Out of the Shadows: John Hackleman, Jr. Ready To Make The World Know Him, Not Just His Name
Says of his relationship with his father, “We are both alpha males and we butt heads.”
By Joshua Molina
Even though he’s never had a professional fight, John Hackleman Jr. knows a lot about pressure, in ways many most mixed martial artists won’t ever understand.
His father, John Hackleman Sr., founded The Pit, one of the first MMA gyms to gain national attention nearly a decade ago, largely because Chuck Liddell trained there. When Liddell was the face of the UFC, Hackleman, Sr. emerged as one of the most well-known names among the MMA cognoscenti.
As the son of a highly-respected trainer, Hackleman, Jr. felt the pressure to be something big in MMA. After years of fighting it, ups and downs with his dad, Hackleman Jr. decided to let it all go. He started to fight for only one person – himself. And now he wants to show everybody what he’s capable of.
“I felt that pressure up until the last a couple of years when I said ‘screw it and I am doing this all for me’ and the pressure kind of dropped a lot,” Hackleman Jr. told Full Contact Fighter. “I am not trying to impress anyone. I am just trying to impress myself.”
Now, after building a 5-0 record as an amateur, along with several victories in boxing and kickboxing, the 30-year-old Hackleman Jr. is looking to turn professional, and make people know him, not just his name.
“I have decided that since I am a little bit older, I am refocusing my life on going forward and keeping my eye on the prize and going for the gold,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like to have some kind of belt around my waist one day.”
Hackleman Jr. has one more piece of business, though, before he turns professional. After a knockout victory in Santa Barbara in June, he plans to enter the 2012 Official California State Amateur MMA Championship on Sept. 22 in Fresno, California. He wants to win the tournament and then turn professional.
In his amateur fights he displayed some good power, knocking most of his opponents out.
“I hate to sound like a meathead, but I like fighting,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I like to compete. I also like to test my manhood a little bit. It’s no secret I want to knock someone out. It’s raw, it’s primal and you can do it without getting arrested.”
For most of his life, Hackleman Jr. was surrounded by MMA, but never really embraced it. He grew up around the gym with guys like Liddell beating up on him.
“I didn’t initially want to do martial arts,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I was forced into it at a young age at four or five when The Pit was in Woodland Hills. All growing up, it was my punishment.”
As a young man, Hackleman Jr. found himself doing a lot of pushups – hundreds at a time – as a form of discipline. He resented it at the time. But the forced early training helped him at school. He was able to stand up to bullies and avoid getting picked on.
By the time he was 18, he started fighting amateur boxing matches. Then his dad asked him to fight in a kickboxing tournament in Santa Maria, California. Without any real training in kickboxing, Hackleman Jr. went out the there and kicked his opponent in the head, knocking him out in 20 seconds.
He knew he was good and that fighting was in his blood. Still, when he was in twenties he wasn’t taking fighting seriously. He lost one fight because of a poor decision the day before the fight.
“I was drinking and smoking the night before,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I bombed on the guy the first round and got beat on the second and third round. I just gassed.”
These days, Hackleman is focused on turning his life around and becoming an MMA star. He’d ultimately like to run MMA gyms, mentor youth and teach people how to live a healthier lifestyle through martial arts.
To make money he does electrical work and generates sponsorships for his fights. As an amateur, he cannot earn money for stepping inside the cage.
“I have had to sacrifice stability to follow my dreams,” Hackleman Jr. said. “It is a bit of struggle right now, but hopefully it will all pay off.”
Even though he has access to one of the great trainers in MMA, Hackleman Jr. said he’s had an interesting relationship with his father. Hackleman Jr. said it’s not easy when your trainer is also your father.
“We are both alpha males and we butt heads,” Hackleman Jr. said. “Most of my fights I haven’t trained with him even though he taught me everything I know.”
For the upcoming amateur tournament, Hackleman Jr, who has trained with his friend, UFC fighter and fellow Pit member Court McGee, plans on bouncing around to learn from different fighters and styles. He will be working on improving his Jiu-Jitsu. After the tournaments, he plans to turn pro.
He’s fully committed and focused on being the best he can.
“I did some soul searching and made a lot of adjustments in my lifestyle and attitude,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I am confident.”
Nicknamed “Handsome Hack,” Hackleman Jr. hopes his ripped physique and good looks will also help make him more marketable in the cage.
“People can hate it, but it is about paying bills and if it pays the bills then that’s a good thing,” Hackleman Jr. said. “I am thankful to my dad for forcing me into this game. It really builds character in a person. If I hadn’t gone into MMA I would probably be in jail or prison or something.”