They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Few fighters know that reality better than Jason Reinhardt.
His ill-fated Octagon debut against Joe Lauzon ended with his submission after just 74 seconds at UFC 78 in November 2007. It remains the 41-year-old Decatur, Ill., native’s only defeat in 21 professional appearances. Now, more than three years later, Reinhardt (Pictured) will return to the cage to meet Chinese import Tie Quan Zhang in a preliminary featherweight duel at UFC 127 “Penn vs. Fitch” on Saturday at the Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Reinhardt discusses what a second opportunity with the UFC means to him, the life-changing experiences he enjoyed while training with Wanderlei Silva and the Wand Fight Team in Las Vegas, the strain his MMA career has put on his marriage and the personal pressures he feels entering his match with Zhang.
Sherdog.com: What does getting another chance to fight for the UFC mean to you?
Reinhardt: The opportunity to get another chance in the UFC means my chance to get out of the insurance business. I feel like I’m honestly fighting for my life. Try knocking on doors every [expletive] day, cold calling, selling life insurance. I’ve done the business for a very long time. I absolutely hate making a living this way. It’s all commission only. I’m very good at it, but, honestly, I hate it. I’ve been trying to figure a way out for a very long time, but I have a family to support, so this is my chance. This is my chance to really do something, to get out of waking up every day, having doors slammed in my face and moving on to the next call. Honestly, 99 percent of people wouldn’t last a week with how I make a living. It’s mentally exhausting. I’m gonna win this [expletive] fight and never have to try and sell another life insurance policy the rest of my life. I’m just being 100 percent truthful. I’m a very dangerous fighter at this point in my life.
Sherdog.com: How have you addressed the vision problems that nixed your scheduled WEC bout with Tie Quan Zhang in September?
Reinhardt: After my fight was cancelled at almost the end of my training camp, I flew home. It sucked, man. I stayed positive, though. At the time in September when all that happened, my wife was saying how this sport has ruined our lives and she didn’t know how much more she could take. We’ve been together 15 years. She’s extremely supportive. I don’t want to make it sound like she’s not, because she is. Our wives go through this s--t right along with the fighter, man. Some fold; some don’t. My wife is a very strong woman, so I assured her I would fly home, get the eye surgery, with no guarantees, and it would all be worth it. I told her, “Don’t divorce me now. S--t, I’ve almost made it.” So, $5,000 later, here we are. My eyes are perfect. The point is you never give up on your dream. You fall down eight times and get up eight times. It was very disappointing when my fight got cancelled towards the end of my camp, but I don’t quit, man. It’s times like that when a man, a fighter, really finds out what he’s made of.
Sherdog.com: What challenges does Zhang pose for you as an opponent?
Reinhardt: Honestly, for this fight, I’ve focused on what I have to do, not what he’s gonna do. I know he’s a great fighter or he wouldn’t be in the UFC. I respect all opponents. We are professionals. However, I look at it like this -- it’s a [expletive] fight. I’m coming to fight, plain and simple. I’m going to make it chaotic for him. My conditioning is so good. I’m gonna run him like a racehorse, until he breaks. Once that bell rings, he’s going to say to himself, “I thought they said this guy was 41.” I’m not 41 years old. I don’t know who made that number up, but I’ve skipped a bunch of birthdays. Just watch the fight. I think the world will be impressed when they see how hard I’ve worked. I’ve definitely put my work in. This is something I take very serious. This is my life, my future, so, no, I don’t see really any challenges he poses for me. He’s never fought anyone like me. I’m not sure what he’s been told about me as an opponent, but if he hasn’t put his long hours in the gym, it’s too late now, because I have. You’ll see.
Reinhardt: Well, my whole MMA career I always fought out of Miletich Fighting Systems -- for over 10 years. I lived three hours from the gym and would drive back and forth to Iowa to train for my fights. Oftentimes, I would stay for extended periods of time to train for all my fights, and, oftentimes, I would drive home right after training and make the six-hour round trip, getting home at one and two in the morning and getting up and doing it all over again. I remember logging over 7,500 miles driving back and forth for a title fight I was training for. Just recently, when Pat Miletich sold his gym and the team separated, I had to find a new MMA team. Honestly, the way it all happened with me joining the Wand Fight Team, I only can believe God was responsible for this. All I can say is God was watching over me and placed me with Wanderlei Silva and all his amazing coaches at the Wand Fight Team. Call me crazy or whatever, but God knows Wanderlei has always been my very favorite fighter on the planet, since the beginning. And the way this all happened, it only made my faith stronger in God.
