Controlled Chaos: A chat with welterweight prospect Jerald Spohn
Get to know welterweight prospect Jerald Spohn before his championship fight at Combat Quest 10: Blood Sport on Nov. 7.
Just two years into his mixed martial arts career and undefeated welterweight prospect Jerald Spohn is already set to compete for his first championship. The opportunity comes at Combat Quest 10: Blood Sport, where Spohn will be fighting Kyle Koziel for the welterweight championship in the main event of the night.
It will be a night of firsts for Spohn as he has never competed for a championship or headlined a card, but he is more than ready to rise to the occasion.
“It’s my first time as the main event and also my first time fighting for a title, so I’m very excited,” Spohn told MyMMANews. “I’m looking forward to putting my skills on display and all the stuff I’ve been working on since the quarantine hit and since my last fight. I think it’s a good opportunity with a good, tough opponent to show the skill that I’ve accumulated.”
The opponent Spohn is meeting is the aforementioned Koziel, an amateur fighter boasting a record of 7-2 who coincidentally shares a similar background with his upcoming opponent. Not only did both Spohn and Koziel start off wrestling in college, but they have competed against one other once before.
The end result was a win for Spohn, but he is not allowing that to dictate too much of his preparation for Koziel now as they are much different fighters than when they first met. However, having that first-hand experience with Koziel is certainly beneficial for Spohn, which is exactly why he is expecting a very tough fight no matter what.
“I think it’s going to be a tough fight,” said Spohn. I actually wrestled Kyle during my freshman year of college. He was at Notre Dame college here in Ohio and I was at Kent State. We wrestled to I think a 12 to 4 finish and I ended up taking the W in that match, so I know he’s tough. I know he can grind — I mean he’s a wrestler. I know how our type of guys look at stuff, so I know he’s tough and I know he’s been training hard and I know we’re ready. I’m just gonna be ready to take it to him and not give him an inch.”
An advantage such as knowing your opponent quite well before even stepping into the cage is enough reason to feel sure of oneself and Spohn agrees. He trusts himself to beat Koziel wherever the fight goes — and he plans on doing that.
“I’m feeling very confident,” said Spohn. “Not so much with what he’s doing, but I know what I’ve been up to since I’ve started training. There’s no one that’s gonna be able to bet against me and I’m especially not going to bet against me considering all that I’ve done. I know the body of work that I’ve put in and I’m extremely confident in that. As long as I go out there and do what I set out to do, it’s my fight to lose.”
Controlling the Chaos
It should come as no surprise to anyone involved in mixed martial arts, but chaos does reign sometimes either before, during or after a fight. Spohn has not only accepted this as fact, but he also embraces it as one of the various tools he uses throughout a fight.
Spohn has been surrounded by chaos for the better part of his life, but instead of looking for a way out of it, he attached himself to it and grew. He believes this is one of the main reasons he has been so successful thus far in his career.
“Chaos has become a very important word for myself and in my life. From the time that I was young just through my family life and other things, it’s always been a bit of a chaotic environment. I found that as a kid, I never really tried to shy away from it. I would see all this stuff going on and I was much more interested in and wanted to know why — and almost wanted to control the chaos and find the best way to make it work in my favor. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that life ultimately is chaos and a person that can control it and plan the next moves based off of it is going to be successful. So, really, instead of trying to hide from it, I just wanted to become friends with it.”
With chaos playing such a pivotal role in his life, it makes sense that it translates into his fighting style. Part of what makes him such an interesting prospect is the uncertainty of what kind of Spohn you will get on fight night. Are you going to get wrestler Spohn, who will likely take you down and keep you there under his crushing will? Are you going to get striker Spohn, who will put hands to face in an instant and put you out cold? Spohn has an answer for you.
“I would describe it as controlled chaos,” said Spohn. “I take pride in the fact that you’re never going to know what’s coming at you, but it is controlled. I’m not wild. I don’t just come out swinging for the fences, regardless of what it looks like on paper. But I also take pride in the fact that I have a lot of tools and I’m very good with a lot of different tools, so the people that do know I’m a wrestler are going to think I’m just going to come out and take them down. The people that see that I’ve knocked people out are going to think I’m just going to swing for the fences. What I’d like to say to them is good luck. If you want to try to guess, then go ahead and guess. You’ll find out.”
A Seamless Transition
Throughout his college career, Spohn dreamed of eventually going one step further in an effort to compete in the Olympics one day. It was a dream that most college wrestlers have had, but only a select few end up accomplishing it. In the end, Spohn did not go down that path, but it is not because he could not do it. It just wasn’t something he wanted anymore once he completed college.
“That was my intention. To try and compete at a world and Olympic level as I was going up, but as I got closer to the end of my journey, I realized it just didn’t seem like the universe really wanted that to happen. What I mean is that I would put in a lot of work and I would get better and I would find ways to make it happen, but something always kept pointing me in a different direction. I used to fight it, and the more that I fought it, it seemed like life was trying to persuade me to go in a different direction. Those were the only times I ever really had a pushback and things were difficult. I had always been interested in mixed martial arts because I knew that was an option too, so once I transitioned to putting all of myself towards the martial arts avenue, life has been very kind to me and its been showing me that this is the right path.”
When asked why he decided to pursue a career in mixed martial arts, Spohn said it gave him the chance to express who he is as a person.
“I just thought the fact that an inch can either be the difference between having all the glory and being the one in the spotlight or complete disaster is the coolest, most beautiful, most intriguing thing to me. I think martial artist truly are artists in the form of self-expression through fighting. I think that we can take something so dangerous and so brutal and make it look so beautiful and graceful. For me, I’m a bit of a purist and artist in that regard, so I think it just stood out to me. You know I can’t draw very well, but I’m super creative, so its like I may lack what you might typically connect art with, but this is my way to express myself.”
