(Photo Courtesy of Justin Rader)
WBBJJ: Hello Justin Rader! Let me start by thanking you for taking the time to sit down with us.
JR: Absolutely, thanks so much for having me.
WBBJJ: Let’s get right into it—we are very interested in the last MMA fight. You are doing well, representing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and your team with your 3-0 record. Tell us a little bit about the fight. What was different about this fight?
JR: What was different right up front was that I was fighting for a new organization, Legacy Fighting Championships. I was really excited to get on this card and start fighting for this organization. The organization has been around for a couple of years and has quickly built a great show. They treated me extremely well. They also show their fights on AxsTV, so it was really cool to be on national television for the first time. I was the first fight on the Main Card and I was able to come away with the victory. This time by RNC. I’m still very young in the sport as shown by my record, as I’ve improved to 3-0, so I’m now looking to take it to the next level and work and keep building my record to gain the experience that I need. I can’t wait to see what is next for me.
WBBJJ: Your teacher and mentor Rafael Lovato Jr. was also on the card. What was it like fighting on the same MMA card with someone you’ve gone into so many battles with?
JR: It was another of those really special experiences, where we both doubled up and were able to win again together on the same night. It was really cool because it’s an entirely different sport and we’re now entering the realm of MMA. For the past decade we’ve been traveling together, competing together in the biggest jiu jitsu tournaments and so many times in the past, we’ve been able to be so successful there. Back in 2007, we both won the World Championships. I won my first one in the Gi as a Purple Belt and he became only the 2nd American to ever win the BJJ Mundial Championships after BJ Penn. That was the first time we won something so big together. We had gone that entire year up to that point, winning the American Nationals and we both won the Pan Ams, so it was just a super special moment leading up to that moment at the Worlds. And then we turned around and did it again in 2010, this time at the NO GI jiu jitsu World Championships we were both black belts and I won the featherweight division and he won the heavyweight division that year. It was another special moment to see us grow, not just as jiu jitsu practictioners but as well-rounded martial artists now entering the realm of MMA. It was his first fight and and it was my third fight of the year and you couldn’t have asked for a better showing from both of us.
(Photo Courtesy of Justin Rader)
WBBJJ: In terms of MMA, what’s next for you? Do you see yourself getting back into the cage soon?
JR: Absolutely, right now having just finished my last fight, I’m done for the year, but I’ve been told there’s a card they will be holding in February and I do have plans to be back on that card, so I’ll be working a lot on improving my game, taking myself to the next level and always working to improve my skills, widening my range of weapons and tools that I have. I’m looking very much forward to that. I have to give a lot of credit to my Muay Thai coach Mark Beecher, the one that they call “The Hyena” who’s moved back here to Oklahoma which is another really special story. He began his martial arts career and journey with us back about 16 years ago right around the same time that I started training at Lovato’s and so it was really a special thing to have him come back at the beginning of this year. He’s really transformed me as a fighter. My first fight, he had been back a week so I didn’t have a lot of time to work with him, so I went in there and took the guy down, got the submission and got out of there with my first win. I worked with Mark a lot during the break time that I had and then for my second fight camp, I got to work with him quite a bit and it’s really improved my stand up and Muay Thai a lot. I was able to knock out the guy I fought in my second fight. Everyone expects the jiu jitsu guy, saying ‘watch going to the ground’ but I want to evolve and be the most complete fighter and martial artist I can be. That has always been my ultimate goal from day one. Mark has really helped me open my eyes and improve my skills in an area where I really needed it, so I have to give him a lot of credit. It’s been absolutely fantastic having him here and even in my last fight, I went out there in the first 15 to 20 seconds I was able to knock the guy down with an overhand right. I give him so much credit and then of course my jiu jitsu coach Rafael Lovato Jr. who has trained me for the past decade.
My jiu jitsu skills are on point. I feel really comfortable when I’m on the ground, so it was a matter of working to become very comfortable on my feet. I have had conversations during this last camp with Mark and I feel that I’ve hit a whole new level of understanding in my standup game and a whole new level of confidence and I owe the credit to him. We are lucky to have him. So I’ll be working on my skills to improve. Though it was a jump in level, it was a small jump. I still have a long way to go in the area of Muay Thai and striking to feel as comfortable as I need to be. I have a lot to learn there. I understand that. I realize that. And you’d better believe I’m going to be working on it the rest of this year and in the next fight camp. And of course still focusing on wrestling and jiu jitsu, as needed, but I’m much more well versed in those areas. I understand where I’m weak and I’m always working on my weaknesses, trying to make them my strengths. I believe I’ll be fighting again in February if everything goes as planned. I signed a four fight contract with Legacy and I’ve fulfilled one of them, so I have three to go and I’m very much looking forward to fighting again and putting on a good show.
