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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Zak Jensen comes into the tenth season of the Ultimate Fighter, debuting Wednesday, September 16th on Spike TV, as one of the under the radar fighters. With four former NFL players, three UFC veterans, Roy Nelson and Kimbo Slice in the cast, Jensen hasn't gotten much press as of yet. As one of the middle of the pack guys in terms of experience, Jensen brings a strong wrestling base and a good record thus far in his career to the TUF house for this season's heavyweight tournament.
I had the chance to sit down with Zak at the Gorilla Combat gym in Chanhassen, MN, to discuss his time in the house and as much as he could about his time on the show without giving anything away. In part two of a two part interview, Zak touches on the coaches feud between Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, being a member of a growing number of Minnesota fighters on the cusp of the big time, the quality of the fights for this season of TUF and more! (And check out part one of the interview right here)
Penick: In past seasons, there's been guys that have said they hated their time in the house and would really never do it again, there's others that have said they'd do it in a heartbeat, like you said the training camp is something that you're not going to get anywhere else. What were your feelings on that, is this something you would do again, is this something that you enjoyed doing while you were there for that month in June?
Jensen: I would do it again, just for the experience, the people I got to work out with, the people I met, it's a once in a lifetime experience. I would be, ok you watch the show, even me I would watch and be like "why are those guys bitching? They're in a beautiful house, they get to train, they don't have to worry about working they can just go train; you know that was the best part about it to because you have a set schedule and they tell you when you're going, you don't have to worry about making time to go train, it's like it's perfect. It's almost like it's college and this is your practice, for wrestling or whatever, which I liked because I don't have to worry about trying to find the time to come here, drive the 30 miles from my house, you know, stuff like that. So, that's why I was like, "why are they complaining?" But then you get there and you're like, "wow, this does suck" [laughs] there's nothing to do. We had to make cards, because they wouldn't give us anything because they wanted us to make conversation. And then they ended up threatening to take them away because we weren't having conversation. The coaches came and gave us cards and they said, "if it comes from the coaches that's ok," but then they said "no, it has to come from the producers," so they took those away. And we're like, "we already made cards, they're horrible," I mean, we're still talking, we're still playing, but we just want normal cards so it's actually like functional here. It was stuff like that, figuring out what to do with all that time. You train, there's two two-hour sessions, with travel and changing you're probably about six hours out of the house, so then there's another eighteen minus sleeping and there's around twelve hours in the house not doing anything and that's what does suck. And the cameras. That's the other thing, there's cameras everywhere. Camera's in the bathroom; they can't see what you're doing but they can just see your face when you walk in. Like I went to go find a place to just journal and just get away, and it was just, "*sigh* I can't hide." It's the lack of privacy, that's what does suck. Knowing that now I would still do it, but I'd be more mentally capable of handling it better. It took me over a month just to kind of get back to normal life. It was weird because I'd be like, "Oh, I'm out of bread. Oh I'll just put it on the list. Oh no! I have to go to the store and buy it!" Which is no problem but it's just having to go back to the normal routine. My phone rang and I was like, "Oh, I have a phone now." You know, it's stuff like that.
Penick: We'll move it to the coaches now. We've seen in some past seasons there's been some semi-manufactured feuds, some semi-legit feuds; you got to Matt Serra and Matt Hughes the two of them hated each other. From all accounts, Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson hated each other on this season. Did it come off as legit while they were doing it? I mean I've heard that they just see each other and they can't stand each other.
Jensen: I think they really do hate each other, because if not they both deserve an Academy Award. Because that's either some really good acting or they honestly hate each other. They're professional enough, as you can see in the previews they're standing right next to each other, they can do that. But any more and it's instantaneous. You know, Rashad would say something and Rampage would come right back and Rampage is a lot better at the quips and stuff than Rashad. Which is funny because you'd think they'd both be real good at it but I guess that's just Rampage's personality and he's just good at it. He's quick too, it's like boom! It seems like it's rehearsed, but it's not, because they get in each other's face right away, as we were waiting to pick the teams. First day it's just Boom!, and it's like wow they do hate each other.
Penick: Did you see the video from UFC 100, I believe it was one of Dana White's video blog, where the two of them actually got into a shoving match in the crowd.
Jensen: I did not [short pause] see that. I wish I did. I should not have come home and watched it on TV I should have stayed in Vegas.
Penick: I don't know if you've seen but there's reports out that Rampage is in Vancouver to begin filming the A-Team movie, playing the Mr. T. BA Baracus part in the film, which will reportedly push his UFC 107 fight with Rashad back. First off, what do you think of Rampage in that role as an actor and how do you feel about him pushing the fight back?
Jensen: Well, he obviously hasn't fought since he fought Jardine. Being one of the coaches it takes awhile, and your income comes with fighting. He had an opportunity, and you've still got to put food on the table so I understand how that goes and when you have an opportunity like that I commend him for taking it. Like Roger [Huerta] took some time off to do movies and now he's finally getting another fight. A fight can be moved, but it's harder to move filming than that date of a fight. I think he's going to do really well. I remember Kimbo said he was actually considered for the part too and they were both goofing around. I think the first day or two when no one really knew what was going on, when they ran into each other they would do "who had the better BA Baracus." I think it's funny, because Rampage will fit in. I'm interested to see how they do it, like will Rampage have a beard? I think he'll be good at it. Obviously he's typecast for it as a big strong guy, and he's got the voice that works, I think he can do it well. I saw him Midnight Meat Train and I'm like "wow, he's kicking that guys ass" and then he gets shot, and you wish he was in the movie a lot longer than that.