The Wand Fight Team and all the guys are some of the most talented guys in the world, but, more importantly, the coaches know how to treat their fighters; class acts all the way. [They are] very positive, and you don’t feel one ounce of negative energy in the Wand Fight Team gym; all positive. I will be with this team for life. There’s a reason why Wanderlei’s gym was voted the number one MMA gym in the world. This was a very prestigious award and very deserved. Trust me. I’ve been around a long time and seen a lot in this sport.
Sherdog.com: How did that experience impact you?
Reinhardt: The experience of being a part of the Wand Fight Team has changed my life. It’s honestly a fresh of breath air. There’s no bulls--t there. There are no egos. Everyone is there to help everyone. I figured something out after seeing a lot in this sport. You know why there are no egos and no bulls--t inside Wanderlei’s gym? The reason is very simple: everyone, and I do mean everyone, has such an incredible respect for the man and all he’s done and all the enjoyment he’s given us in all his fights that they would never want to disrespect his name or his gym. I find when there are egos and a bunch of idiots inside these MMA gyms it’s because there’s no true leader who guys truly respect. And I mean truly respect, not some superficial type of respect but genuine, real respect. Wanderlei is about the most down-to-earth coolest guy you can meet. When you see the man, you just want to bow to him and show him the respect he deserves. He’s a true leader and represents what this sport should be about. So, to answer your question, it’s impacted me greatly, and it’s something I take very seriously. This is not a joke to me. Wanderlei told me how happy he was with how hard I trained in his gym, and now it’s my job to show him how much I appreciate everything by how hard I fight. I truly feel like I will fight to the death in this fight, especially representing his name. I’m ready to go.
Sherdog.com: Did you do any one-on-one training with Wanderlei?
Reinhardt: Yes, Wanderlei partnered up with me, and we went back and forth with different combinations together. It was very inspiring, to say the least. He spent time with me going over his philosophy on how I should fight. It changed me. After the motivating speeches he gives the team after hard sparring, you just want to fight your ass off for the man -- especially after all he’s given us and all his wars. He’s a true inspiration. Wanderlei is a true master who everyone follows. This is why his gym is so successful. This is a very special individual. He got there through hard work, determination and the never-give-up-no-matter-what mentality. I can relate very much to this. Then, to top it off, you should see and be around his coaches in the gym. In all the years I’ve been in MMA, I’ve never seen so many talented coaches in one gym; so many nice, quality people.
Sherdog.com: Are you concerned at all with the fact that you have not fought in more than three years?
Reinhardt: Honestly, to answer your question bluntly, absolutely not. I’m not concerned in the least bit that I haven’t fought in over three years. I fight every day in the gym -- at Wanderlei’s gym, with some of the best fighters in the world. That’s where my toughest fights are, right there in my gym with my teammates.
Sherdog.com: Why did you spend so much time away from competition?
Reinhardt: I spent some time away from competition because I wasn’t willing to fight for small shows for bulls--t money with the kind of professional MMA record I have. I had different opportunities, but the money they would offer me wouldn’t even pay for my training expenses. It was a joke. I always knew if I held out and was smart about my career, the UFC would take notice, and that’s exactly what happened. After my UFC debut in 2007, [UFC President] Dana White personally told me to go win two more fights and they would have me back. Here we are. It took a little longer than expected, but, to be fair and completely honest, I had some personal issues I had to take care of, which i did, and I’ve never felt better. The biggest fight isn’t even in the cage. It’s outside of it. Being a fighter goes way deeper than just inside the cage. In the beginning of my MMA career, it was never about the money. I remember fighting a pro fight once for 50 bucks, so it never was for the money. I did the whole fighting for honor thing for years. However, you come to a point in your life where you have to think of your family, your future, my daughter’s future. I’m fighting literally for my life with this fight.
Sherdog.com: Had you ever been to Australia?
Reinhardt: No, I’d never been to Australia. My MMA career has taken me to other countries but never to Australia. The flight was very long, but I’ve recovered. It was rough the first two days getting adjusted, but I’m golden now. I’m ready to get this guy outta there.
Sherdog.com: How do you feel going into this bout at UFC 127?
Reinhardt: I can’t tell you how appreciative I am to the fans. Without the fans, there is no fight. I feel the best I’ve ever felt going into a fight. I have the right team supporting me, the team I will be with for the rest of my career, my life -- the Wand Fight Team. I’ve never had this kind of support in my career. I feel that representing Wanderlei’s name, I can’t lose. I refuse to give up. [Zhang] will either have to knock me out cold or choke me unconscious to beat me. That’s the only way, and that ain’t happening. I’m coming to fight. The only way back to my wife and my daughter is through this guy. Talk is cheap. Just tune in and watch what I’m talking about. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t fun. This is war to me -- period.