WBBJJ: The world is excited to see you entering the MMA world, but many wonder where do you see yourself right now as a competitive BJJ player? Do you have any unfinished business? Do you have any plans to compete in the near future?
JR: That’s a great question and one that I get asked quite a bit lately. Honestly, I have to say that for right now, you can basically consider me more or less retired from amateur jiu jitsu competition. I accomplished what I accomplished. I’m very proud of my jiu jitsu career. Some people might think that I’m cutting it short prematurely, but I think the timing is perfect for me and what my long term goals have always been. The goal has always been to be the most complete fighter and complete martial artist that I can be. I always wanted to fight MMA. I wanted my jiu jitsu to be at a certain world class level and I feel it’s there and now I want to make a run in MMA and take it as far as I can. If I can be a UFC champion one day, then I’m going to be a UFC champion. If it doesn’t work out that way, then I’ll never have to look back and wonder ‘what if’. I don’t want that haunting me for the rest of my days. I won’t slam that door shut either. There were some potential match ups that almost happened. There was a lot of talk about getting me on the World Jiu Jitsu Expo, but all of that seemed to fall through and there were even talks about getting me on the next Metamoris. Those types of matches and opportunities, I will always consider. I would bring both of my coaches, Rafael Lovato Jr. and Mark Beecher, in to see where we were at, see what’s coming up next for me, and if those things interfere with my MMA schedule at all which now takes precedence over jiu jitsu for sure. But you won’t see me competing at any of the Gi competitions, any of the IBJJF competitions, Pan Ams, the Worlds. I’ve hung up the Gi for now and you won’t see me at the NO GI Worlds. I have no plans to enter any of those in the future. I’m very happy and proud of what I was able to accomplish and now it’s time to move on to something new. It’s got me re-motivated, reborn. I’m very excited to now be working towards being the best MMA fighter I can be and maybe even be a UFC champion one day.
WBBJJ: First and foremost, as a fan of your body of work, I am a little sad to hear the word “retirement”. You’ve got a lot of fans who appreciate that you always give 110% in your matches, and it’s not just your body of work, it’s what you represent. We are confident that you are going to bring that same intensity to the cage, so we will survive.
JR: I have been hearing that a lot lately, haha. Thank you and everyone very much!
WBBJJ: What would you say are your greatest victories in BJJ or MMA?
JR: You know, I’m still very young in my MMA career. I don’t have any “greatest wins” yet. It was nice to get the monkey off my back and go ahead and get the knockout in my second fight. It also depends on how you define “greatest”. Is greatest the guy I beat that was most accomplished, or simply a victory that meant the most to me? I have a couple. If you define greatest as the most accomplished person I was able to win against, I’d have to say my win over Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes at this past ADCC. He’s probably the most accomplished competitor that I’ve faced and been able to come out on top. That win also meant quite a lot to me, as it was probably one of the hardest training camps I ever had in my life. Knowing where I was at that point of time and being able to dig deep and perform and win, it meant a lot to me. Trying to cut the weight and traveling that far, I don’t know if anyone knows this, but we weren’t provided a place to cut weight and it made things really difficult. I really struggled and didn’t plan well enough ahead for that. And then being out there and seeing the brackets come out and seeing that in the first round I had drawn first round someone so tough, considering the previous two where I was on the same side as Rafael Mendes and what happened in the second round at the past two. Could this be happening all over again? I had some great people behind me. People sent me some really nice, good, encouraging messages. Digging deep and finding that in me and then performing the way that I know I could and everyone else knew I could. I was very proud of my performance at ADCC this past time. I feel like I really got a chance to showcase what I’m truly capable of instead of running right into Rafael Mendes in the second round and then watching him go through and win the tournament again. I would say that I was maybe a bit down on myself when the brackets came out, but digging deep like that and finding it within me to go out and perform the way I know I can meant a lot to me.
And the other win that I can say was a high point of my career was winning my first NO GI Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Featherweight World Title. Again it was a special day as Professor Rafael went out there and won his first NO GI jiu jitsu black belt title that day as well. That win really meant a lot to me. I felt like it really establish who I was and where I was at and it gave me a lot of confidence, from there on out, in the grappling scene it meant that I could truly compete with the top guys.
WBBJJ: What would you say was your most important loss? Which one challenged you the most during and maybe after?
