Interview: Jack “The Joker” HermanssonFighter Magazine
For as long as he can remember, Jack Hermansson has been obsessed with martial arts. His earliest memory is from when he was about 4 years old. He accompanied his father to visit a judo club, where his father was allowed to throw his friend. It imprinted a memory Jack has carried ever since, recalling it as the coolest thing he had ever witnessed. In time for school to begin, Jack’s father had taught him some basic self-defence moves, the techniques equally fascinating to Jack. In our recent interview with Zebaztian Kadestam, he mentioned the role the Rocky films played in shaping his love for martial arts: for Jack, it was Bruce Lee. Every time the family was going to rent a film, Jack lobbied for Lee films. Eventually, he nagged his parents to allow him to try Kung Fu, Karate and other styles, but they were reluctant at first. Around 9 years of age, some of his friends started wrestling and so he was able to convince his mother that they weren’t fighting, they were pursuing a sport.
Fighter Magazine is a legendary magazine. When the internet wasn’t as huge a source of information as it is today, Fighter Magazine covered techniques which I tried – often on my brother at home!
Wrestling became the main sport for Jack, but he has retained an interest in all forms of martial arts. As a teenager, he discovered MMA, firstly through Bas Rutten and his “Lethal Street Fighting” videos. Later he watched Rutten’s fights, Pride FC and UFC. Discovering MMA, with Bruce Lee as a hero, he saw the true successor of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. “You take what is effective from different styles. It is about continuing to develop. Lee himself said ‘what Jeet Kune Do is today will be completely different in 20 years.’ Many Bruce Lee followers who train Jeet Kune Do don’t realise that what we do in MMA is a lot closer to what Lee envisioned! They still practice the same old techniques, while we have systematised styles and techniques to prove which are the most effective.” With MMA, Jack described the Heavens opening up and sensing a strong feeling of homecoming. He had found his calling.
The story begins in Sweden, although “The Joker” now trains in Norway. During the financial crisis in 2008 it was difficult to find a job, he recalls. “I remember a segment in the news where a man stood on a roundabout with a sign reading ‘I need a job.’ That’s how he got his job, but otherwise, it was almost impossible to get a job. Around 100.000 Swedes moved to Norway looking for jobs at that time, and so I moved as well.” Three years before the crisis, however, a classic television program aired by the name Rallarsving. I asked Jack if the famous series, following two Swedish martial artists around the world competing in different styles, had played any role in forming his love for martial arts. “Ouff! Are you kidding? It was incredible. I am so glad I got to experience the development of the sport and Rallarsving was my favourite TV show. I loved how they wanted to change the associations which come with MMA: macho culture, for example, and yet they visited the most brutal places and hardest fighters in the world, mixing it with their personalities and styles. It was a brilliant show! And it came at a time when MMA was being legalised and they [the presenters] were so important for that process. They deserve so much credit.” Alongside Rallarsving, Jack mentions Fighter Magazine and its role in Swedish MMA history: “Fighter Magazine is a legendary magazine. When the internet wasn’t as huge a source of information as it is today, Fighter Magazine covered techniques which I tried – often on my brother at home!” Jack speaks with beaming happiness about martial arts and it is clear his passion for the sport is tremendous.
With these fundaments in place, what has allowed for Swedish success in MMA? “We’ve managed to create a martial arts culture where there are many great gyms, athletes, personalities whom people look up to. It all leads to new talent, showing people it is possible to reach the highest levels in the world. So young people starting in MMA believe they can also reach these heights. We are also good at many other martial arts: Muay Thai, and traditional arts as well. Culture, in short. Pioneers who have paved the way, proving that we are talented, which in turn creates new future talents. The machinery rolls on.”
One of these pioneers is Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson, who recently competed on the same card as Jack in UFC London last weekend. What does one say to a fellow countryman who doesn’t have the same night as one? “It’s super tough. One has to grant Alex all the success he has had. He has been lucky – or perhaps unlucky – to rise in his weightless at the same time as two of the best ever in his division: Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. It means he has just missed the mark. One can imagine how huge it would be for him and Sweden if he had won the belt. Now he took the step back to light-heavyweight and wanted another round. He knows what he has done with some of the best fighters in his division. But again he just fell short. Must be incredibly tough, but I truly hope he brushes it off, finds a good spirit, and if he feels like it, he must continue to fight for his dream. I support him and hope he is well!”
Khamzat has been nosing around the middleweight division, so one never knows what might happen in the future. For now, why not meet sometimes and train?
A teammate of Gustafsson’s is the rapidly rising star Khamzat Chimaev. Before Jack’s scheduled fight with Darren Till which was cancelled and replaced with Chris Curtis, Chimaev came down to Jack’s gym to train together. I ask about their relationship, and Jack’s tune turns more professional after the more jocose tune hitherto. “Our relationship is good. I’m sure we will meet again and train together. Khamzat has been nosing around the middleweight division, so one never knows what might happen in the future. For now, why not meet sometimes and train? He is a good training partner and I think we can help each other in training.”
How does Jack prepare for fights, especially in situations such as last weekend when the opponent was changed at short notice? “I way my strength against theirs and decide on how to play the fight. For example, I know I am much better than Chris Curtis on the ground. So you might think it’s better to take him down, but he has 100% take-down defence in the UFC, he is shorter than I, and has a lower centre of gravity. Very difficult to take him down. Even if I knew I would try I was aware it might not work, so I had to have a stand-up plan. Naturally, I want to take all my fights down to the ground. I know I have an advantage against anyone if I’m on top, but then one has to think ‘how do I get there? Do I focus all my attention on that?’ And so on. So it’s a process for each opponent I’m handed.”
UFC London ended with a victory by unanimous decision, and next Jack mentioned Derek Brunson as a potential fight. But how does he stay motivated in the tougher days? “There are three things I keep in mind. 1. The belt. A huge motivating factor. I want to be the best in the world. 2. Legacy. To be so established in the UFC that one’s never forgotten. To be one of the stars, a Hall of Famer. One of the fighters who has his name in UFC history. 3. To continue doing what I love. When I have a tough day, I just have to remind myself I could be somewhere else doing something I didn’t enjoy. Instead, I am fortunate enough to have my passion, a job I love. It doesn’t last forever. It’s not a sport you do until you are 60. Toughen up, go to the gym, and do your job. That’s what I think about in tougher times. I am living the dream, and I have to continue making the best of it.”
With that in mind, a week after the UFC London event, is Jack relaxing or back in the gym? “I would love to relax! But it is difficult. There is so much going on. The time after a fight is very intense. There is a lot of attention, many congratulations, people getting in touch, the phone calling all the time, interviews, and many things one didn’t have time to do during training camp which were postponed until after the fight which now have to be taken care of. Very intense. It can take a couple of weeks before you can relax the shoulders and take it easy. Once they are done, I can relax.”