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The Art of Combat

By Meagan Russell
In Featured Slider
Jan 1st, 2022
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ARTICLE BY NILS BORQUIST

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

WALK INTO KRON GRACIE JIU JITSU at 1412 Natchitoches Street in West Monroe on nearly any afternoon or evening during the week and you will notice him. Amidst the children and teens in their crisp, white gis running and rolling on the cushioned mats and the adults hammering away on a rowing machine or punishing themselves with squats, plated barbells stretched across their shoulders, look, and he will be there. He is undeniably recognizable, solemn and quiet, grinding away, honing his Jiu Jitsu or striking skills, pounding the weights, or stretching hardened muscles bludgeoned from five-hour a day workouts. Beyond the lithe and obviously powerful frame and curling handlebar mustache reminiscent of early 20th century strongmen, the eyes of Jesse Butler give him away in an instant. Opened wide, seemingly straining with incredible intensity, the focus and drive shine forth. On the mat, in the weight room, running marathons, and in fights, Butler exudes an enthusiasm and passion for his craft, the art of one-on-one combat, and his unstoppable progression in the sport appears to mirror his will to be great.

Born and raised in West Monroe, Butler grew up like most any other boy in this state. He went to school, played video games, hunted, and participated in sports. Unlike most kids, though, he showed tremendous aptitude in a particular game, excelling in baseball from his youth leagues throughout high school. Butler showed such promise at Claiborne Christian High School, where he played for and won two state titles. He received multiple college offers to play, including a chance to attend Louisiana State University-Alexandria. However, while he contemplated the opportunity to pursue that dream, something told him to let it go and stay in his hometown, so he ultimately spurned the offer and chose to remain in Northeast Louisiana. While working and attending Louisiana Delta Community College, he realized in his time away from competitive sports that he greatly missed that aspect of his past life. At 18 years old, Jesse sought out something to fulfill the desire to test his abilities against another, so with team sports likely out of the picture, he discovered and entered the realm of mixed martial arts.

The first day Butler walked into the gym and got onto the mat, he was absolutely hooked. He went in, geared up, sparred, and, in his own words, “got whooped.” Although punched and kicked and tossed around, he did not mind in the least; he even enjoyed the one-on-one battle. He knew, from that day forward; that he wanted to be a fighter. As a former high level athlete, he understood that his commitment to the sport would be the singular vital ingredient necessary to take him where he wanted to go, to the very top of the game. After that evening, Butler embraced the discipline and physicality and required studying imperative for potential success, and it planted the seed for the enduring belief that he could work himself to the elite level of the fighting world, a belief he is seeing come to fruition. Nevertheless, even with his current success and upward trajectory, Butler had to start somewhere, so after only eight months of training, he fought in his first amateur bout, a contest he won by decision after thoroughly dominating his opponent but being just inexperienced enough that he could not finish him the way he wanted. In any case, compared to the first sparring match of his life, the excitement and anxiety and anticipation aroused by that first actual fight definitely cinched the path Butler had chosen. He was all in.

After his first 16 fights, 13 of which he won, Butler jumped from the amateur ranks into the professional world. This also precipitated a move to Coconut Creek, Florida, where Butler worked with the crew at American Top Team. This experience, he claimed, was quite significant for his learning curve as in the year he spent there he was able to train with top flight fighters from all over the world. Competing only three short months after his final amateur bout, Jesse won his first pro fight via a complex choke submission two minutes into the first round; a victory that absolutely solidified his pursuit of the martial arts world championship. At that stage, at 23 years old and with a bright future in his sights, Jesse set out to optimize every facet of his approach to fighting as well as every piece that directly affected that livelihood; in particular, reassessing his outlook regarding training, recovery, diet, and sleep has heightened his potential eminently. Additionally, in 2016 he decided to leave Florida and return to Louisiana and the training facility that would become Kron Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Vital Fitness, a fortuitous decision that has proven invaluable to the upwards course of his fight path.

Those competing at a certain weight class in combat sports, whether boxing, jiu jitsu, or mixed martial arts, seek to enhance their strength and speed and develop greater flexibility while also further expanding their overall skill sets, all while remaining at the same competition weights. Certainly, being smarter, stronger, quicker, and faster and staying nimble and comfortable offers tremendous advantages. Butler definitely knows this, and over the past six years, he has learned a great deal about what he needs to do to maximize his physical abilities. Fighting in the featherweight division at a lean 5’10 and 145 pounds, he glides in the ring smoothly, but when he wishes to envelop an opponent, he loads and uncoils like a steel spring in a flurry of stony elbows and jagged knees, clutching and clenching the victim as an anaconda might, squeezing ever so tightly and unrelenting. Such attacks require tremendous skill and acumen. 

