Jeremy Horn is one of the most prolific fighters of MMA's formative years. Starting his career back in 1996, Horn has done battle more than 100 times all over the world. From a warehouse in Atlanta to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Horn has seen it all. He's called Pancrase, RINGS, UFC, and PRIDE home and has fought the best in the world (including Frank Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, and Anderson Silva). Horn sat down with Bloody Elbow for almost a half an hour to talk about his globe spanning career and where he sees himself going forward.
Jonathan Snowden: You have been around this sport for a long time. I remember the first time I saw you - on one of those old tapes (former UFC announcer) Jeff Osborne used to send out. You were fighting in a warehouse in Atlanta. Things have changed quite a bit haven't they? What was it like back then in those early days?
Jeremy Horn: It was very unregulated and borderline scary. Not so much the fights, but you never really knew what was going on other than that. Shady promotions, you just never knew. It was definitely a little more wild and reckless back then.
Jonathan Snowden: People may think that I'm joking, but seriously it was warehouse and there's just a few guys standing around. And you guys were fighting. It's not like there was a ring, or some of the old fights where it would be in a wrestling room or something. Some guy flew you down to Atlanta and said 'Hey, there's going to be some fights.'
Jeremy Horn: Yep. That was actually my first fight. That's exactly what it was. It was just a private guy that wanted to hold some fights. He rented a warehouse, threw some mats down on the floor and we went and fought. There were like 20 people there watching. That's all there was to it.
Jonathan Snowden: It is a little weird. Obviously that's not a get rich quick scheme.
Jeremy Horn: We didn't make any money.
Jonathan Snowden: What was driving you to fight? Was it just interesting to you?
Jeremy Horn: Yes. I just wanted to fight. The sport was still really, really new and they paid for our plane ticket down there and bought us lunch. (Laughs). We just wanted to fight and at the time, that was the only place that we knew we could fight.
Jonathan Snowden: Something that is interesting about you, and I'm not sure that a lot of people know this, you may or may not actually be a ninja with RBWI (Rober Bussey's Warrior International)
Jeremy Horn: (Laughs) Well, if I was I couldn't say anything about it could I?
Jonathan Snowden: That's true. I may have put you on the spot even asking about it. But if you were a ninja, how awesome would that be?
Jeremy Horn: The group that I trained with when I first started training was under Robert Bussey and that was kind of his lineage I guess you could say. I've got some roots there I guess you could say.
Jonathan Snowden: Of course the guy everyone associates you with is Pat Miletich. How did you end up in Iowa and this kind of super team form around you guys as you tried to learn this sport together? It was still all a mystery at that time.
Jeremy Horn: Yeah. Yeah, it really was. After my first fight, the one you saw in the warehouse, Monte Cox -everybody knows Monte - he was promoting shows back then. He was getting started and he was only four hours away instead of across the country. So we hooked up with him. I actually fought for his organization a couple of times (Extreme Challenge) and I actually fought a couple of Pat's guys back then.
At the time, he was the closest guy to me that was knowledgeable about MMA. So, it was just a matter of time before I decided to move out there and continue training.
More with Jeremy Horn, including a first hand account of a literal battle between two Japanese fight promoters, after the break
Jonathan Snowden: I'm sure it's not like this now in your Elite Performance gym in Utah, but my understanding is that when you were first training together with Pat and the guys it was on a racquetball court in a regular gym. You guys would kind of show up and take over the court. What was the training like? That kind of raw, getting after it training?
Jeremy Horn: It was. The gym that we trained at was actually a converted racquetball field. They had like 10 courts and they had converted it into a gym. So one court had cardio, another court had the weights, another court had this or that. And one of them was us. It was ours full time, it wasn't like we were training on their wood. But it was kind of an interesting gym. Interesting layout. It was definitely unique training on the racquetball court.
Jonathan Snowden: For a long time you guys set the standard for what a fight team should be and what MMA training should all be about. Of course, I don't know how familiar you are with what happens on the internet, but recently there have been interviews with Jens Pulver saying that Pat was never that great a coach and that he learned everything he knew from you. What's the real truth about what people learned from Pat Miletich? Was it just a collective group all learning from each other?
Jeremy Horn: Well, that's very kind of Jens to say that. But, I think we all really learned a lot from each other. It was really raw back then. The layout was, I would say, more like a team captain and his team rather than a coach and his students. Because we all trained together, we all trained each other, we all pushed each other. I had zero wrestling background, so when I went out there, obviously, all those guys helped me a lot. I learned a lot from Jens, as well as Pat and Matt (Hughes). I think as far as blending MMA together, and jiu jitsu specifically, I kind of had a knack for it. As I started growing there it kind of fell to me to bring people along with me. But we really all trained each other, we all pushed each other and we all learned from each other. But Jens, he and I have been real good friends for a real long time and that was very nice of him to say.
