Who Exactly Is Jon "White Trash" Friedland?
The moniker “White Trash” has definite implications. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I pulled up to Jon Friedland’s dojo, Neutral Ground. I had heard a little about their unorthodox, aggressive method of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but a serious mixed martial arts dojo run by a man who is publicly known as Jon “White Trash” Friedland?
I had a mental image of walking into a broken-down mess of a building, with pigs and goats milling around while corn-fed farm-boys rolled around on mats. I wasn’t entirely wrong...
Jon DOES have a pet pig, and there definitely was a bathroom sink sitting by the front door – but the pig, dubbed Notorious P.I.G. rarely makes appearances in the dojo, and the sink was only by there because the plumber was there updating the bathroom fixtures in the new building. Don’t let appearances deceive you – Neutral Ground is a serious facility training filled with dedicated fighters and Jon Friedland is hard-working 170lb tactician (even if his haircut is ridiculous). He will face Jesse Lennox October 6th at GLADIATORS FIGHTING 47 - CAGED COLOSSEUM for the Gladiators Fighting Welterweight title.
USCS: Do you do a lot of research on your opponents?
WT: Yeah, I stalk ‘em. I know they do the same for me, so yeah. I’ve had, after the fights, they say “I didn’t know you went to school for civil engineering” and I’m like, what does that have to do with fighting, you know?
USCS: So you did go to school for civil engineering?
WT: Yeah, I graduated in 2003 from UW Milwaukee.
USCS: Awesome. Do you still do engineering stuff?
WT: Nope, not a day of it. Right after I graduated I flew to Japan and taught English over there, did some training and came back here and opened a dojo.
USCS: Did you train Jiu-Jitsu over there or…?
WT: Uh, Shoot-box – it’s Portuguese for kickboxing - it’s like kickboxing for MMA.
USCS: They give you room and board and all that, right?
WT: Japan is one of the only countries in Asia that requires a 4 year degree, and because they do they treat you real good, and they put you up – I mean, you still have to pay rent, but they give you a good salary and everything…
USCS: So you’ve been running Neutral Ground ever since?
WT: Yep, for almost 2 and a half years now.
USCS: Awesome. I hear you’ve had a couple locations?
WT: Yeah, our first one was the basement of a Baskin-Robbins, and it flooded 3 times. The last time I had to rescue all the mats. I had to stop class and have squeegees down the hallway, make sure all the mats were peeled back, and we were like, “we have to get out of this.” So when we got out of that, we moved into what happened to be a convenient location right around the corner, it worked out okay, kinda ghetto, kinda small, but we outgrew that, and now we’re here. And we’ll be here for at least 3 years.
USCS: Right on, it’s pretty nice in here, you’re getting the plumbing fixed up…I thought it was pretty appropriate – I showed up and there’s a sink outside and I’m like, “oh, I’m interviewing Jon “White Trash” Friedland.”
WT: We should just leave the sink out there, put a Neutral Ground sticker on it.
USCS: Yeah, yeah! You fight at 170lb, have you always fought at that weight?
WT: I always have. People have asked me to cut down to 155, but I’m pretty tall, so it’s hard for me to (cut).
USCS: Yeah, you look like a pretty natural 170lb.
WT: Yeah, but unfortunately I’m naturally really close to 170, so I’m like 172, 173, so I don’t really have to cut weight, I just take my pants off and I make weight.
USCS: Yeah…So let’s take about Gladiators coming up….How’re you feeling? Been training a lot? Been thinking about it much?
WT: I’ve been thinking about it, I haven’t been training much for it. This has been the worst 3 months of my training since I started Ji-Jitsu. Just one little nagging injury after another. But I’m gonna put on a good show, I’m gonna try my best. I’m running through scenarios in my head – I’m changing my whole game plan for this guy. I know he knows everything about me – we’ve trained together before, so it’ll be exciting. He knows my game, I know his game, we’re just gonna kinda bash heads and see what happens. He’s a cool guy, I don’t mind beating him, I don’t mind losing to him.
USCS: Are you gonna try to use the hometown advantage?
WT: Yeah, but what’s funny is that the hometown advantage, for me almost isn’t an advantage, it’s like, uh – a lot of people, when they enter another person’s domain, they step up, and that’s kinda what I do. In my own territory, I feel the crowd and it almost makes me too nervous. I’d almost rather have nobody support me.
USCS: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. Well, it looks like you’ve done pretty well in the Gladiator (series) so far, I mean you’ve done 5 or 6 of them already…
WT: Maybe, maybe. I lost my last time in Milwaukee fighting – I lost badly. So that was…, but up until then I’d won.
USCS: Do you want to talk about conditioning at all? You been doing any?
WT: Yeah, before any fight I do conditioning. But just conditioning for the fight – I’m not trying to run a marathon, I’m not trying to last 15 rounds, I want to be the best 3 5 minute round fighter I can be.
USCS: Do you visualize before the fight?
WT: I always do. Before every fight. I run through scenarios. You never know how a fight’s gonna go. You’re training takes over once it starts. But for me it’s that opening move, that opening tactic, the strategy, your overall game plan. You’ve got it running through your head, what you’re gonna do - if this, then this, and I always run through that.