JR: That’s another really great question. I’ve got perhaps an answer that might be surprising to some, I would say the loss that I learned the most from and that motivated me the most to take things to another level were actually two losses that I had on the same day. It was out at the Grapplers Quest Tournament in Las Vegas in December of 2006. It was my first time entering their highest NO GI advanced jiu jitsu level, and I didn’t really know who he was at the time, but I faced Urijah Faber in the first round and knowing me and what type of jiu jitsu practictioner I was being a purple belt for 6 or 7 months at the time, I was very much a one trick pony. I was very much straight ‘take you down, stay on top, try not to get swept or submitted kind of person at that time. I never worked my guard in training. I paid for it that day. I went against someone who was a better wrestler than me. We had a heck of a match that day. He was able to take me down with about 20 seconds left. I was still one of those guys back then that would turn his back and try to stand up very much like you would in a wrestling match. He took my back and sank in an RNC right at the end. It was a loss that taught me a lot. It was good to face someone of that caliber. It wasn’t until after the tournament was over that I realized who he was. It was right before the time Urijah Faber became really well known to the MMA community and the nation. So it was a cool, good match to have that I learned a lot from, but it was what happened later that day that makes this day stand out so much. So okay, I suffered that loss in NO GI, so then I went into Gi and lost to a guy named Sonny Nohara, who at that time was still training out of Cobra Kai in Las Vegas with Marc Laimon. That loss, especially being on the same day. I think It was the first day I had gone zero and two and won no matches and it didn’t sit well with me. I really felt that I had done some good things in that match. I had pretty much dominated the match for the most part.. And then right at the end with about 30 seconds left I was winning 4 to 0, Sonny caught me with a slick arm drag to the back. Once again very much wrestler like I could have turned easily and probably sat down to my guard and gave him sweep points. Rather I chose to tripod and base out and he was able to armdrag me to my back and get his hooks in make the score 6 to 4. I almost had a near pass to try to come back and win, but props to him that day. He beat me fair and square. There was nothing I could do. I had no excuse. I just had to take it and suck it up.
It really, really re-motivated me. I had to take a long hard look at my game and what I was doing. I had to work hard with Professor Rafael and I had to talk to him a lot about that loss and he basically told me it was time for me, especially in the training room, to start working from my back. It may not be my A game going into a match, but the more I would work it, the more I understood it. And be able to see stuff when it was coming and to have the confidence in my guard. So I would have days when I would go into the training room and he would say you have to start on your back and if you sweep to top keep going and there were other days when he would say start off your back and if you sweep to top, start over on the bottom. I was very lucky to have an instructor like him to invest in me in that way and I also never questioned him as a student. I didn’t always enjoy it, but I never questioned it. I never told him “No, I don’t agree with what you’re saying.” It was hard sometimes in the training room, having done what I did up to that point, having some of the wins I did using my wrestling. But I listened to him and it improved my guard game. I started to understand it more. I developed sweeps that I began to like. I give him a lot of credit for that. It was hard sometimes being a purple belt and sparring with orange and green belts who would give me so much trouble and especially when I rolled with blue belts they would even sometimes pass my guard. I was a slow learner when it came to dropping my pride in the training room. It’s something I’m much better at now. I would get so frustrated and down on myself. Immediately, I would amp up my energy. I had the wrestler mentality that I had been taught to have, “If you get taken down in practice, you get up and get 2 back”, because every day in the wrestling room it’s a competition. You’ve got people competing who want your spot. You take your competition and you beat them down as hard as you can and as fast as you can, nearly every day. So I had 15 years of that mentality that I had to get over. And when I finally did, I became much more open to the entire jiu jitsu game. I give a lot of credit to Rafael Lovato Jr. For those who did not know, I wrestled for 8 years before I ever started jiu jitsu and I wrestled all through high school and even then I wrestled for half of the year and came back for the rest of the year to jiu jitsu half the year. I have a lot of those tendencies to be a wrestler. He made me start off my back and helped me break out of those habits and tendencies. But at the same time he never criticized me and my wrestling. Even when I lost those matches, he never said, “Oh you just want to wrestle everyone. You should quit doing that.” He always nurtured those skills and wanted me to fuse them with other skills that made me a more well-rounded competitor. That’s why I’ve always considered myself and my style as a hybrid of wrestling and jiu jitsu, taking the best points of wrestling and fuse it with the best points of jiu jitsu, especially when it comes to my passing and when it comes to stay it on top. Those were my greatest losses that taught me a lot.
WBBJJ: After your most recent MMA fight you posted on your athlete page an explanation of nickname “The Legacy”, and you also revealed a new logo. Can you talk to us about that?