Jonathan Snowden: Now, of course, you had fought a number of times before you made it to the UFC. But when you did, it was quite a debut. The opportunity of a lifetime to fight (UFC Middleweight Champion) Frank Shamrock at UFC 17. How were you feeling going in there knowing you were taking on a guy with Frank's reputation?
Jeremy Horn: (Laughs). Actually it was quite calming. Because his last two fights previous to mine were Kevin Jackson and Igor Zinoviev. He finished both of those guys in under a minute. So my only goal really was to last longer than a minute. If I lasted a minute, I did my job and what they wanted of me. I was pretty relaxed because I knew I was good enough to last a minute. I could last a minute with anybody. Nobody's going to beat me in under a minute. (Laughs). Going into it, I didn't really expect to win. I knew I was going to try but I figured if I last a minute, I earn my paycheck. It was really not very much stress at all.
Jonathan Snowden: A lot of the fans that have just come into the sport, and there are more and more of them as the sport continues to grow, kind of know Frank Shamrock as the guy from his more recent fights after his knees and his back had kind of gone. Describe what he was like at the time. He was undoubtedly, in my opinion, the best fighter in the game. Is that how you were looking at him?
Jeremy Horn: You know, not necessarily. I think Frank had a good opportunity and he came in with the right set of skills at the right time. He was supremely athletic and conditioned. But if you look back at some of those older fights, his submission knowledge and groundwork were pretty basic - as all of ours were. He had a good blend and put everything together and he was an incredible natural athlete. He was just fortunate to be in that position at that time.
Jonathan Snowden: Looking back, if people just looked at it on wikipedia or Sherdog, people would think you guys main evented that PPV, that UFC 17 card. But, if I remember, that fight actually main evented a greatest hits show later in the year. Was that kind of weird? Did you have to keep the result a secret?
Jeremy Horn: Honestly, I can't remember if they told me to keep the results a secret or not. I don't think they did. The point of that...they knew they were going to do what they called The Ultimate Night of Champions. They were going to show a bunch of old shows of guys winning their titles. Royce and Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, Oleg Taktarov, and all the guys who had won a UFC at that point. They were going to replay all of those fights. But it was a pay per view event, so they had to have one fight new, that nobody had ever seen before. Otherwise, nobody's going to buy the pay per view. So that was my fight. Frank Shamrock defends his title against Jeremy Horn. In addition to all the others. I don't think they were necessarily trying to keep the results quiet, they just wanted to have one people had never seen before to entice people to buy the pay per view.
Jonathan Snowden: By that time the UFC had shrunk a little with all the political pressure. But it still seems to me, talking to fighters, that is was a big deal to make that UFC appearance. Was it that way for you?
Jeremy Horn: Absolutely. The UFC was and still is the cream of the crop. It's the most recognizable name among MMA promotions and it was back then too. It was the only one back then. Fighting there meant you were fighting among the best in the world. At least the best of who would actually get up and fight.
Jonathan Snowden: Right. (Laughs). Your next appearance for those guys was in Brazil. It was the UFC's first and only show in Brazil and your first and only fight in Brazil. I say this mostly so I can mention that you've fought in at least 10 different countries. The U.S., Japan, Brazil, Canada, Holland, England, Guam, South Korea, Ireland, and if you include Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. Out of all those countries, what has been your greatest experience as far as your travels go?
Jeremy Horn: I'd have to say Japan. It's cool to travel all over, every country is unique and has things to offer. But, the Japanese crowd, and the promotions for sure - the way they treat fighters is just unbelievable. You are held in the highest regard whether you win or lose. You can be a guy with ten fights and ten losses and after your fight you're going to have as big a line to sign autographs as the guy who won the fight. Because in Japan, they appreciate that you are getting in the ring and taking a beating to entertain them. And they don't care if you win or lose...you're an entertainer, there doing your job to entertain them, and they love you...It really is nice to fight over there and feel that appreciation, no matter how your fight goes.
Jonathan Snowden: You're in an interesting position, and I'm not sure if you know this, because in that era there are very few people who fought in both Pancrase and RINGS. You and Frank Shamrock are the only two Americans I can think of. How did your relationship come about with Akira Maeda and you end up in RINGS after starting in Pancrase?
