Jamal Patterson has a full-time job and another which might as well be. He doesn’t have a lot of time for what you might consider recreational activities.
But Patterson, a one-time defensive back at Colgate, is having the time of his life fighting in the IFL. He is a member of the IFL’s New York Pitbulls, who take on the Toronto Dragons in one of two season-ending games Saturday at the Las Vegas Hilton. In the other, the Nevada Lions face the Tucson Scorpions.
Patterson, who starred in wrestling as well as football while he was in high school, got so serious so quickly about mastering jiu-jitsu that he flew to Brazil to learn it, Gracie-style. He earned a black belt, which is no insignificant achievement, and has adapted so well to mixed martial arts that Pitbulls coach Renzo Gracie is convinced he could someday be the finest fighter in the world.
“The (jiu-jitsu) came so naturally to him, I thought he had started it as a kid,” Gracie said of Patterson, who began taking jiu-jitsu classes when he was 27. “I never would have guessed he had started later in life. He has a certain feel for it.”
Patterson, 31, who will fight the Dragons’ winless Wojtek Kaszowski in a light heavyweight match, holds down a full-time job with an orthodontic company. Though he spends enough time with the IFL that it could be a full-time job, he chooses to work a "real" job for a living.
It makes for some exceptionally long days that begin at or before 6 a.m. and stretch until after 11 p.m., but he has few complaints.
“I could make a living off the IFL, but I like to make a lot of money,” Patterson said.
And so Patterson willingly embraces a lifestyle in which nearly every one of his waking hours is accounted for.
He’s up by 6 a.m. to do road work or some sort of cardiovascular training. He works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Invisalign, a company that sells invisible braces. He then heads to Gleason’s Gym in New York for boxing training and to Gracie’s gym for his jiu-jitsu lessons. He frequently does not get home until 11.
Patterson said his football career prepared him for the grueling schedule. “When you’re a football player, you learn about making a time commitment to something,” Patterson said. “College football is a huge time commitment and you have no chance to be successful unless you understand that and embrace that.
“There are definitely enough hours in the day for me to do what I need to do. It’s a matter of priority. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. I have no problem making those decisions.”
Gracie said Patterson, who has a 3-1 record this year, has consistently made the correct decisions. Not only did Patterson pick up jiu-jitsu more quickly than most, his athletic ability helps him in fights to get into positions you can’t get to without years of experience, he said. Gracie sees no obvious weaknesses and an improvement in all aspects of Patterson's game.
“He is a very smart fighter and he’s able to connect it all together,” Gracie said. “He has good striking technique, his takedowns are strong and his preventative takedowns, his takedown defense, is very good. You can’t get this kid down too easily, believe me when I tell you.
“I think he could be one of the best fighters in the world. He has the natural ability and the calmness. His biggest weakness is that he doesn’t have the experience to go against the best guys. That’s something you can only get by fighting, but he’s getting that.”
Patterson said he made it a point to earn his black belt before he started fighting in MMA. He didn’t want to go into a bout as a one-dimensional fighter. He trained in Muay Thai boxing for several years, had a base in wrestling and has added world-class jiu-jitsu skills.
“A lot of the MMA fighters who are specialists wind up very raw in a certain area,” Patterson said. “I felt it was smart to master all the trades before I started this.
“I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I love being a competitor and I wasn’t ready to quit. This is an outlet for me. I know I can do it and so I’m giving it what I have.”