Jim Alers is one of the top prospects at 145 lbs. He was last year's no. 5 prospect in the Bloody Elbow Scouting report of the featherweight division. Since then he was pegged to be the next challenger in line for Conor McGregor's 145 lb Cage Warriors title, that is right until McGregor was snapped up by the UFC. He fought Joni Salovaara for the vacant title back in April winning via 4th round submission.
Alers is scheduled to fight at Cage Warriors 59 on Spetember 14, defending his newly gained belt against top Swedish featherweight prospect the 12-3 Martin Svensson. Both men favor a grapple heavy offense so it will be interesting to see if Alers is as aggressive in pursuing his grappling game as normal or if his recent time at Roufus Sport has put more polish on his striking. Alers sat down to talk with me for a few minutes about how he got started in MMA and what he's looking forward to, both next month and over the next couple years.
What brought you to MMA? Why did you decide to start fighting for a living?
I wrestled in high school, right? And of course after that a lot of guys, they don't know what to do; they kinda get lost. So I needed more competition in my life. Now I found Jiu Jitsu. And at first I was just gonna do Jiu Jitsu and my wife was like, "Are you ever gonna try MMA, are you ever gonna try MMA?" But "No, no, no." You know? And She's like, "Man, you're at the gym a lot, so you might as well do it." So after that I tried it and I fell in love with it.
What lead you to Cage Warriors?
After high school I moved to Orlando and that's where I started my Jiu Jistu career. It just so happened that, in 2008, there was a Cage Warriors USA. The had two shows, three shows I believe, in America. Two of them were in Orlando, or all three maybe, and it happened to be that my first two fights were on Cage Warriors. So I fought there, at 155 at the time, and the owner of Cage Warriors USA, over time, hooked me up. Got me over, across the pond, to fight over there.
Now that you have the Featherweight title I want to know, what are your long term goals in the sport? Is this a title that you're looking to defend for a while, or is this the gateway to bigger things?
From past experiences with Cage Warriors champions, a lot of them... In the past year I think nine past Cage Warriors fighters have made it to the UFC. So, of course, I think every fighters dream is to be in the UFC, but at the moment, right now, I just want to be the best Cage Warriors champion that they've seen. I just want to show my support for such a good company.
Have any other promotions started knocking on your door?
I've talked to a few others, you know? But my goal since I started has been the UFC. That's what I'm aiming for and that's what I wanna get to. If it doesn't happen, maybe in a few years, we'll see about other promotions. But right now, I'm just kind of turning them down until I get that call.
Would you consider going for a good contract with a promotion like Bellator if it meant that it would take longer to get to the UFC?
Maybe in the future. I'm going to give it a few more years. In a year or two, if the UFC hasn't called, of course Bellator. They have a lot of big names, tough fights over there. Of course that would be my second option.
Have you put any thought into the Ultimate Fighter? Or even tried out for some of the previous seasons?
I tried out a few times. You know, they don't have 45 a lot. They've only had it about twice, I think, 145s. But, I tried out. I made it to the final cut a few times, actually, and just didn't make it to that last casting.
Well, yeah, at some point the Ultimate fighters stops being a talent competition and it becomes more about how they think you'll be on TV.
Yeah, I don't think I hate my life enough. I don't have a crazy story yet.
I heard that you're a teacher as well.
I went to school to be a teacher. I graduated in elementary education. I did that for a little bit, but when my fight career started taking off I just had to choose: full time fighter or to teach. I chose full time fighter. I still teach the kids and a few classes at the gym I'm at, but not at the school anymore. I had to choose, but maybe one day in the future I'll go back and teach again.
You got your start in wrestling and Jiu Jitsu, and you have a lot of submission wins. Do you see yourself as a grappling expert? Or as someone looking to build from a grappling base?
I want to be exactly well rounded as much as possible. But, like BJ Penn once said, he knows he can take people down and submit them, it's his bread and butter. If he needs to go back to it he'll always be able to. That's how I want to feel. If I ever feel in danger with my stand up, or anything, I know I can take the guy down and go for a submission.
I was looking, and it appears you come from a pretty small fight camp. Is that the case, or do you split time at a bigger training facility?
My school, actually, is relatively new. It's about two years old . I have a group of guys that I kinda put together that I train with every day. I also go to different schools. For my last fight I traveled to Duke Roufus for a while; trained over there with him. I came down here and trained with Wagner Rocha down in Miami a little bit. All over the place. I'm all over the place really, just trying to get the best training possible.
If you got your shot in the UFC would you consider moving your camp to a bigger facility, full time?
I think my gym actually is one of the biggest places stateside, in Orlando. So we have everything you need. I think I'd do the majority of my training there. Maybe I'll take a few weeks out of my training and try and go other places. I really enjoyed Duke Roufus because of the people who were there. You know? A lot of the high level talent.
You were scheduled to fight Conor McGregor before he left for the UFC. What do you think of the build up he's gotten over there since being signed?
I mean, of course I'm happy for a Cage Warriors alumni to blow up the way he did. His UFC career? It's good. I mean, Of course I feel like they're feeding him guys that he's gonna beat now. He has amazing standup, so any guy that's pure standup I think he's gonna come out on top, like, 95% of the time. But, you don't even hear them talking about him fighting a wrestler or grappler at all; not even on his radar. So we'll see what happens there when he gets put up against one of those guys.
So, you think you had a pretty good game plan put together for beating him?
Personally, yeah. I think my style matched up perfectly with him. He likes to come forward, I come forward. I think that my takedowns are better than his defense. So I would take him down and it probably woulda been a wrap.
What's coming up for you? Is there a title defense scheduled for you?
Yeah I'm actually fighting in two weeks from now. In two weeks I fight in Wales, Cardiff, Wales; defending my title.
Who will you be defending against?
Martin Svensson. 6' 1", 145. Pretty tall guy. Top cat in Europe I believe, so it should be a pretty interesting fight.
Svensson is a pretty long grappler. While I know that's your bread and butter too, you've been training out of Roufus Sport recently. Will you be looking to keep this fight standing more, to try and keep Svensson out of his element?
I actually trained with Duke Roufus in my last fight when I won the title. I decided to stay close to home for this fight and train at my gym Alliance Orlando and at other gyms in the Florida area. I am not afraid to take the fight anywhere. I have been improving everyday. On the ground I cant ask for a better coach than Bruno Malfacine 5x world champion and I train stand up all the time with various different schools. So to answer your question I want to go with the flow of the fight and keep it where I feel most dominate at the time.
Cage Warriors has been one of the most solid, long lived European promotions, part of that is that they tend to keep their fighters busy. What has it been like working with them?
It has been such a great experience working with them. If it wasn't for Cage Warriors I would still be fighting in the Florida regional scene. Instead I have got to travel the world and have been to about 4 different countries. They are very professional and from what I hear are ran pretty much just like a UFC event. They are easy going people and are very understanding. Being their champ is something I am going to be proud of for a long time
There's a lot going on in the MMA world. Any burning issues that are key to your ethos?
Not much right now. My issue is, I just feel that the UFC needs to start opening up, bringing more new talent. I think Conor McGregor was probably the last Featherweight they signed for a long long time. Now they have guys on their roster who are 1-3 who I feel like had their chance. Other guys should be able to get inside and show what they're worth.
Is there anyone you'd like to thank before you go?
Of course, I'd like to thank my wife. You know I'm having... My son is supposed to be born some time in the week, so I know it's going to be hard for her. I'll leave for Wales in a little while. Hopefully I don't miss him being born, my first child.
Follow Alers on twitter at @fightjim.
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