Jeremy Horn: I think it was just through my manager. He had a lot of contacts over there...the way they do their management system over there is a little different than it is here. In the U.S. you have a manager that manages a fighter. He goes out and contacts organizations and he pitches his fighter. In Japan they have a third person in that chain. They're basically a go between between all of the organizations and all of the managers. So it's like another link in the chain. There are people over there whose job it is to book fighters. And they'll book them for any organization. Sometimes they'll develop some loyalty and stick with one or two organizations or even just one. But they are out there finding fighters and then they and the manager will negotiate the fights. And that's how I got hooked up with RINGS I believe.
Jonathan Snowden: There was an interesting situation, at least this is on the rumor mill, that when you were there for Colosseum 2000 fighting Kiyoshi Tamura you met Masami Ozaki from Pancrase. Akira Maeda (RINGS President) saw you guys talking and he ended up kicking the crap out of Ozaki later on. Were you there and privy to that? Did it all happen right in front of you?
Jeremy Horn: Oh yeah. I was there. We were at a booth in a restaurant when it all happened, yeah.
Jonathan Snowden: Maeda just flipped out when he saw you guys together? I know PRIDE had just signed Gilbert Yvel away.
Jeremy Horn: Yeah
Jonathan Snowden: That's crazy. Has that ever happened to you before or since?
Jeremy Horn: Oh no. You have to understand, obviously tradition and honor and those kinds of things are huge in Japan. Everybody knows that. So, it was seen as kind of an underhanded thing when Ozaki from Pancrase contacted me when I was in Japan for a RINGS event. Normally it wouldn't be any big deal. He just wanted to contact me and see if I was interested in competing in Pancrase in the future. But, just because of the way the Japanese culture is structured, that was seen as a really low, underhanded thing to do. So, when Maeda found out about it he came over and sat down with us at the booth. And it sounds like it was blown out of proportion a little bit. He didn't really kick the crap out of him. He grabbed his shoulder and he roughed him up a little bit. Kind of like scruffing the head of your kid brother. That kind of thing. But he was definitely upset about it.
Jonathan Snowden: So, he kind of shook him around maybe? It wasn't a punch or anything?
Jeremy Horn: No, no. He didn't punch him or anything. And I actually ended up going back to Japan to testify for Maeda in a court case because Ozaki tried to sue him and tried saying Maeda had punched him and done a lot of things. I had to go over there and testify that he didn't. He just kind of grabbed him.
Jonathan Snowden: I'm glad that we're setting the record straight. What's interesting about both those groups are the rules, especially regarding striking on the ground (closed fist punches were prohibited in both Pancrase and RINGS). How did that affect you when you were fighting in RINGS?
Jeremy Horn: It actually affected me quite a bit. The RINGS organization was a great organization and it's too bad they aren't around anymore because I actually enjoyed the style of their fighting. They obviously had a lot of fixed matches in their early days because they just wanted entertainment. And the Japanese fans are huge fans of pro wrestling, so they didn't care if they were fixed fights or not, they just wanted entertaining fights. But when RINGS started to become a little more MMA oriented, some of their fighters who were really, really popular in fixed fights were getting the shit kicked out of them because they were fighting real fighters and getting beat up pretty bad. The fights were not as entertaining. Guys were just getting clobbered.
Jonathan Snowden: Some of them were pretty good though. Like, we just talked about Kiyoshi Tamura. You and Pat both fought him and he fought Renzo Gracie. Some of the pro wrestlers, when they did make that transition, did pretty well. I remember Frank Shamrock telling me Tamura had some of the fastest and strongest kicks he had seen. Did you find that to be true?
Jeremy Horn: Oh yeah. The same. He had good hard shots. A lot of those guys, even (though) from a pro wrestling background - they were pretty stiff works. They would go pretty hard on each other. they had a predetermined outcome as far as who was going to win, but that didn't mean they weren't going to kick the crap out of each other first. A lot of those guys had some legit fighting skill. But some of them didn't. Or maybe they had some, but back in the day and now they were a little old. Plus, the style in RINGS on the ground was very entertaining. Because you can't hit anybody it was very dynamic. A lot of motion and a lot of submission attempts. A lot of fun to watch. But when you throw in a mix of guys who are just murderers on their feet but kind of basic on the ground, or you get guys who won't play on the ground - they are just scrambling back to their feet or tying people up - they make it a boring fight on the ground so they can get back up and hurt somebody. That kind of took away from the entertainment value a little bit. That's why it didn't stick around I think.
Jonathan Snowden: We talked about your UFC appearances, and you made a number of them, but at some point once Zuffa bought the UFC. And I dont' know if it was related to that, if it had something to do with Joe Silva taking over for John Peretti, but there was a time for several years when you weren't fighting for the UFC. We're you looking to fight for them and it just wasn't happening?
