MMA Access: In the Pit with John Hackleman




John Hackleman “In the Pit”

By Dave Carpinello




Hawaiian Kempo founder and owner/founder of The Pit in Arroyo Grande, California, John Hackleman has been involved in martial arts for nearly four decades. PDG recently talked with Hackleman about Chuck Liddell, the Ultimate Fighter and The Pit.



PDG: You joined Chuck Liddell as a coach on the Ultimate Fighter season 11; what did you think about the whole experience?

John Hackleman: I really hadn’t watched much of the show before I went on it and it was a lot different than I thought it would be. I was hesitant to do it at first but eventually Chuck talked me into it. The guys on the show this season were all great and that is what it is all about. I had seen some highlights of other seasons where the guys were acting like fools but we got lucky and had a great bunch of fighters this season.


PDG: Did you watch the episodes when they aired on SpikeTV?

John Hackelman: I have watched a couple of them but I do have the rest on Tivo so I will get to them eventually. I was at the gym during the times that it was on TV.


PDG: As far as the episodes that you have seen, did the way the producers edited the show surprise you?

John Hackleman: Yes and I am glad that they did edit out a couple of things that I had said because after I was like “Oh shit they just got that on camera”. Some of the fights looked different cageside than how they were portrayed on TV, like when Court McGee fought Nick Ring but it is hard to explain. The fight between Josh Bryant and Jamie Yager…Yager looked like the crab-man on ‘My Name is Earl’….That was a brutal fight and Jamie really took a beating that didn’t look so bad when the editing was done. The reason he couldn’t come out for the final round was because of the brutality of the first two rounds. From what I have seen on the episodes so far they also edited some of the heated arguments in the corners and after the fights including an ugly episode when the French (Norman Paraisy) guy quit.


PDG: Yeah didn’t he say that he was there to show that the French fighters were no pussies?

John Hackleman: Yeah something like that. It was basically the first day of the show and the producers just kind of threw a bunch of guys in our room and in Tito Ortiz’s room and told us to tape them up and get them ready to fight. So we didn’t even know who that guy was and like I said I am glad they edited some of that out. With the amount of footage they got it must be a tough job that includes a lot of boring editing to make the episodes exciting and I think they did a good job.


PDG: Would you go on the show again if you had the chance?

John Hackleman: Yes I would do it again but it would depend on the circumstances and those would probably have to include Chuck being on the show with me. That was the main reason I was there this time around but you can never say never.


PDG: What was your reaction when Tito Ortiz had to pull out of his fight against Chuck because he needed neck surgery?

John Hackleman: I didn’t really have a reaction one way or the other to it because Chuck had been preparing for it. Even though he didn’t know it for sure, he was telling me from day one that Tito wasn’t going to fight him. He kept telling me over and over again “You know he isn’t going to fight me, right?”.


PDG: The UFC ultimately replaced Ortiz with Rich Franklin who went on to beat Chuck at UFC 115; what did you think of the fight?

John Hackleman: The fight was going pretty much like I thought it would until the last five seconds of the first round. Rich surprised a lot of people and showed a lot of heart, power and skill in that fight. I knew he had all of those but I thought that since he was a little lighter in weight than Chuck that he wouldn’t be able to last three rounds if the second and third rounds went like the first 4:55 of the fight.


PDG: There has been a lot of speculation about “The Iceman’s” future going forward.

John Hackleman: I think that Chuck’s future is bright and he can do whatever he wants. He is in a position that most people can only dream about in their wildest dreams. Chuck is a very smart guy and he done very well in his life (financially, emotionally, spiritually, family and friends) and I will continue to support him in whatever he wants to do going forward. I would say his future is brighter than 99% of the population.


PDG: Do you think that future should involve fighting in the cage again?

John Hackleman: Chuck is the only one who can make that decision and I will support whatever decision he makes and that doesn’t translate to Dana White saying “I want him to fight, so I can pay my mortgage”. Chuck is a grown man and he can do whatever he wants even if it’s not a decision I agree with, I will back him up all the way.


*The UFC president has since apologized to Liddell’s camp for accusing them of mis-advising the former champion to continue fighting after suffering three straight knockout losses since September 2008. White said Liddell’s team is looking out for the fighter’s best interests.*


PDG: So is the decision up to Chuck or the UFC as to whether he continues fighting?

John Hackleman: It is up to the UFC if they want to use him again but the choice to fight again is entirely Chuck’s decision. I think he should whatever he wants and there are lots of other opportunities and options available if he chooses to fight again. If it was up to me he would have been done fighting a while ago because I like him in the gym training the other fighters and not having such a heavy travel schedule. I would prefer he stays around here and runs the gym with me but if you’re a fighter and you want to fight, you fight. Its just like any other profession, whether you’re a painter or a prostitute you do your job because that is what you like doing.


PDG: Are you training any new fighters at The Pit?

John Hackleman: We really don’t train too many mixed martial artists anymore but instead I have been focused on training martial arts and fitness. I still have a few fighters on my team in the WEC and Strikeforce and Court McGee, who won the Ultimate Fighter has been training with us. Other than that we some fighters who just like to train and fight in an occasional smoker. 99% of my time though is spent training martial arts students and fitness training. I was never a big fan of the whole MMA scene but it happened to be that I had the most high profile fighter in the world training at my gym.


PDG: It also seems like you are very involved in the community surrounding the gym.

John Hackleman: Definitely, we have a family night and we do bullying classes at local schools where kids are trained to never be bullied, and taught to never bully. We also do fitness classes and training with local cops, so I would have to say we are more of a community/family gym than anything else.


PDG: Do you guys have events planned for the gym in the coming weeks?

John Hackleman: We have a martial arts business seminar going on at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas from July 5th to the 7th. The three days include various seminars from bringing MMA into a traditional martial arts school to teaching kids safe martial arts training. The timing was great because a lot of fighters were already in Las Vegas for UFC 116.


PDG: Speaking of big events, did you get a chance to watch Fabricio Werdum upset Fedor Emelianenko two Saturdays ago on Showtime?

John Hackleman: Yeah I thought it was good, going into the fight I didn’t have a favorite because I like both fighters. It was good to see Werdum get the win though and every fight has a loser but it was good to see that neither fighter was injured.


PDG: Were you surprised that Werdum asked for a rematch with Fedor instead of a chance to fight Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce heavyweight title?

John Hackleman: Not really, a lot of guys talk about the belts but I think that most fighters fight just to fight and they would still be doing it even if they weren’t getting paid. I know most fighters would fight just as hard as they do now even if it was only for a hotel room and gas money. Chuck has fought with the same amount of intensity and heart throughout his career both as an amateur and professionally. It is about the competition of the sport and not so much the belts for the majority of the fighters.


PDG: Thanks for your time John.

John Hackleman: No problem.