Lightweight Lightning Rod

By Yael Grauer Aug 14, 2011
Photo: Dave Mandel

MINNEAPOLIS -- When not training for a fight, cornering his Minnesota Martial Arts Academy teammates, coaching youth and varsity wrestling or spending time with his family, he can be found treating lower back pain and sports-related injuries at Volkmann Chiropractic in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Jacob Volkmann is a busy man.

The UFC lightweight developed an interest in the chiropractic field after getting treatment himself.

“I grew up on a farm, and I just did a lot of work on the farm, picking [up] rocks and baling hay and stuff, and I had always had a bit of a back problem,” Volkmann tells “My mid-back was always hurt, so I went in and he cracked me up and I fell in love because it helped quite a bit. He cracked me up, and I felt no pain.”

Soon, Volkmann’s goal was to become a chiropractor, but he also wanted to wrestle at the University of Minnesota.

“They didn’t have a chiropractic program, and it wasn’t until after my junior year that I found out I could actually be a chiropractor,” he says. “I only had a few more continuing education for pre-med classes I needed to take, so I took those pre-med classes and I finished it.”

Right out of college, Volkmann completed a four-year program at the chiropractic school. As one might expect, he works on some of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu players and fighters at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. One such fighter, Zach Juusola, will get an adjustment from Volkmann as a preventative measure whenever he experiences tightness in his back or lower back pain.

“I’ve had some problems in my lower back before,” Juusola says. “It gets really tight and wound up in the lumbar region. He cracks me and twists me up, and it seems to have helped a lot.”

Volkmann, who receives care for his own sacroiliac joint and neck problems, believes in the benefits of chiropractic for athletes.

“It loosens you up,” he says. “You’ve got more range of motion, less stress on your muscles [after receiving treatment]. Just imagine your joints not working; it’s putting pressure on that nerve and making that muscle fire, and that’s wasted energy. So you get more endurance in the long run, more range of motion, less pain, less stress.”

As outspoken as they come, Volkmann made waves beyond medicine and MMA in January, when he took aim at President Obama in an interview with “Someone,” he said, “needs to knock some sense into that idiot.” Those words earned him a visit from the United States Secret Service and appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Inside Edition” and the Fox Business Network. In addition, Volkmann was placed on paid administrative leave by White Bear Lake High School, where he serves as the assistant head wrestling coach. After two weeks, he was reinstated, so long as he agreed to follow four rules: do not conduct interviews on school property, do not wear White Bear Lake wrestling clothes during interviews, do not tell people to beat up the superintendent and remain respectful of others during interviews.

Controversy seems to find him even when he does not seek it out. Preparing for his UFC Live 5 bout with Danny Castillo on Sunday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Volkmann took time away from training, traveled to Florida and cornered Juusola in his bout against Trent McCown at a Championship Fighting Alliance show in July. While in Florida, the lightweight spent some time at American Top Team, where he had what can only be described as an unfortunate encounter with Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight titleholder Hector Lombard on his third day of practice at the famed gym.

“I was just rolling with the guys; we were getting ready for grappling practice, and Hector asked me to wrestle with him,” Volkmann says. “He’s kind of big, but I wrestled and I know he didn’t wrestle. I didn’t know him at all. I know people said, ‘Just stay away from him when you’re on the feet.’ We did sparring the previous day, and people were, like, ‘Don’t go with that guy. Whatever you do, don’t go with that guy.’ I was, like, ‘Alright,’ but then the next day he asked me to wrestle with him.

“We were hand fighting for probably three minutes, and he karate chops me,” he adds. “I go, ‘OK, I must be irritating him somehow.’ Thirty seconds later, he pushes me back and punches me in the face [with] no glove on; gave me a bloody nose and some stars. I was a little irritated, although more disappointed than anything. I kind of rolled my eyes and started walking away, and he tried to fight me right there. He lost it, lost a nerve, and somebody came in and stopped it.”

According to Volkmann, what set off the 5-foot-9, 185-pound judo black belt was the fact that he did not like the collar tie.

“He told me that I kept on pushing him in the face,” he says. “I was working his head and trying to get an underhook to try to set up for a shot, so he punched me in the face.”

After the exchange, Volkmann continued to wrestle with Lombard but modified his approach.

“I just stayed off his head, so I didn’t shoot,” he says. “I just underhooked him, and I threw him, pushed him off the mat. Sometimes, I do a throw-by. One time, I [swept] him to his back. I wasn’t going 100 percent because I didn’t want to take him down, because a guy like that, if you take him down, he’s going to spaz, so I just kind of played with him a little bit.”

Volkmann does not think much of Lombard, despite the fact that he has won 18 consecutive fights.

“He’s got no endurance,” Volkmann says. “He’s got like three minutes of endurance. The secret to beating him is get close [and use] dirty boxing. He’ll get so tired after three minutes, you’ll win.”

Unbeaten as a lightweight, Volkmann (12-2, 3-2 UFC) has been working on endurance himself for his upcoming bout against Castillo. His fight preparation has included plenty of running.

“I’m trying to get my weight down to 168 before a workout,” he says. “I don’t want to have to lose very much weight.”

The 30-year-old Volkmann admits keeping his chin down to avoid punches has become a focus of his training camp in advance of his showdown with Castillo.

“Sometimes my head will come up, so I’ve been working on that and working on moving,” he says. “Gotta move. Can’t stay still with this guy.”

In addition to conditioning and striking defense, Volkmann has also been honing his submissions, especially his brabo and rear-naked chokes, which he has been landing with regularity in practice.

“[In] my other fights, I was kind of hesitant to put the hooks in for the rear-naked,” he says, “but I’ve been working it quite a bit more, just trying to get comfortable, and it’s been working pretty good.”

Castillo is riding a three-fight winning streak, with unanimous decisions over former UFC lightweight title contender Joe Stevenson and once-beaten featherweight prospect Dustin Poirier and a first-round knockout against Will Kerr. Volkmann, meanwhile, is also looking for his fourth straight win, having scored split decisions over Antonio McKee and Ronys Torres and a unanimous nod against Paul Kelly.

As a three-time NCAA All-American and Big Ten Conference wrestling champion, Volkmann does boast a stronger wrestling pedigree than his opponent. However, he points out that Castillo’s wrestling does not appear to be his biggest strength.

“He’s a brawler. He’s a goer. He’s got good endurance and he’s a goer, but he doesn’t have the greatest technique, so I’ve got to try and stay calm and out-technique him,” Volkmann says. “[Castillo] throws swinging punches, and he comes at you. When he shoots, his butt’s up and his head’s down. It’s not like he’s got a good double-[leg takedown]; people just aren’t ready for it because they’re defending the punches.”

Despite Castillo’s wrestling background -- the Team Alpha Male representative was an NAIA All-American in 2004 and the California Community College Northern California Regional champion for Sacramento State College -- Volkmann remains confident in his ability to outwrestle him.

“He’s an NAIA [wrestler]. You know what NAIA is?” Volkmann asks. “It’s like a high school wrestler, so it’s like a college wrestler going against a high school wrestler.”

Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and editor. Find her at


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