Jeremy Horn: You know, I don't really look to fight in any particular organization. My manager handles that. I wasn't fighting in the UFC because they were moving in another direction. I was happy to fight wherever. I don't really care who I fight or where I fight. They were looking for different types of fighters than I was, and they went that way. It's really not that big a deal.
Jonathan Snowden: It was cool to me because one of the things you did in that time period was help introduce MMA in Canada with UCC which later became TKO. What was it like to go up north and help lay the groundwork for MMA since it's become such a huge success there?
Jeremy Horn: That's one of the things I like the most about this. Being able to be involved in these grass roots type of things. And see and be part of the first events. That's always a lot of fun and I've been priveledged to be a part of a lot of different organizations at that level.
Jonathan Snowden: It's hard to narrow this down, because your record says you have 120 or whatever it is fights. I'm sure you actually have several more that aren't recorded.
Jeremy Horn: Right.
Jonathan Snowden: Of those, not necessarily your favorite Jeremy Horn fights, but what are the moments that stick out. That you'll always remember?
Jeremy Horn: I've had a lot of moments like that. I remember one time I fought James Zikic in England. What was memorable about it was the time frame. It was the day after I cornered Tim Sylvia for one of his fights in the UFC. Right after the UFC, like a Friday night, I went right to the airport at 11 o'clock at night and flew all night and the next day got to England. I slept all day, woke up at 6 PM. Because of the time difference and the jet lag I slept all day. I went right to the fight at seven at night, fought and then flew out the very next morning. I was only in England, literally, for like 15 hours.
Jonathan Snowden: That's wild.
Jeremy Horn: And for part of that time, throw a fight in there.
Jonathan Snowden: That's crazy, but the craziest part is that earlier in the month you fought three fights in the IFC tournament with Forrest Griffin, Babalu, Shogun, and all those guys. You did all that in a single month in 2003. You fought 21 times just in 1999. When you're fighting 21 times, that's a little bit different than what guys do today when they aggressively scout all their opponents and have eight week camps. There aren't enough weeks in the year to have eight week camps when you fight 21 times. What are some of the pros and cons of that kind of schedule.
Jeremy Horn: Back then the sport was a very different thing. A lot of times guys would have a fight booked, but that's all they knew. They didn't know who, they didn't know really what weight. They would know 'I'm fighting in this event on Friday.' And they'd show up on Friday and the promoter would match them up right on the spot with some guy that looked about his size. And hopefully they were honest when they disclosed similar records. That's just all there was to it. A lot of times towards the end of that year - there weren't a lot of people who had 45 fights - so even that wasn't much of a factor (for me). It's just show up, find a guy about your size, and everybody would fight. You couldn't scout a guy because you didn't even know who you were going to fight until the night of the fight.
It was such a different sport back then. Everybody was so raw. I was lucky because I had ten percent of jiu jitsu and that was more than a lot of other people had at that point. And I was training with Pat and the guys in Iowa so I was in good shape. I was used to getting rough. That was a big part of it for a lot of guys. They weren't used to that. The first time somebody took them down and punched them in the mouth, they were shocked. I had that happen to me everyday so it was nothing new to me.
Jonathan Snowden: Now, you are about to be back on television with Bellator. Does that mean anything to you at this point. To be on national TV? Or are you at the point where you've seen it all?
Jeremy Horn: Being on television doesn't really matter to me, but this fight is very important to me. I've spent a large portion of my career just fighting wherever and whoever. Not to say that I didn't care about it, but I enjoyed fighting so much that I didn't really care much beyond that. With the sport's progression now, I want to make my mark and prove that I belong where I think I belong. I see this as my first opportunity to do so. Bryan Baker is a very tough guy, Bellator is a very reputable organization, and I can go in there and put my mark down and let people know I am still here and I'm not going anywhere.
Jonathan Snowden: That's curious to me. Fourteen years into your career, what made you decide that things were going to be different? Do you feel your mortality creeping up on you a little bit? We're close to the same age, maybe mid thirties - is this a last opportunity for you?
Jeremy Horn: I don't know. I suppose there may be some element of that in there. Physically, I'm still very young and healthy. I just turned 35 last month, but I have no injuries really. I've got a little bit of tendinitis in one elbow. That's the worst thing I've had in my entire career. I don't really have any nagging injuries. I'm healthy. I've got a great team of guys around me now. It's just getting better as we build the gym here. I'm really developing a strong group of guys. I don't know. When I was doing well in the sport I was a household name so to speak, but the sport wasn't a household name! I think maybe now I'd like to take a shot at getting the reputation I think I deserve. Just going out there and beating people and letting people know I am one of the best fighters in the world.