Name: Jerry Bohlander
Active from: 1995-2004
Key Wins: Fabio Gurgel (UFC 11), Kevin Jackson (UFC 16)
Key Losses: Tito Ortiz (UFC 18)
Claim to Fame: “David vs. Goliath” submission over Scott Ferrozzo at UFC 8
Current Occupation: Deputy Sheriff for Napa County, Calif.
“September 11, 2001. I think that sums it up,” says former UFC light heavyweight Jerry Bohlander. The 34-year-old Bohlander names that catastrophic day as the catalyst that took him from the world of mixed martial arts into law enforcement.
“I [hadn’t] always wanted to be a cop -- most of my family was criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts and thieves,” he says. “[When 9/11 occurred, that] was when I first decided to go into law enforcement.”
It’s a job Bohlander describes as the best of both worlds. “I love the job sometimes, hate it other times,” he says. “It definitely changes every day.”
The time for a change had come. After his decision loss to Romie Aram at Gladiator Challenge 2 in February 2001, the famed Lion’s Den member described his feelings toward fighting in one word -- “burnout.”
“Too many years of working hard and not making any money. I trained a little and dreamed a lot,” he continues. “When I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to make a career in fighting, I got myself ready for my new career.”
After watching some of the first UFCs on video, Bohlander knew competing in MMA was something he wanted to try. The former high school wrestler sought out Bob and Ken Shamrock, who were assembling what would become the sport’s first true training team, and the rest was history.
Though he had a few fights in the gym that Bohlander describes as “every bit as real,” his pro debut was against Phil Benedict in United Full Contact Federation 2 in November 1995. The fair-haired Lion’s Den newcomer made his team proud as he tapped Benedict in the first round with an armbar.
With a three-month intermission, Bohlander met Scott Ferrozzo at UFC 8 “David vs. Goliath” on Feb. 16, 1996. It truly was a bout of epic proportions, as Ferrozzo was close to 150 pounds heavier than the 5-foot-11 Bohlander. He remembers it as one of his most memorable fights.
“It was my first UFC, and it was a long, hard [fight],” he says. “I won, and not many people gave me a chance to win.”
After nine minutes and three seconds of combat, Ferrozzo submitted to a guillotine choke, naming Bohlander the victor. Later that night, at 5:31 in the match, Bohlander’s second fight was called as Gary Goodridge rained down strikes, but the crowd was already won over by Bohlander’s sheer doggedness.
Bohlander would go to win the UFC’s first lightweight (under 200 pounds) tournament at UFC 12, taking out Rainy Martinez and Nick Sanzo in a combined two minutes.
Amidst a history of bouts against Tito Ortiz, who Bohlander succumbed to after nearly 15 heated minutes at UFC 18, and Murilo Bustamante, who knocked Bohlander out with a kick at Pentagon Combat in 1997, it was his fight against Kevin Jackson at UFC 16 “Battle in the Bayou” in March 1998 that sticks out in his mind.
“Kevin was an Olympic gold medalist. I watched when he won the gold, and it was a huge honor to fight him,” he says.
Originally, the UFC had pulled Bohlander out of the proposed match, giving Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Fabio Gurgel the fight instead.
“About four weeks before the fight, they called and offered me the fight [again],” he recalls. “I had quit training after they took the fight from me, so I was in pretty bad shape.”
Nonetheless, Bohlander accepted the fight for the second time, and armbarred Jackson at the 10-minute mark.
“I picked it up and won. I was so tired after that fight; I could barely walk out under my own power,” he says.
The game has changed a lot since Bohlander was an active athlete, and in his eyes, not completely for the positive.
“There are too many counter fighters,” says Bohlander. “It’s nice that the fighters are more well-rounded, but I think they sacrifice some of the higher specialized skills due to diversification.”
Bohlander sees a different breed of fighter emerging as well.
“The game is more of a sport now than a fight," he says. “You can’t go anywhere today without seeing a Tapout or Affliction shirt. It’s kind of lame [because] these guys don’t train, and most of them that do train, don’t train hard. It’s a far cry from the old days.”
On the flip side, Bohlander adds, “There is a lot to be said for the advances in the game: more fighters, more money, [more] cross training.”
Bohlander stepped back in the spotlight one last time when he submitted Kenny Kingsford with a first-round armbar at Gladiator Challenge 24 in March 2004.
However, since closing the cage door behind him that night, the fight world hasn’t seen much of Jerry Bohlander; at least not most of it. A few days a week, Bohlander can be found teaching MMA and submission classes at Napa MMA in Napa, Calif. He occasionally takes in a Caged Combat show in the Nor Cal area as well.
When he’s not working the graveyard shift or training, Bohlander spends time with his wife, Shannon, whom he married in May 2007. Though they don’t have children yet, it’s not out of the question. In fact, that is one reason he chose to make a change in careers.
“[My family] was also one of the reasons that I went into law enforcement,” he says. “When I have kids, I don't want them to have to look back on that family history.”
Bohlander also enjoys rifle hunting deer and bear, reading all types of books from history to fiction to current events, and hanging with his male pit bull.
“Every once in awhile I get the bug [to fight again],” he confides. “Problem is: no medical, dental or retirement. I have that stuff right now, and it’s nice. Doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, though.”
And though the deputy sheriff and SWAT officer stays fulfilled keeping the peace in California’s Bay Area, he has a host of memories from the early days of the fight game to remind him just how tough he can get if he ever needs to again.