USCS: So I hear that your fights begin with a sort of comic antic, kind of a funny thing?
WT: Yeah, and again, I can’t control what’s gonna happen in the fight, but I can control if I’m remembered, and the whole name, the “White Trash” thing…
USCS: Yeah, let’s talk about that for a little bit…Where’d that come from?
WT: It was just kinda thrown on me. I was probably dressed like white trash, or doing something that was white trash, and I thought back to my childhood, and it was pretty white trash (laughter). But I mean, since adulthood, I’ve been doing everything to get past the white trash thing, and I can’t. I joined the army, you know, and I went to college, and nothing’s helping, I’m still white trash (laughter). But we use that as part of our gimmick – we can entertain the crowd with that.
USCS: How important do you think a fighter’s image is to his career? Sounds like you consider it. I mean, obviously fighting’s one thing, but how do you feel about people who have sort of an image?
WT: When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, people want to leave the fights like, “that was great, that was entertaining, I was laughing, I was emotional, there were highs and lows,” if you go in there and just beat somebody up, that’s entertaining, but you can’t always control that, so if you can add a little image on it, and if they like you and get attached to your personality, or your retarded hair (*note: for this interview, Jon had his entire head shaved, except for some patchy blonde remnants on the back of his head – I’m not sure if said patch was intentional). It entertains the crowd.
USCS: Definitely. So do you want to talk about Neutral Ground a little bit? It seems like you guys have got a pretty unique thing going on here.
WT: I really feel like the best way to get good at anything is to keep doing it and the way to keep doing it is to like is to like it and to feel comfortable. So we don’t line up in rows, and bow to each other in weird, rank-oriented style (treatment?). We make a circle, we circle up. We’re all the same family, we’re all friends. They can call me at 3 o’clock in the morning, drunk, and I’ll come pick ‘em up on my little scooter. We look at it like that – we’re friends that train hard, but we fuck off a lot, too.
USCS: Are you from the Milwaukee area?
WT: I’ve been in Milwaukee since 2000, or ’99 or something, but I’m originally from Green Bay. I went to high school in Green Bay.
USCS: You’ve been doing BJJ for a while – what got you into MMA, as opposed to just pure BJJ?
WT: I did my first MMA match after a year and a half of Jiu-Jitsu, just because in my head, and kind of in everybody’s head, at the time, the natural progression. You did tournaments with the uniform on, then without the uniform, then you did MMA. It’s just the way it was. It’s since then changed. I went years without another fight, and I basically started fighting again because at my rank in Jiu-Jitsu there weren’t people to compete against anymore. They would show up, and they wouldn’t compete. They’d have their street clothes on. I’d pay $90 to get into a tournament and I’d see one fat guy and one little girl in my division and I’m like, this is ridiculous. So we’d just take our money back and wrestle each other in the back. So the competitive part kind of slowed down, but (in) MMA, everyone will fight – there’s always a competitor – someone wants to take your head off.
USCS: So when was that first MMA fight?
WT: The very first one was like ’98, maybe, but the first one again was like 2003.
USCS: You run the gym, you fight, what else? You have out with the guys?
WT: Yeah, I hang out with the guys from the dojo, I drink a lot. I don’t eat very much, I’m pretty malnourished. I dick off a lot. I have a pet pig…
USCS: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that! Tell me about him.
WT: Yeah, his name is Notorious P.I.G. I spend a lot of time with him. In the last few months I’ve been trying to get him used to the house and being bottle fed and all that crap. But he takes up a lot of my time. I take him for walks…
USCS: Do you think that if you ever get to the big times he’ll ever make an appearance?
WT: I’ve tried! The last couple shows I’ve tried to hold him as I’ve entered the ring and they wouldn’t let him in, because of health code reasons. We’ll sort it out, eventually. I’ll just put it in my contract. Okay, I’ll fight for you, but just let me bring in my pig.
USCS: Other than having Notorious P.I.G. accompany you to the ring, do you have any other MMA-related aspirations?
WT: Um, I’d like to be submitted, I haven’t been submitted in the ring yet. I’d like to win a decision, I’ve never done that yet. And I’d like to fight, just once, in Japan.
USCS: Cool, cool. Do you follow any of the ‘big’ MMA stuff?
WT: I follow it just a little bit more than the average fan, I don’t get like psychotically into it, but yeah, if there’s a UFC, we’ll watch it, me and the guys from the gym.
USCS: What about after your next fight, after Gladiator? Got any post-fight plans?
WT: I’m gonna be blind in a drunken, drugged stupor (laughter). But no, it’s the same thing after every show, we got out and celebrate, even if it’s a loss. We celebrate the fact that we were on the battlefield and we all just get blind. And the next day you recover and start training for the next one. I’ve got a lot of fights this year, so right after we rock out with our co*ks out...that was funny…(laughter) we have to get ready for the next fight.
USCS: Anything else you want to say to the adoring fans?
WT: I just hope the sport keeps going and people understand that we’re fighting in the cage and not on the street, and there’s a big difference, and more people need to understand that.