Butler’s attention to the details of strength and conditioning, cardiovascular training, and drilling over the details of grappling and striking continue to pay off. In fact, Butler stated that he believes “the suffering we do in the weight room really plays a huge part in fighting another person in a cage. It allows me to dig deeper than I ever imagined.” Following a conjugate tactical fitness strength program, perhaps the most applicable system for fighting due to its innovative combination of maximum weight lifts in conjunction with an abundance of auxiliary dynamic movements, from the acclaimed Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, Butler has improved his power by appreciable measures over the past five years. Along with the demands of his strength program, Butler also runs, an exercise he has utilized more and more over the past few years. In fact, he recently ran two marathons in the last four weeks, the Twin City Marathon in Monroe/West Monroe and the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee. Besides emerging as a great joy for Jesse, he also credits running for helping increase his overall fitness levels. Adding in a steady prescription of jiu jitsu training rounds out the physical training arsenal. In particular, beyond the values of weights and the pavement, Butler claims that jiu jitsu training has greatly accelerated his abilities in the ring, especially as concerns his submission skills, an area he is principally adept at.

Regarding recovery, Butler leans on exhaustive stretching in addition to a particular favorite, the excruciating pain of post-workout ice baths. Although such punishment may seem gratuitous, the healing impact of cold water treatments has verifiable value, especially when the need to train on a nearly daily basis is required. Jesse also takes great pride in his strict diet. He does not stick to a particular protocol, instead relying on comfort when deciding what to eat. However, one should not think that such comfort includes sweets or inflammatory foods; Butler’s plate most often contains a heavy dosage of whole foods and green vegetables along with a hearty supply of wild game as his meats of choice. Being able to exert maximum effort as often as possible decidedly affects growth, so the nutrition and recuperative means employed are as invaluable as the training methods. Perhaps, though, two other aspects of Butler’s approach will prove to be the edge over his opponents to come: his unwavering focus on getting better each day as well as his overwhelming gratitude for the assemblage of people who in the past and continue today to assist him in achieving his goals.

Although he is a tremendous athlete who continues to get better every day, Butler straightforwardly and humbly confesses that he has had so many others around him who have played important roles in his life. He stated, “My family inspires me because they’ve believed in me since the beginning, and my wife Hannah is a huge factor when it comes to my nutrition, recovery, and focus.” In addition to his immediate family, his MMA family plays a huge role in his successes of the past and those to come. Jesse told me the “list is long of the people who’ve helped me along the way, and I’m forever grateful.” Training and drilling countless hours every week with Dillon Fraley, consistent and instrumental mentoring by Jonathan Brantley, and his unique involvement with Kron Gracie have pushed his talents into the stratosphere. Regarding the latter’s influence, as well as the influence on jiu jitsu by the entire Gracie family, Butler stated that his last five years of being able to spend time with Kron training and studying his work ethic have paid tremendous dividends. Helping him as well has been his sponsor, 4D Clean Energy Supplements, a company that has shown their faith in Jesse by financially backing him on his path to the top.

All of the hours spent sweating and straining in the gym, on the roads, and on the mats and the team of family and friends who have assisted Butler undoubtedly pushed him to a high level of competitive sport. At the end of the day, though, the ring contains one man or woman versus another, alone and with only the pulsing sound of one’s heartbeat pummeling in the ears. In this arena, the desire and focus of each competitor, both often likely to be nearly identical in skills when fighting at the highest level, are the deciding factors that lead to victory. Jesse’s dedication to his craft and his businesslike approach to every training session provide him with consistent gains and aid in building his confidence that he will overcome any obstacle to his desired success. He takes no repetition off, nor cruises on any mile, and sparring with him can be equated to going to battle. This mindset carries him to pushing himself beyond the boundaries of the normal man and into the realm of the superman, the individual who writes his own story then sees it through to the end.

When considering the future, Butler has a singular professional goal: to be the very best. While many profess to desiring such a lofty end, very few are willing to put in the hours of work required to get there. Preparation, talent, motivation, willpower, and immense self-discipline. These are the cornerstones of greatness, and they are all superlative descriptions that when combined are embodied by Jesse Butler. He wears them, wraps himself in them, and he does so gladly because he knows that they will propel him to the greatness he seeks. However, they do not define him. They are parts of him, powerful parts, yet he is also a tremendous friend and trainer, one who works with anyone who asks. Perhaps that is his most treasured attribute, the fact that he not only wants the best for himself but that he also wants to help everyone in his life to maximize their own abilities as well. It is easy to root for such a man, and we, as his extended family of fellow Louisianians, should get behind him at every opportunity we can.