Before Disturbed achieved superstardom, Mike Wengren was an MMA fanatic who was hooked on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The drummer for the hard rock quartet (also comprised of vocalist David Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, and bassist John Moyer) fell in love with Royce Gracie’s masterful ground game, and he would often imitate the black belt’s moves. In 1996, he took it to the next level by training at a little school on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. Six months later, however, he gave it up when Disturbed’s career took off. Though Wengren is in a multi platinum-selling band that co-headlines this summer’s inaugural Rockstar Uproar Festival alongside Avenged Sevenfold, he still has the desire to build upon his white belt background.
FIGHT!: When did you start training BJJ?
Wengren: Back during the first two or three UFCs—when Royce Gracie was reigning supreme—I just fell in love with it. Me and my best friend used to buy all the tapes. We’d sit there and study everything and then practice the moves on each other. After we started getting the hang of it, we wanted to step it up a bit. We stopped by this guy’s studio one day, checked it out, and said,“That’s it. We’re in.” I did it roughly six months, and around the same time, the band really started to take off. We went on the road, and I had to give it up.
FIGHT!: Did you get a belt higher than white?
Wengren: No. Just white belt (laughs). Back then, they were saying the next level up from white was blue and it took two years of training before they would even consider testing you for a belt, so obviously, I dropped out before it.
FIGHT!: How come you never attempted Jeet Kune Do or kickboxing?
Wengren: I was definitely fascinated, but I was a little bit more intimidated by the stand-up game. I was more into the ground game. I really appreciated the science behind it—the technique, waiting for the opening, and trying to catch your opponent, so I really focused on the BJJ. But nowadays, I love all aspects of fighting. Mixed martial arts, as whole, has just evolved so much that the entire spectrum really interests me now.
FIGHT!: It’s been nearly 13 years since you left that dojo. Have you done any training since?
Wengren: I’ve been talking about it more recently. Again, it always seems to be a matter of scheduling and time, and the band keeps us pretty busy. I just recently had a daughter—my first child—and obviously that’s been keeping me busy away from the band. But if I ever get a little extra time, I’d love to get back into it.
Wengren: I would definitely love to do that. We’re friends with those guys. When we were on Mayhem [Festival] a couple years ago, the guys in Five Finger Death Punch… Zoltan [Bathory], the guitar player, is a black belt in Judo. They went as far as bringing mats, and whenever they had time during the day, they’d set the mats up in the dressing room and do their thing. I guess I can be accident-prone sometimes and a little intimidated about going overboard—getting into it and breaking a limb or something, and here I am in the middle of a tour and I can’t perform. Don’t mean to cop out by saying that, but ya know?
FIGHT!: Of course. A lot of bands tend to work out and focus on their cardio before going on tour. Do you train before tours start?
Wengren: Absolutely. I’m actually seeing a personal trainer three times a week because we’ve got a tour coming up for two months. I wanna keep my body in shape, and playing drums alone for some of the parts I have to perform is pretty intensive and demanding. If I don’t prepare for it, it’s gonna get the better of me, and I want the fans to be able to get 100%.
FIGHT!: What was the last UFC event you went to?
Wengren: We went to see BJ Penn and GSP fight at the MGM Grand in Vegas [UFC 94: St. Pierre vs. Penn 2] and it was awesome! It was so highly anticipated, and I’m a big GSP fan. I think, personally, BJ Penn is a whiner, so I was happy with the outcome. I love the energy. It reminds me of going to a live concert. It’s one thing to watch it on TV. It’s really exciting when the cameras get close up and you can see great views, but to feel the energy and atmosphere in the room, it’s amazing.
FIGHT!: Disturbed is releasing their fifth studio album, Asylum, later this month. Did MMA inspire any of the songs?
Wengren: Actually, we have a new song on the record called “Warrior,” and we wrote that about MMA fighters. We are hoping the UFC will be interested and use it for events or a soundtrack or something. We’ll keep our fingers crossed hoping they like it, but the song is about MMA fighting and just showing our respect to those guys.