Penick: Let's switch gears again you mentioned Roger Huerta. Obviously Brock Lesnar is the UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brett Rogers is getting a shot at Fedor Emelianenko, there's a lot of Minnesota guys coming up through the ranks here now that are getting more exposure. Obviously, Sean Sherk's another who's been a mainstay in the UFC for a long time, but Minnesota MMA is coming more on the map right now. How do you feel coming up now as part of that group and trying to break into the increasingly deeper heavyweight division in the UFC?
Jensen: I'm glad. I was hoping it was going to happen, I mean I wouldn't be doing this to just do it, but I didn't know how it would happen and it happened so fast. I'm looking forward to it. Watching the heavyweight division unfold how it has been is great to watch. It's interesting, because you've got guys coming in like Todd Duffee and what he just did to Tim Hague was just sick. That was the hardest jab I've ever seen. I mean I wish I could have been there to see it. And you've got Chris Tuchscherer who got baptized by fire. That whole incident was a little strange, I mean it was an inside leg kick and wasn't purposeful.
Penick: No, not at all, but with that Tuchscherer fight I think it's one of those things where the doctors and the ref need to protect the fighter there because he clearly wasn't the same after that low blow, I don't think anyone would be.
Jensen: Yeah, and you can't blame him for going back out there because you have to, but it's one of those things where he was basically passed out and throwing up into a bucket, I mean let's make it a no contest and let's redo it. Kind of like when Wes Sims went cuckoo and stomped on Mir's head, they did it, what, four months later? They fought again. But yeah there's a lot of people coming up in Minnesota, Roger's doing well again and he's looking to rebound from the Florian fight. Nik Lentz is getting a shot, he's replacing Dan Lauzon. Sherk got hurt too. I'm glad I'm part of it, I mean, a lot of those guys are former wrestlers, and we've got that background. Minnesota's a wrestling state now and it's becoming an MMA state, so I'm glad, and I'm glad the UFC came here with UFC 87 and I hope they come back. They definitely brought us some more notoriety, especially with all these guys from Minnesota doing well. I just hope I can carry that with me.
Penick: I think if Lesnar stays Champion there's a large chance they'll be coming back here again.
Jensen: Yeah, but Carwin's going to be tough. It's going to be weird because Carwin's shown that he can take a punch and come back and actually knock you out. He was basically knocked out and he came back and knocked Gonzaga out. Lesnar hasn't been in trouble yet except for the kneebar [from Mir]. It'll be interesting to see someone who can wrestle and yet go against Brock. They're both National Champions and they're both big strong guys and I think it will be a great fight.
Penick: Ok, for those who aren't familiar with you coming onto this show and are going to get their first taste here starting next week, what do you think your strengths are, obviously you've only been in the game a few years, but what have you been really improving on since deciding to make the move to be a professional fighter?
Jensen: I have a strong background in wrestling, obviously I wrestled in high school and then college at Northern Illinois and then at Augsberg College. My first martial art I ever did was actually Tae Kwon Do, and I started doing that when I was in kindergarten and then when I started wrestling and playing football I stopped doing that. It's kind of interesting to have that kind of background because I never thought I'd be using it. It's not exactly a strong point, but I'm comfortable standing. I box, too, so I'm comfortable with it, so I'm not uneasy. I'm comfortable when I'm learning and willing to work on it more. Like I said, my wrestling background works out a lot, so if I want to take it to the ground I can. I'm working on my jiu jitsu and that's what I've been working on the most. You can work on that for years and you'll still need work, so that's where I'm definitely doing a lot of work.
Penick: Who are your trainers here at Gorilla Combat?
Jensen: Caleb [Travino] is our Muay Thai guy, Shane DeZee teaches submission wrestling, but there's no black belt or anything like that. It's more wrestlers that know jiu jitsu teaching wrestlers jiu jitsu. It's using more of my wrestling and getting basic submissions but working mostly on defense. Not getting swept, staying in good position, etc.
Penick: Obviously you can't give away any results on the show as it starts up a week from Wednesday, but what are we in for with the fights this season? We had a lot of pretty good fights last year and now with the heavyweight fights here the division is getting deeper, and like we said a lot of these guys, yourself included, are looking to make it to future UFC undercards if they don't win the season. How did the fights go that you were able to see while you were on there?
Jensen: Well there wasn't a boring fight. I mean, the ones that went the distance were all action, the ones that didn't, obviously there was a reason. There was not a boring fight, I mean sometimes they fast forward and give little blips of the second or third round and say "this happened and this happened," they shouldn't do that with any of these fights because every fight was exciting. There were some barnburners and they were just all great fights. There were fights that people would pay to watch. I was sitting there like "I'm glad I get to watch this." And you're so close too. I mean sometimes you can be like "come on," but not this year, they were all good.
Penick: Any final thoughts before we get to the show's debut next week and you'll have something a bit more to talk about and anything else you'd like to add?
Jensen: I'm just glad I got the opportunity, I'd like to thank everyone at Spike and Tough Guy Productions and the UFC. They gave me the opportunity I had and it was a great experience. Thank you for coming in to interview me, and also thank Caleb and Gorilla Combat for you know, training me and letting me come in whenever I need help or whatever they give it to me so that's about it.
Penick: Alright Zak, thanks for talking to me here today hopefully we'll talk to you throughout the show and how you feel it's going and how you're coming across on TV.
Jensen: Yeah, I'm interested to see that. That's the cool thing. Everyone's worried about how they're going to look, and Dana came in and said "if you're an ass, you'll look like an ass, editing can't do that." He just gave us that speech because someone was being kind of an idiot, can't really say who, but you'll see that. There's at least one of those moments in every season.
Penick: Alright, thanks again.
Jensen: No problem.
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