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The mortgage is overdue. He's holding down three jobs to make ends meet. He's struggling to make his own small business succeed while security at his other job is very tenuous, at best. Jacob Volkmann knows that each day he reports to work could be his last.
He's no different than millions of working class Americans who, during the recession, have to struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis.
Volkmann, though, is a bit different than most in that he's managed to retain his job in spite of overwhelming evidence that he might lose it. Volkmann is a lightweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but lost his first two bouts to Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann at welterweight.
That's a recipe for a pat on the back, a one-way ticket home and counsel to find a new line of work.
To many mixed martial arts fighters who dream of competing in the UFC, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is like the NFL's version of the "The Turk," the guy who visits aspiring NFLers in training camp with the dreaded admonition, "Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook."
So many fighters want to compete in the UFC and there are so few slots, that a single loss is often all it takes for a fighter to get the pink slip.
Silva, though, didn't give Volkmann the hook after losing fights to Thiago and Kampmann at UFC 106 and UFC 108, respectively. Neither Volkmann nor manager Monte Cox are quite sure why, but both are eternally grateful for the reprieve.
Volkmann, 29, repaid Silva's faith in him by defeating Ronys Torres at Ultimate Fight Night in Charlotte, N.C., in March after a drop to lightweight. But unless you're Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre or someone of that ilk, there is no such thing as job security in the UFC. And so Volkmann knows full well that he'll need to perform on Aug. 1 when he meets Paul Kelly in a three-round UFC lightweight bout in San Diego on Versus 2.
"This is the last fight on my contract," Volkmann said. "I know what that means."
The fight was originally slated to be held at UFC 116 on July 3, but had to be canceled when Kelly had visa issues and couldn't get into the U.S. on time. Volkmann is a low-key sort who by his own admission is "pretty good at keeping my emotions under control," but he snapped when he learned of the postponement.
Volkmann wrote on his Twitter page: "I will not be fighting July 3rd in Vegas because the stupid brit (sic) did not get his visa in time. I will kill him Aug (1)." It was an unusual burst of emotion for a guy who doesn't easily get riled up, but it wound up providing him with even more incentive than he already had for the bout.
He's behind on his mortgage, he has a child and another on the way in November, his chiropractic business is struggling to get off the ground and his UFC career is hanging by a thread.
"It sucks because of everything that happened around it," Volkmann said. "My sister had already booked her tickets [to get to Las Vegas for UFC 116] and she was planning on going. I had a couple of other friends who were going. I bought [airfare] tickets for one of my corner guys who was supposed to go, but who can't go now [to the show in San Diego].
"I lost a bunch of sponsorships because of it. I was irritated because I lost of bunch of money (as a result of the postponement). I probably lost $3,000 to $5,000 in sponsorships going from being on UFC 116 to being on this card. When I haven't paid my house mortgage in 10 months, it's pretty hard to take."
Volkmann spoke by telephone from his office at Volkmann Chiropractic in White Bear Lake, Minn. He's a chiropractor and treats many of the fighters he trains with. His doors are open to the public, but the business hasn't quite taken off just yet. He's still trying to figure a way to market his clinic properly
He's a one-man show, running the office, doing the books and treating the patients. But the three-time All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota still has to teach MMA at his academy in order to make ends meet.
He'll make $10,000 to show and another $10,000 if he wins for fighting Kelly, money that would go a long way toward helping him out of his financial woes.
Cox concedes that a great performance will make a huge difference for Volkmann. Fighters like Lesnar and St. Pierre don't have much problem attracting sponsors, but those at Volkmann's level aren't as fortunate. Unless a fighter is on the main card at one of the major UFC pay-per-view shows, the sponsorship dollars are few and far between.
And, Cox said, fighters tend to begin making significant money when they sign their second contract in the UFC. All of that combines to put the onus on Volkmann to come up with the fight of his life against Kelly, a hard-hitting standup fighter.
"There aren't a lot of guys who use their first two in the UFC and who are around for a third one," Cox said. "The competition for those spots is incredible. I think in Volkmann's case, it's really the way he fights. He's an All-American wrestler who is going out of his way to strike and to make exciting fights.
"He just wasn't big enough to compete at 170 and he fought some really tough guys really hard. I think maybe Joe Silva saw something and felt like he could be something special at . I'm not sure. All I know for sure is, the kid got another opportunity [against Torres] and he took advantage of it. And he has to keep taking advantage of it. I know that and he knows that."
Volkmann has a lot going on in his life that keeps him from worrying too much about external pressures. He wakes up at midnight and again at 3 a.m. to feed his baby. Then, he's up at 6:30 a.m. to run. He teaches at Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in White Bear Lake from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then trains after that. When he's done training, he heads to the chiropractic clinic.
It's a lot to ask of a man, but Volkmann isn't about to complain.
"There's a lot going on, but getting a chance to fight in the UFC makes it all worth it," he said. "If this works out and I get to be successful, it will make our lives so much different. I'm just going out and giving it my best shot to try to make this thing work.
And if he keeps battling hard, he might manage to stave off a visit from the UFC's version of "The Turk" long enough to catch up on the mortgage, have his business take off and gain some measure of financial freedom.
- Jacob Volkmann