06/13/09 — Jake Whitfield claims title

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Jake Whitfield claims title

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 13, 2009 11:11 PM

Stepping into an eight-sided ring doesn't put Jake Whitfield in the "thrill-seeker" category.

Instead, the mixed martial arts fighter's adrenaline rushes through his veins from the excitement and opportunity to compete in one of the nation's fastest-growing -- and brutal -- sports.

And Whitfield has competed well.

A third-degree black belt in American karate, Whitfield recently claimed the 170-pound North Carolina championship during the Clash at the Coast #2 contested in Wilmington. It was Whitfield's first-ever state crown as an MMA professional, but third overall after seizing amateur titles in Virginia and Kentucky.

"There was a sense of relief and excitement when it was over," said Whitfield. "It's great to see all that preparation work out, but I always make sure I give credit to the people who help me get there."

A competitor on the Carolina Fight Promotions tour, Whitfield battled Hickory's Roger Carrol for state supremacy. The two dueled for nearly 20 minutes and Carrol finally tapped out in the fourth round when Whitfield locked in a choke hold.

"The fight did not last 18 minutes because I wanted it to last 18 minutes," chuckled Whitfield. "I saw the choke hold was a possibility in the first round, but the right opportunity didn't come until the fourth round.

"He was pretty tired and once I got the hold in, it was pretty much over."

Whitfield started training in traditional martial arts when he was six years old. As he got older, he switched to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu which involves a complete system of striking, takedowns, throws, pins, joint locks and chokes.

The techniques are based on principles of timing and leverage, and do not require strength, speed or any other athletic quality. But Whitfield says that an outsider to the sport of MMA doesn't truly understand the physical exertion until seeing it up close.

Whitfield trained two months for his grueling, five-round fight with Carrol.

He got in countless hours of Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing and conditioning by traveling throughout the state and visiting long-time friends, who are also workout partners. Whitfield trained with Brandon Garner, who won the 135-pound title in Wilmington.

The travels also included sessions with UFC veteran Niseen Osterneck and U.S. Army Ranger Tim Kennedy from Fort Bragg.

"Any time I need to get beat to death, I go see him," laughed Whitfield. "Every time I fight him, he helps me realize that I can fight against anybody. I'm convinced that he is not human."

Whitfield went through strategy sessions with three-time UFC champ Royce Gracie and his brother Rodrigo.

"They are just amazing," said Whitfield.

Now a title owner, Whitfield has a bigger responsibility. The 24-year-old must defend his belt at least twice a year within Carolina Fight Promotions. The first defense of his championship is Oct. 24 at the RBC Center in Raleigh.

"As the state champion, I don't get any more easy fights," said Whitfield. "Now that I have the title, everyone is coming after me. But I don't really view it as a title fight.

"It's about the competition and learning from every fight to make myself better. I definitely like the excitement, but I'm not a thrill seeker."

Until that late-October contest, Whitfield plans to train solo at his Triangle Jiu-Jitsu Academy here in town and introduce newcomers to the MMA world. Once his title-defense date draws closer, he'll hit the road again for those ever-important workout sessions that will hopefully lead to him keeping his state championship.