Interview

“If I’ve got to run my fist through somebody’s face to get the win, that’s what I’ve got to do.” AJ Fletcher, Gladiators Academy.

AJ Fletcher, fighting out of Gladiators Academy of Lafayette.

AJ Fletcher is currently one of the most exciting young mixed martial arts prospects emerging from the Gulf Coast. Fletcher is not only a budding star in the cage, he’s also well-rounded and focused outside of it. On top of training at one of the most prestigious combat sports academies in the region and building an impressive MMA career, Fletcher is a fourth-year biology major at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He’s fighting this Saturday, March 30, at Empire Fighting Championship 1, in Biloxi, Mississippi, and I thought that this would be a great time to talk with AJ and allow you to get to know more about the young man that has been called “The Future of Louisiana MMA.”

Empire Fighting Championship 1, Saturday, March 30, in Biloxi, Mississippi.

You can purchase tickets here to see AJ Fletcher fight this Saturday, March 30, in Biloxi, Mississippi.

So AJ, where do you come from, and what got you into fighting?

I come from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was born there and stayed there until my freshman year in college. I started getting into MMA my senior year in high school, and I started training at a smaller gym there. I had a teammate fight on a show out there, and I saw Tim Credeur and some of the Gladiators guys at that fight.  My teammate ended up losing that fight, but he told me that he saw a lot of potential in me, and that I needed to get to a good gym. So, I remembered seeing Tim and them at the show, and after it didn’t work out for me playing college football, I started to put my focus on MMA, and it’s been the love of my life ever since.

I began training with Gladiators in the summer of my freshman and sophomore years. I would come and stay with some friends in Lafayette for a few days, train and return to Baton Rouge. I started doing that about three years ago. 

I know that you live in Lafayette now. Did you end up moving out there to be closer to Tim and Gladiators Academy?

In my mind, it was definitely for the training, but when I had to present it to my parents, I had to package it as something like training and school. I told them that I wasn’t really liking LSU, and I really wasn’t.  My grades were fine and everything, but it was just too big, and I didn’t like how everything was set up. So I told them I wanted a change. And, I love it out here. I’ve got a good team around me, a lot of supporters, and it feels like my home away from home.

What’s a typical week like for you?  How often are you training and what do you typically train and when?

Right now I’m taking 16 hours in school, which is a good bit of a course load.  I was able to test out of a few things in high school, and I was able to keep the course load down for most of my time here, but now I’m at the point where I need to be taking a bit more.   I’m not working, so it’s manageable

Monday mornings I do cardio, swimming, sometimes boxing.  Then, I have class at 11:00.  Also, on Mondays and Fridays my girlfriend’s cousin comes down and we train kickboxing.  Monday and Wednesday evenings I’ve got kickboxing and Muay Thai.  Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take an MMA class at UL as a kinesiology lab.  I go to school Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:45 until 4:00 on Tuesdays and until 5:00 on Thursdays. After school, I come home, grab a quick nap, then head to jiu jitsu.

After jiu jitsu I have another MMA class.  Fridays are days for active recovery and things like swimming and light mitt work. Saturdays are sparring days, and I might try to get in a bike ride. Sundays are active recovery; I like to keep it moving, but also keep it light.

What do you like most about fighting? 

The challenge is definitely a big part, I like pushing myself a lot.  I’m big into the mental side of things, analyzing my opponent, getting them to do certain things that I can exploit.  I like the science behind it, the mental game, the strategy.  And I think that originates going back to football. I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest, so I had to be the smartest.  That’s what I bring to MMA.

“I think that originates going back to football. I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest, so I had to be the smartest.  That’s what I bring to MMA.”

AJ Fletcher on what he likes most about fighting.

Do you feel that’s one of your biggest strengths?

I think so! I think my strengths are that, and my drive.  I don’t think a lot of people put the hours in like I do, or as consistently.  When I fight, I don’t take these long breaks like people often do, I fight on Saturday and I’m back in the gym a few days later.  I always feel like I have to keep training, keep getting better. When it comes down to it, I think hours in the gym are the biggest thing, and I think that’s what really separates me.

What was it like the first time that you stepped into the cage?  What was going through your mind?

‘Oh shit, this is happening.’  But no, generally I still remember my first kickboxing and MMA fight. It took me getting punched in the face to wake up.  You’re kind of on autopilot mode at first. I circled around for a bit, then got punched in the face, and it was like oh yea, I’m here, it’s go time.  That first fight, I don’t want to say it’s a deer in the headlight kind of look, but it’s surreal almost that you’re in there.  Now it’s worn away a little bit, but that first time, I remember it.

What is your record?  Are there any notable fights that you’d like to tell me about?

My record is 6-2 as an amateur, and for a notable fight, I would have to say my fight with Jesse Roberts. He just made his pro debut in Bellator.  It was a loss, but it made me realize some things.  First, I had to work on my wrestling. Second, that sometimes you’ve just got to go into a fight and grind out a win.  Sometimes it’s not going to look pretty, but you’ve just got to get it done.  And that’s what he did with me, he just came in and outwrestled me and got the win.  So, afterwards I knew I needed to work on my wrestling, and my trajectory has gone up exponentially since then. He showed me a lot, and I feel like I needed that loss.

Any thoughts on when you might be going pro?

I’m not really waiting for school to finish to go pro, but it’s going to kind of end up at that time anyway.  I hope to have something in the works this summer for a pro debut, but I’m not exactly sure yet.

Which was the better moment, your first MMA win or getting your BJJ blue belt?

Man, I’d have to say my first win, because it was like everything came around full circle.  I mean, I could have continued playing football. I knew that I could go and be a walk-on at a college somewhere, but after that first MMA win, it verified that I was on the right path.

“I knew that I could go and be a walk-on at a college somewhere, but after that first MMA win, it verified that I was on the right path.”

