It is hard for a fighter to retire. It is hard to know when to say when, to pick the right moment to put the gloves down and walk away for good.
For Jason William Day, the decision was made for him, by a driver rushing through a yellow light.
Day was riding his bike when the Range Rover crashed into him. Although he somehow escaped the accident with no broken bones, the soft tissue damage was extensive, particularly in his ankles. And while it would take some time for him to come to terms with just how significant the injuries were, Day’s career as a professional fighter was over. To make matters worse, the insurance company, ICBC, refused to compensate Day for his lost wages.
Anyone with enough grit, talent, and heart to make it to the professional ranks must truly transform themselves into a fighter. As Day says, “It is a passionate thing, you have to be all in.”
Once transformed into a fighter, it can be a struggle to morph back into something else.
When it became apparent that Day’s injuries were insurmountable, he took time away from the sport altogether. No coaching, no time in the gym, no UFC on the TV—Day left it all behind and spent a year managing a tavern in Calgary. He was then promoted to managing a night club, but as the night club was frequented by gangs, the promotion wasn’t exactly a step up.
But he is a fighter, so he fought to get his life back.
Returning to Vancouver, Day got back into the gym and continued to fight the insurance company. Just prior to going to trial, and after fighting Day for three years, ICBC lowballed him with an offer of $25,000. Then $50,000. Then $100,000. But the former UFC fighter was going to have his day in court. He won, with the jury awarding him $375,000.
However, because the accident was ruled 10% his fault, Day would receive $340,000. ICBC then appealed the ruling. In the end, Day had to settle for $225,000.
He then pursued another long held dream: acting. Acting had always fascinated him, so much so he took acting classes while he was an active fighter. Even then he had a notion acting skills might benefit him upon retirement. At the time, the path toward acting success made more sense than stunts.
“I didn’t really consider stunts...it seemed like such a hard thing to get into,” he says. But then Day began to train with veteran stuntman and former MMA fighter Dan Rizzuto, who encouraged Day to look into stunt work.
Soon, Day found himself a member of the Vancouver stunt community, and jobs quickly followed.
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Day finds a lot of commonalities between the MMA and stunt communities. The camaraderie is similar and good work ethics are rewarded. “The bad attitudes get weeded out quickly. It’s hard to be fake and be a good stuntman. And it’s hard to be fake and be a good fighter, for that matter,” Day says.
In a world dominated by smaller, acrobatic types, Day found his niche. “I’m known as a fighter, and a big guy, and there’s not a ton of big guys in this industry.”
In the last six years, Day has secured 150 stunt jobs. His bread and butter are the action shows the CW films in Vancouver, but he has racked up credits in feature films as well, such as Deadpool (2016), Okja (2017), The Predator (2018), and Shazam (2019).
While Day has more than earned his stripes as a stunt performer, he is also getting acting roles. Most famously, Day was in Skyscraper (2018) with the Rock, and he has upcoming roles in the G.I. Joe movie, as well as Bruce Lee’s Warrior.
The filming of Warrior took Day to South Africa, and he looks forward to seeing what happens as the Cinemax series gains in popularity. Day can also be seen in television shows Arrow, Batwoman, and Snowpiercer.
When asked to compare the nature of performing as a fighter verses as a stunt man, Day recalls the complete tunnel vision of the Octagon. Once inside, nothing but the fight exists, and, as he says, “My best fights I don’t even really remember.”
While Day the actor sometimes enters a state of flow on set, the nature of the work prohibits performers from getting lost in the world. Takes are short. “Cut” closely follows “action.” The big action sequences come closest to duplicating the feeling. When a giant set piece is pulled off perfectly in the first take, and the production crew breaks out in applause, there is something like the feeling of winning fight. “But it doesn’t have the crescendo,” he says, the build up to the fight that lasts for weeks or months, only to be decided in a few short minutes.
In addition to his work on set, Day has added another line to his resume—inventor. Ten years ago, Day found himself frustrated in his mobility training in the gym. He began working on an agility ladder, developing various prototypes until he arrived at a final product. The Webby Agility Ladder went out on the market last June.
When asked if he considers moving to Los Angeles, he says he would if the opportunity was right. But as it is, Vancouver offers a lot of work, his family is there, and he lives in an idyllic spot, “in the trees next to the ocean.”
Day has managed to fight his way from that tavern in Calgary to the kind of life many people can only dream of. And yet, a part of him will always be in Octagon.
“A part of me still believes I am going to fight again,” he says. “My brain knows that’s a pipe dream, but my heart doesn’t.”