JR: It was a very special night for me. My walkout shirt was something that means quite a lot to me. I unveiled my own personal brand and logo that day. It was something that I had worked on a lot throughout the years. I had seen a lot of things and never really found anything I liked, so to be able to finalize that, release it and unveil it to the world means a lot. It’s not necessarily about highlighting myself as much as it is about the idea behind it that I want people to see and recognize when they see it. That is what is important to me. So I did make a post to explain what “The Legacy Begins” meant to me and why I made it when I did, the idea behind it. I’ve heard a lot of people tell me over the years or ask me what they think it means. I wanted to quiet everyone and their own thoughts about it. It was about a year and a half ago that I made that declaration, when I put it on the first shirt I ever had. Back then at that time it was for my match with Denny Prokopos. It wasn’t necessarily about competing with him. It was more a feeling that I had, a deep-seeded belief. I wanted to more or less make it public or announce that it was more of an idea or a movement than anything else, so I called it The Legacy. That shirt was my announcement. It wasn’t something I could yet put into words, I just knew that that phrase was what I wanted to go with, what I was feeling deep down. It was time to put that into words what that really means. What “The Legacy” was and that it was here to stay. It’s not even just about me, it’s not about my legacy. It’s my way of expressing where I had been and where I had come from and giving thanks and credit to those who came before me, invested in me, and supported me throughout my entire life. And that doesn’t just include my parents. Obviously they are a huge part of that. They raised me, provided for me and taught me all of the values they felt were important and they continue to speak into my life. It was also a way to give credit to my coaches who have been a huge part of my development. My wrestling coach Andy Howington, who I wrestled for 7 years throughout middle school and high school. Obviously Professor Rafael Lovato Jr. who invested in me and continues to speak into my life on a daily basis. And also to my coach Mark Beecher and our Professors Saulo and Xande Ribeiro who have spoken into Professor Lovato’s life and also into mine, giving me the necessary skills. So this is my way to say this is where I’m at and giving credit and thanks those who have invested me, and it was my way to try to inspire this idea inside of everyone around me, that anyone can be part of The Legacy through their own actions, and even begin their own. This is the type of instructor I want to be. Me trying to give back as much as I can,and living by a code of values. Loyalty and Honor chief among them. Anyone can be a part of the Legacy. This is what has been given to me and I want to give back. Professor Rafael and his wife Tina gave me an opportunity to run the kids program, and this program reminds me daily of all I want to inspire and give back, the same way they did for me. And then seeing them grow and inspire others. When people see my logo or see my symbol, that’s what I want people to think of and that’s what I want to be remembered for. The idea is that everyone and anyone who wants to be a part can be a part of “The Legacy.
(Photo Courtesy of Justin Rader)
WBBJJ: I want to ask a few WBBJJ fan questions now. The first one is from Doug Baker. He asked what advice would you give to a youngster, maybe around the age of 8 who comes to you and is interested in MMA. What sort of advice would you give to that student and family?
JR: I get asked a lot more about MMA with all of the recent explosion of the sport. I let them know that they must be very well rounded in many disciplines. I don’t know what the age is that you can begin fighting MMA, I’m thinking it’s 18. The first step would be to find credible instructors in striking, ground work, and wrestling. Then enjoying the time until you can actually fight in the cage. That’s going to take a lot of time. There are going to be times when you get frustrated at this discipline or that discipline, but the most important thing is consistency. The best advice would be to enjoy your time and become the best that you can in everything you do, especially in the areas of the various disciplines. And not to say that you have to focus on being a fighter or fighting in the UFC, but to have a personal goal to be the best you can be. I have a personal goal to be the best, most well-rounded martial artist, competitor, teacher and instructor I can be and this is the goal I strive for, wake up with everyday. This takes a lot more of the pressure off of me and I can have more fun and enjoy the journey.
WBBJJ: Our second fan question comes from Matt Blank and he asks about training plateaus. He wants to know how you deal with them, and what advice would you have for the average athlete to help deal with them?
JR: I’m going to go ahead and apologize because this answer may seem cliché, but consistency is the key. Those points in time are going to happen. The biggest advice I can give is to stay consistent, because you’re going to have to work through it and don’t get too frustrated. I used to suffer the same points of plateaus, especially when I was trying to add new elements into my game. Try not to get too down on yourself and not be frustrated. Honestly that’s the pot calling the kettle black, as I was an extremely slow learning in that regard and I look back and I wish that I hadn’t been so hard on myself. Because at times it would close off my mind to seeing the evolution that was taking place and I would have been happier and more content with my training. My training partners would have been happier as well. I have the tendency to be intense and they would have appreciated that as well. I can look back on that and learn from it and be better today. Be consistent, work through those points. It may take 2 months, 3 months, I’ve had periods that have extended 6 months. Try not to get frustrated, you are going to have a jump in gain after those periods. Enjoy the journey and be as open as you can every time you go into train and step on the mat.