Fletcher on his first MMA win.

I heard you recently on The Ryan Fontenot Show podcast. You guys train jiu jitsu together?

Yea man, I’ve known him, I guess for about two years now.  He actually had me on his podcast a few months ago, back in September, and I was coming off of a two fight losing streak. So he had me this time coming off of a two fight winning streak, and it was good to come back with something more positive to talk about.  He’s helping us out a lot with his podcast, just getting time on the mic, being exposed to that early, it’s really helping us all out.

What are your short-term goals, and what are you doing to help you get there?

I want to finish my amateur career on the right note.  I think I have a good opportunity to do that this week.  It’s going to be a tough fight, but I have the tools to win and carry that momentum.  So, I want to end my amateur career on the right note and continue that momentum on to my professional career.  I put my weight in my training more than results, so as long as I’m in the gym, getting better, I know that everything will eventually pan out.

Let’s say it’s fight day.  How does it begin for you?  What do you do leading up to the fight, and what’s going through your mind?

Generally, I wake up and do some type of, I call it a shakeout workout, just to get some glycogen back in my muscles. Maybe a bike ride or something like that.  Usually, I like to chill out, if I’ve got my Xbox, I’ll play that. If I have class, I’ll go to class.  I try to keep it like a regular day, show up to the venue, go to the rules meeting. 

There’s one thing that my dad taught me, and it’s to have this switch.  It’s good to be able to joke around and have fun, but there’s a certain time when some people have to turn on that switch. Some people have a hard time turning it on, and some have a hard time turning it off.  Some guys do horrific things outside of the cage, and if you look at Tyron Woodley’s last fight, he had a hard time turning it on.  So, I’d say about 45 minutes before the fight, I’m turning it on, and if I’ve got to run my fist through somebody’s face to get the win, that’s what I’ve got to do. After the fight, I turn it off, but when it’s turned on, I’m ready to go.

“If I’ve got to run my fist through somebody’s face to get the win, that’s what I’ve got to do.”

Fletcher on what’s going through his mind before a fight.

What has been the highest point of your career thus far? 

The highest points are the places that I have gotten to go, and the people that I’ve gotten to meet.  When I first started, I remember going with my family to watch some fights at the Golden Nugget, and I remember seeing some of these guys and saying man, I want to be there someday. And now, I can call a lot of those people my friends. I remember seeing T Webb (Thomas Webb) on that card, and I was so impressed.  And I mean, I got to train with him today. 

It’s surreal being able to call these guys friends, mentors, coaches. That’s the highlight of my career thus far.  I can say with all of my heart that these guys have made me a better man, T Webb, Tim (Credeur), Josh (Artigue), everybody that’s around the gym. They’re all just great dudes, and it feels like I’m living a dream everyday of my life being able to be around these guys.

How about the lowest point?

The lowest, I would probably say was after those two losses, both of them were back-to-back. The first was against Jesse, and I was real confident going into the next one against Jalen Hill. The first round of that fight I felt great, but after the second round that weight cut really kicked in, and it felt like I couldn’t move my arms.  It was a decision loss, and it didn’t discourage me, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get to show everything that I had improved on.

What weight were you fighting at?

155

Are you still fighting at 155?

No, we bumped up to 165, in hopes that the UFC would be opening up that division, but we also take fights at 170, since they are generally more available at that weight.

And was that fight with Jalen Hill the deciding factor?

Yea, it was, and Tim kind of thought so, too.  But, I did take one more fight at 155 after the fight with Jalen, and I had to run everyday for six weeks; after training, after swimming, after everything. In the back of my mind, that weight cut was always there.  After talking with Tim, we decided that it was best to put myself out there at 100% instead of 60%, even if the guys are a little bigger. I’m more comfortable putting myself out there at 100% against bigger guys, than putting myself out there as an unfinished product at 60% against smaller ones.

“I’m more comfortable putting myself out there at 100% against bigger guys, than putting myself out there as an unfinished product at 60% against smaller ones.”

Fletcher on moving up a weight class.

When you’re looking back on your career, what would you have had to accomplish in order to think of it as a success? 

Obviously, I want that belt. I believe wholeheartedly, that if you do something, you’ve got to want to be the best. So I definitely want that belt.  But, I also want to be one of those guys that does it the right way.  I never want to be one of those guys that people take pride in rooting against.  I want to be one of those guys that kids can look up to. I remember when I was younger, watching these guys doing things the right way, and I’m fortunate to have someone in front of me doing that in Dustin Poirier. He’s a great man, great father, a role model. He’s someone that I’d like to model my career after, and I’d like to to things the right way like he has.

AJ Fletcher poses for a picture with #3 ranked UFC Lightweight Dustin Poirier.

So you’re fighting this weekend, Saturday, March 30 in Biloxi. Do you have anything that you’d like to plug? Would you like to shout-out your school/coaches?

I want to shout out my sponsors! I’m partnered up with Fit Blendz in Lafayette and Youngsville. Also, The House in Tigerland. I used to work there my freshman year, and now my buddy owns it.  He’s been supporting me all along the way.

I’ve got to shout-out my parents.  Most people, when they say they want to get punched in the face for a living, wouldn’t have the support of their parents. Mine at first, obviously were a little apprehensive, but really they’ve been supportive the whole way.  Actually, we’ve got tickets to go see Dustin (Poirier) get his belt in a couple of weeks (Saturday, April 13, at UFC 236).  I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Also, I’ve got to shout-out my girlfriend Jacie! It’s not easy dating a fighter.  The training demands are quite heavy, but she’s a trooper, and she’s supported me the whole way.

And of course, I’d like to shout-out my training partners and coaches. I definitely need them, and they’ve been big in shaping my life in and out of the ring!

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