Now focusing all his time and energy into mixed martial arts, Spohn sought out the best gym that could help him transition from collegiate wrestler to fighter and he found one in Strong Style MMA out of Ohio. Strong Style MMA is home to many notable names in the sport, such as current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, UFC light heavyweight competitor Aleksa Camur and fellow up and coming prospect Mo Miller.
Spohn has been there for a little over two years, but the impact his training partners and coaches have had on him is nothing short of incredible as he continues to learn from the best. He credits them for helping him become a better fighter in such a short amount of time.
“It was a pretty smooth transition,” said Spohn. “I went into Strong Style MMA, which is the home of Stipe Miocic, Aleksa Camur, Jeff Hughes and those guys and was welcomed with open arms. I went in there with the mindset of I don’t want to be the wrestler that just wrestles, so I really came in with a no holds barred mindset. Just a very open mind and got with as many different coaches there as I could and focused on learning a complete, fundamental game as a whole as opposed to just focusing on one aspect. The transition was seamless. I know myself very well and I know how I learn, so basically I just applied all the stuff that I’ve learned before I started and applied it and it’s been off to the races.
“The great thing about the gym is that everyone is so helpful and we’re always just trying to push the needle together. Although I’ve only been there for two and a half years, I’ve advanced as a person not just as a fighter. I’ve learned so much. So as far as what I’ve learned from them, here’s a great one: living in the details. As a wrestler, I was always good at working hard. I never had a problem with working hard. You show me something and I’ll do it a thousand times with no problem. But, I never had the self-awareness or the attention span to pay attention to the details to where its like, ‘Okay, I get in this position and I fail step three’. For some reason, I never thought to stop at step three and then figure out what to fix there so we can get to step four. It was almost like either we’ll just stop doing that and move onto something else or it was ‘Oh, I can get away with skipping step three and I’ll just use my athleticism’ or something like that.
“One of the things is that we are incredibly detail-oriented between all the coaches and teammates I have. If one person doesn’t have an answer, then someone else does.”
As an amateur fighter, a question often asked to someone like Spohn is, ‘When are turning professional?’ and the answer is usually based on a number of factors, with readiness being chief among them. Luckily, Spohn is ready and his time fighting on the amateur level is coming to an end sooner than you think.
After this fight with Koziel, Spohn is going from amateur to professional.
“I plan to turn professional at the turn of the year. That’s been the plan and that continues to be the plan. When COVID kicked off, my main goal was to not allow it to derail the plans that I had and it didn’t. I stayed active at home with some teammates. Got some undercover workouts in and continued to get better, so even though there was a period of time where everything was shut down, I still came out of it. So, this should be my last fight as an amateur and we’ll make our professional debut in early 2021.”
For how he sees his journey playing out when he does go professional, Spohn likens it to that of his teammates. Despite being successful in wrestling, it was not the only sport he was good at. Spohn was also heavily involved in boxing and even became the Cleveland Golden Gloves Champ at one point.
The similarities between himself and his teammates are far too great to ignore, so that is why he foresees his future in the same light as theirs.
“At this point, I see it being a mix between how Stipe and Aleksa went about theirs just based on their background and how our coaches approach things,” said Spohn. “We have a system and we have one that works. The fighters that adhere to it are very successful. Sticking to that and believing in the journey and for me, my skillset aligns more closely with Stipe’s. Having that wrestling background and we both spent a lot of our early fighting career focusing on boxing. I think Stipe took about a year to focus strictly on that and really the beginning of my journey was all boxing. So, it’s going to be a little bit of that as well as letting it all play out in front of me. If I get a shot in the Contender Series, then awesome. If I just gotta grind through a regional feeder and make it there, then that’s awesome too.
“The path itself isn’t as important, it’s what I’m doing along the way and the impact it has.”
Changing the Sport
He has only been around for a few years, but Spohn is aiming to have his presence solidified in the sport for a long time. Outside of being a champion on the grand stage, Spohn also has a goal of changing the way people perceive mixed martial arts overall.
Spohn wants to encourage people to look beyond the surface of cage fighting because it only tells one part of the story for the men and women engaged in MMA. We have come a long way since MMA was once famously known as “human cockfighting”, but there is still some progress that needs to be made as far as mainstream attention goes.
“Along the way, one of the goals that I want to keep in mind is that I want to remain present and make as big of an impact as I can in every moment that I have. I want to be a positive change agent throughout the way, so really any interaction I have, I’d love to change the sport some way. I think for me it’s showing that the fighters aren’t just these big, meathead angry guys. I’m a pretty chill, happy guy. I want to show people that the nice, happy, smart guy can be just as terrorizing as the guy over there who looks like he kills people in his backyard.”
An initiative close to Spohn is mental health awareness, which is something that has recently become part of a conversation for fighters. Names like former champion Robert Whittaker and Megan Anderson have opened up about the stigma of fighters being viewed as indestructible people considering their occupation and not being taken seriously when it comes to things like depression or anxiety for that reason.
Spohn has dealt with this problem before, prompting him to write a piece about it entitled, ‘It’s Okay Not to Be Okay’. The one thing he wants other fighters to take away from his own experiences is that it is okay to be vulnerable.
“I think using all of yourself in whatever endeavor you’re going after is super important, so my focus on mental health isn’t only good for mental health and bring awareness to it, but it helps me as a fighter. Through those endeavors, I’ve learned more about myself and how to manage myself. Also, I show people it’s okay like, yeah you can be this big, manly man and MMA fighter but you can also have some sh*t that weighs on you. We’re people. We all have stuff that bothers us and we all have stuff that can get us down. Accepting that and being okay with that is the path to healing and being whole again.”