Jake Butler is regarded as the best light heavyweight prospect in Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) at present, but he started out on a very different course after majoring in economics at one of the US’ most prestigious universities.
Having graduated from Princeton, he made his way to Wall Street, but Butler was emerging into a very different world from previous generations of Ivy League alumni. He quickly discovered that the credit crunch had rendered the banking industry a precarious place to be employed.
“I ended up following the path of most of my peers, which was finance in New York City, but I burned out on that scene pretty quickly because there was a lot of tension and stress at that time. It wasn’t the most pleasant work environment,” he said.
Since childhood, Butler had been a highly successful wrestler. He captained the team at Princeton and competed at National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One level. Missing the training and the thrill of competition, he began to look at ways he could utilize his skill set.
“Having trained and wrestled all the time at university, it was difficult to adjust to sitting at a desk all day. I started to see alot of other wrestlers, including people I had wrestled against, making the transition into MMA and my interest grew,” he said.
When the routine on Wall Street became too monotonous for Butler, he quit his job at an investment firm to travel to Asia.
It was here that his paths crossed with Chatri Sityodtong, a Harvard graduate who made millions on Wall Street, but decided to walk away from the financial world to start his own martial arts academy. With their broadly similar academic backgrounds and shared interest in martial arts, the pair formed an instant bond and Butler was invited to try out for the fight team at Evolve MMA in Singapore.
“I had a few conversations with Chatri and he offered me a trial at Evolve MMA. I was nervous because it is the best academy in Asia and has some of the best fighters in the world, but fortunately I was offered a spot on the team and have been here ever since,” he said.
With his days at a desk job behind him, Butler soon settled in Singapore and began the process of becoming a professional MMA fighter. His wrestling prowess and obvious potential led to an immediate contract offer from Asia’s biggest MMA organization, ONE FC, in October last year.
In February, Butler made his debut, stopping Indonesia’s Antoni Romulo in the opening round in front of nearly 9,000 fans in Kuala Lumpur. He was subsequently thrown in with Saipan’s top light heavyweight, Swain Cangco, in April. It was his first time fighting in his adopted home, and in front of a full house at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, he scored a second successive first-round win.
The 30-year-old is rapidly establishing himself as a frontrunner for the inaugural ONE FC light heavyweight title and could take a big step in that direction by beating kickboxing world champion James Kouame, who he is scheduled to face in Jakarta on Sept. 13.
It will be the third city in which Butler has fought. The fight is to be broadcast live all over Asia by Star Sports and he says he is relishing the opportunities his abrupt change of career have afforded him.
“I get to travel around to the biggest cities in Asia to compete and I get to train every day alongside legendary fighters who are world champions at Evolve MMA. I couldn’t ask for a better job,” he said.
Professional fighters have a limited lifespan and although there are numerous MMA fighters who have enjoyed success well into their 40s, Butler knows he will not be able to compete inside the cage forever.
However, regardless of how long his fighting career lasts, he says there is no going back to his former life.
“I don’t see myself sitting behind a desk again. We will see what happens, but I want to stay involved in martial arts and I think there will be plenty of opportunities to do that,” he said.