WBBJJ: We wanted to shift gears and ask some fun questions. Justin Rader, you are on death row. What’s your last meal?
JR: Man, there are so many good foods out there, there’s pizza, ice cream, fast food restaurants. There’s trash food that’s great to eat to celebrate after you’ve competed, but I’m on death row and I have one meal left. I have a really new found love, where I’m at currently, growing up in the house of a physician, my dad is a doctor and he takes health very seriously, so I did not eat a lot of steak and red meat growing up following the dietary guidelines back then. I have a new found love of steak and I’ve had some really good steaks, especially recently this year and I want to throw a shoutout to Brookover Company, one of my new sponsors. I would have to say a medium cooked rib eye steak, with sauteed mushrooms and probably some macaroni and asparagus off to the side and a great big banana split. Oh and throw some potatoes in there.
WBBJJ: Now you’re walking along a beach and you discover a bottle that’s washed up on the sand and you open it and a genie pops out, offering you three wishes. What are your three wishes?
JR: That’s a great question. I’d have to start off saying I don’t have a lot of great wishes. I’m very happy and very content. But if I can recall back to my Disney movie days, growing up in a house with two brothers and a sister, I got to watch a wide range of movies. If I remember correctly, it was against the rules to wish for love, but if that was a choice, I am still single (laughs). And thinking of two more wishes, I’m pretty happy, but let’s go big and wish for a UFC belt as that’s one of my goals. Finally, I’d probably wish to own my own Academy in the future. Maybe not one that features strictly jiu jitsu, but one that offers the widest array of martial arts that are out there. That’s another one of my goals. So a great big giant, multi-million dollar facility that would allow me to give back to as many people as possible. That would be one of my wishes.
WBBJJ: Justin as you were talking I was also thinking of potential “Justin Rader Wishes” and I thought a good one might be more hours in the day, so somebody like you can get more done as 24 just doesn’t seem to cut it for you. And being the ultimate strategist that you are, I would have thought you might wish for an infinite number of wishes.
JR: If I remember correctly, that was also against the rules, but my first wish was against the rules, so I do like that one Todd.
WBBJJ: Justin I want to thank you again for sitting down with us. Are there any last thoughts or any advice you would give our followers and fans at WBBJJ? We have a wide variety of belts, but we’re always focused on the beginner’s mind, so what advice would you give the person just starting out in BJJ?
JR: Three words. Enjoy The Journey. It is a lifestyle. That’s how I try to look at it. Don’t be in a rush. Stripes are great, belts are great, but don’t dwell on trying to get your belts as fast as you can. Trust your instructors, trust your coaches. You put your time in and your coach or your professor will tell you when you’re ready. That was something I always left to my Professor to decide. Enjoying the journey. Enjoying the process. Having an open mind. Staying consistent. Be the best you can be in the moment. Those are the keys that I can give.
(Photo Courtesy of Toni West)
WBBJJ: Thank you Justin again for what you’ve done for us at WBBJJ and what you’ve done for the community. We look forward to watching you grow in MMA and I’m going to cross my fingers that I get to see you in the Gi a few more times, but I won’t hold it against you.
JR: Like I said, I won’t slam the door completely shut on anything. But I am enjoying my time pursuing MMA.
WBBJJ: And everyone should know that they can travel out to Oklahoma City anytime and see in you in the Gi at Lovato’s School of Mixed Martial Arts.
JR: Anytime. I’m on the mats 7 days a week teaching. If I could I’d like to throw a shout out to my sponsors, OTM, Lucky Gi, my strength and conditioning coach Luke Tirey, Brookover Company, PR2 Systems and Mike Calimbas Photography. They are great sponsors and do a lot to take care of me and I’m very appreciative. I’d also like to thank the owners of Lovato’s School of Mixed Martial Arts, Professor Rafael and Tina Lovato, who have done a lot for me over the years, speaking into my life on a very personal level on and off the mats. My other coaches Mark Beecher who has really transformed me into a more complete fighter. His guidance and training has greatly helped. My wrestling coach Andy Howington, who taught me how to be mentally tough. His lessons I continue to apply to my life every day. I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help. Also Professors Saulo Ribeiro, Xande Ribeiro and Chris Savarese. And lastly to all of my friends and family that continue to support me. It means so much to me and I truly wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Everytime I go out to teach or get in the cage, or I’m on the mats competing, I represent all of them 100% of the time and thank you so much. And I’d also like to thank White Belt BJJ for having me today.
You can follow Justin Rader on: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Interview by Todd Shaffer WBBJJ.com