(From left: Jacob Bannon, Nate Newton, Ben Koller, Kurt Ballou. Props to Caughtinthecrossfire.com.)
Most FIGHT! readers got their first glimpse of Jacob Bannon this past July when the Converge vocalist talked with Fightmagazine.com about how his innovative designs influenced many of today’s MMA clothing companies. The artist also spoke about how his label, Deathwish Records, started sponsoring New England-based fighters like Dan and Joe Lauzon. This time around, Bannon swings by FIGHT! to discuss his love for Japanese MMA as well as training at Sityodtong.
FIGHT!: Tell me when you first got hooked on MMA.
Jacob Bannon: I got a VHS in ‘94, right when I got out of high school. I think it was the first [UFC] tournament and I didn’t really enjoy it. The freak show element was kinda interesting to me, but as the sport evolved, I took a huge interest – especially in Japan. I probably started following PRIDE in 1999 and some of the smaller Japanese organizations. I knew about the Pancrase and Shooto, and started following that stuff. So I started following the sport casually at that point, until 2001. [Then] it became the only sport I actually enjoyed.
FIGHT!: How did you feel when PRIDE closed?
Jacob Bannon: It was heartbreaking. We (Converge) were actually leaving Japan when the purchase finally happened. On that tour, I was coming through Tokyo and trying to find any place that has more rare K-1, PRIDE and Shooto related stuff, and it was pretty hard. I only found like one shop in Tokyo that had like, anything I could find. It was pretty sad. I enjoyed the presentation that PRIDE and the character of PRIDE. Some of my favorite fighters came to life in PRIDE and it was just a really beautiful thing for me to watch for years. It was definitely heartbreaking. I was hoping they (Zuffa) were gonna continue with the brand, but it was clear they had no interest in that within months of the purchase happening.
FIGHT!: Do you feel DREAM has re-captured the spirit of PRIDE?
Jacob Bannon: I think they have with the character and the aesthetic of it. They’ve done a great job. Unfortunately, the move to the cage sounds to me more like a bit of a death rattle. That makes me a little bit nervous because I genuinely enjoy DREAM, more so than World Victory Road and Sengoku. That really hasn’t done much for me. I like the fact they’re working with a variety of smaller organizations to sorta make it this world stage, or at least a more well-rounded stage than just a pure organizational thing. [DREAM is] doing a good job, but it’s tough. They don’t have a TV deal [and] they don’t have the exposure that PRIDE did. The glory days are over now. It’s a different market, a different audience. I don’t think that’s gonna come back, so they have to adapt.
FIGHT!: Word has it that you train at one of the Sityodtong schools.
Jacob Bannon: Yeah, I train five or six days a week at Sityodtong North Shore, which is a Neil LeGallo school. Neil is a student of [Mark DellaGrotte] and Mark had him open up a school. It’s actually right near the Deathwish shop and that’s where we run our record label. I’m there most nights.
FIGHT!: So are you more of a striker of a grappler?
Jacob Bannon: I’m a muay Thai kinda guy. I’ve always liked that. I grapple a couple of times a week. I enjoy that too, but the striking is something I always enjoyed, so I’m sharpening up my muay Thai game with those guys there. It’s a great school. You get really awesome attention. The day I left, Marcus Davis and Jorge Gurgel was sparring, and Neil was working with those guys and I had been working in a class with two or three other dudes. It was such a great experience.
FIGHT!: Have you ever sparred with Davis or Gurgel?
Jacob Bannon: No. Those guys were mainly working in Somerville, which is the original school, which is 25 minutes away from where I’m at. But they come down and work with Neil quite often, and work in different classes occasionally. There’s a wide variety of skill level. There are new guys that come in a little wild and some guys who have the same experience level as myself. The only thing that started happening is the guys who have stuck around that I like to spar and train with are much larger than me. So I’m working with guys who are substantially larger than me on a daily basis, which I think for the most part makes my game a little better. I can take shots a lot better now (laughs).
Converge’s new album Axe To Fall drops in stores on October 20.