for Volkmann’s gameplan is “scrambles”. “I'm assuming he's going to try and take me down,” remarks Volkmann. “I think he'll get me down a couple times, but I'll make sure to make him tired fighting for these takedowns and I'll scramble out of them if he gets them. My main goal is to make him tired in these scrambles and then I can work submissions and work my hands.”
Jacob Volkmann is looking to test Antonio McKee in a way he believes that he has not been tested in his other 30 professional fights. "You really don't know how hard it is to scramble until you are actually out there scrambling with someone - it exhausts you." Volkmann’s confidence to execute this is a mix between his own abilities as a wrestler and the sheer difference it is to fight in the UFC’s Octagon as opposed to any other organization. In Volkmann’s own words, nothing compares to fighting in the UFC.
“I think this first fight will be a rude awakening for him because it was for me when I got into the UFC. The intensity was so much higher than any other organization I fought for. It seemed like I needed to work twice as hard to compete with these guys. Just the way the people fight, how hard the guys fight. Try to take someone down and they're not going to fall and pull guard. They're going to try and defend it. If you’re fighting for a different organization some of these guys just flop down and give up easier it seems like. Guys in the UFC, they seem like they have a lot more to fight for. I have three kids; I have a lot to fight for.”
On New Year’s Day at UFC 125, Jacob Volkmann is looking to extend his lightweight winning streak to three against Antonio McKee. “I'm going to stay active out there, trying to submit him or punch him or something,” declares Volkmann who is expecting this fight to be a war of attrition that McKee will be unprepared for. “If I'm doing good standing then I'm going to keep it standing, but if there is an opening for a takedown I'm definitely going for it.” And from there, Volkmann will try to “break” McKee the only way a Golden Gopher can.
Volkmann Looks to Break McKee
“I think this first fight will be a rude awakening for him because it was for me when I got into the UFC. The intensity was so much higher than any other organization I fought for."