Jason Mertlich – Preparing Fighters for the “UFC”
When you hear the names from “The Ultimate Fighter” on this season and last season, you will recognize front runner Ramsey Nijem or last season’s winner Court McGee. They have a couple things in common, one is that they train at the same facility in Utah and the other is that they have one of the most incredible coaches, Jason Mertlich.
Mertlich is a reserve guy and an incredibly astute student of the martial arts. We actually conducted our interview in the gyms “Altitude Room”. It simulated the air at the altitude of 13,000 feet. Utah is already a place athletes from around the world come to in order to get stronger lungs, but 13,000 feet, that was something else. While I was trying to get adjusted, Mertlich casually carried on our conversation.
Mertlich grew up as a student of karate under the tutledge of Toshio Osaka, a master of the sport from Japan who happened to move to Utah. As he entered high school and participated in football, baseball, and track, he noticed that he could become a better athlete by “fusing” the philosophical mindset of the martial arts to the athletic preparation of other sports.
The result was a mindset that martial arts are more than just “competing” or “winning”. What rang true as this “fusion” was created was that a martial artist mindset should be one of benefitting the community, that way every victory would be shared and every challenging circumstance would become a learning experience when sharing that experience with others in the community. It is a mindset that Mertlich instills in his fighters and that has led him to be such as successful coach in the MMA world.
In 1995 at the age of 20, his college football career ended with a bulging disc. Not one to waste time or feel sorry for himself, Mertlich would take up Jiu Jitsu under Walt Bayless. He became so hooked that he started a lawn mowing business in order to train more. He would average 30 hours of training per week. Jiu Jitsu was a perfect tie in for the karate he had learned earlier in life.
3 years later, he would earn his black belt in Jiu Jitsu. As he would attest, that is when the ‘real’ learning began to take place. Instead of focusing on the technique, he now understood the meaning of each defensive move and truly became a martial artist.
In 1999, he would begin teaching at the “Tree House” gym, then went back to help out Walt Bayless’ gym which after Walt’s departure was run by Griffen Reynaud. While there, he would train with various Japanese stars such as Minowa. When LA Boxing opened, he would be asked to join as a trainer, in 2008, Adam Legas asked him to become coach at “Throwdown” in Orem, Utah. The gym would create a fight team. Some early members would include Steve Siler, Ramsey Nijem, and Court McGee.
Mertlich believes Utah provides a fighter many advantages. The obvious one of course is the altitude. It is great for a fighters overall cardio. However, perhaps the greater advantage is that there are not many distractions. “Most everything closes around 9pm here and there aren’t many other things except outdoor activities that can distract the fighters. That means that they have a clearer focus on their objectives.” Mertlich is adamant about not letting the negative aspects of fighting in his gym. The mantra of his team is “we can control ourselves, but not what others can do”. Mertlich says that once a fighter understands that, and controls the things under their ability to control, they excel as a fighter. Mertlich believes that fighting is a metaphor for overcoming adversity, and adversity is overcome by learning and moving forward, regardless of how fast you go rather than dwelling on something and doing nothing about it.
Jason Mertlich is definitely someone that anyone can learn from. Not only do his fighters victories act as a testament of this, but more importantly, when the gym, you can see that his fighters live it. There are no monster attitudes. Matter of fact, all of his fighters I was able to meet were proactive in extending a hand of welcome, including Court McGee and Ramsey Nijem. Like Mertlich wife mentioned to me, we’ll be hearing much more about this man.
Checkout Jason schooling a local newscaster: