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The Wheelhouse – ‘Just Winning’ ?

March 17, 1997. A day that will not mean much to those non-MMA-historians, but it marked one or two of the UFC’s most important watershed moments. The first? UFC 15: Collision Course. In those carefree days of bathing in blood, the event was held with an array of the world’s finest brawlers, technicians and up-and-comers. We’d see a card that typified the strange, Pre-Zuffa era in which the entire televised card was nothing but heavyweight contenders. The second? That one man, James Ladner, to be known hereafter both in article and history as the ‘Just Bleed Guy’, cemented his legacy in the broiling waters of a birthing sport.

James Ladner – MMA Hero

Two sections over, however, there was a man that most would not identify as a counter-culture innovator.

Jeffrey Marshall Farmer was born and raised in East St. Louis, just a stone’s throw away from the venue; if you could throw a stone several miles with unerring, Kurt-Warner-esque accuracy. Jeff could, if he got a good enough run-up.

Today, and back then, he was in immaculate shape, living a life of patience, consistency, and repetition. He attended UFC 15 as all fans do, with an eye to catching a spectacle that would thrill them through vicarious memory for years to come.

I caught up with Jeff Farmer at his home, yes, still in East St. Louis, where he lives his days out as a farmer, yes, but not of a type you’d expect.

JF: Solar farms are the future.

WW: Well, they’re pretty common these days, some say wind farms are the future, now.

JF: Wind farms?  Are they?

They are. That system of patience and regimented living had taught him to abhor the very sight that had upset him that night. As he clutched his hand around a bottle of O’Douls in the crowd, he saw the kerfuffle starting two sections over. The swinging-arm of the camera rigs focused on a particularly rowdy section of the attending fans. Sweaty men, meat flippers raising plastic cups of beer as they swaggered and swarthed like rodeo bulls, surrounding their chosen champion. Bare-chested, sweaty, slicked in testosterone-concocted excitement. It was disgusting to Jeff Farmer.

JF: It was disgusting to me, Jeff Farmer.

WW: What about it set you off?

JF: They lived for the moment, people like that are why East St. Louis is seen the way it is today.  Sticks in my craw that these parasites live so close to me, like a plague of locusts leaving nothing in their wake but empty Solo cups and broken hearts.

WW: So what was your solution to it?

JF: I turned to my wife of 15 years, and asked for her lipstick.  I took that ‘Dusty Rose’ L’Oreal, and quickly unbuttoned my short-sleeved shirt and started writing.

The O’Douls caught up with him, or the logistics of writing upside-down.  The camera caught him on several long-shots of the crowd heading into the co-main event.  In the distance, you can see one man standing with ‘Just Win’ (It had been written with the ‘s’ and ‘n’ backwards in capital letters, barely visible with such a bland color) emblazoned over his chest, staring furiously across the corner of the front sections, trying to catch eyes with ‘Just Bleed Guy’.  James Ladner had been long into his cups, and paid no mind to the controlled stare of Jeff Farmer.

JF: It got me hot.

WW: Hot enough to write on your own chest to send a message.

JF: Yep!

WW: Did your wife try to calm you down?  This seems so out of character with the man I’m seeing now.

JF: When a situation doesn’t go my way, I like to turn the tables back on them and their motley crew.  But my wife, Belinda, she’s my rock.  She calmed me down before the main event.  It was the promise of efficient missionary sex that turned that table back around.  I buttoned my shirt back up.

Despite the unpopular opinion, Jeff has not backed down in the twenty years since.  Belinda and Jeff had bought a tract of urban sprawl in East St. Louis, set up an array of shining solar panels, farming the light with their scruffy mutt ‘Jon Fitch’ in tow.  Life is simpler, more predictable, and most of all, safe.

WW: ‘Just Win’ is something you still believe in?

JF: Of course.  And I’m glad that the sport is changing in that direction.  These men can’t fight that way any longer, if they want a stable, predictable career.  They can’t afford to get knocked out, can’t afford to take chances.  The best way to live your live in the modern MMA climate is to stay healthy, and make those paychecks.  Knockouts and submissions are for the glory-seekers, I just want to see someone go in there and rack up records for ‘significant strikes’, ‘top time’ and see them sit in side-guard to rack up those short grappling punches.  Those still score.

WW: Any final words or tips for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

JF: Look for pace, look for consistency.  Fighters that get a gameplan going, and never deviate from it for a second, never try anything new?  Those are champions.  That’s why I’m betting the solar farm on Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 – Belinda’s going to be there with me, to keep my shirt buttoned up.

(This interview was conducted on February 28th, 2019)

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