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PFL’s Jack May brings basketball enforcer attitude to cage fighting

Gallery Photo: UFC on FOX 11 weigh-in photos
Jack May at UFC on FOX 11 from April 19, 2014
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When you’re 6-foot-8 and around 260 pounds, it’s only natural that you would be inclined towards pursuing athletic endeavors. They might even gravitate to you, but with those opportunities can come negative attention.

That’s the reality that heavyweight fighter Jack May faced growing up, though a predilection to confrontation certainly didn’t help things. May, one of 12 heavyweights competing for a $1 million prize in the Professional Fighters League’s inaugural season, originally rose to prominence as a basketball prospect, which is unsurprising given his measurements.

His hoop dreams began at Division-I Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, but that would end up being one of four schools he would play for due to his tendency to get into tussles on and off the court.

“My story goes I went to four different colleges, all on a full ride,” May told MMA Fighting. “I got in a lot of trouble — well, I wouldn’t say a lot of trouble, I was just always down. I was supposed to be the poster boy and you’re supposed to follow the rules and act a certain way, but I was just kind of like that bad boy that didn’t really give a s**t.

“I played hard on the court. I was aggressive on the court. But if we were out having a good time and someone came across and wanted to get into a scrap, while some guys probably turn their cheek and made peace, I was always down to get it on.”

After a stint at Southern Idaho junior college, May would return to the D-I ranks when he joined the University of Idaho Vandals (a quirky coincidence given that May would later take on the fighter nickname of “The Outlaw”). There, a violent confrontation with a teammate again left him looking for a school to call home.

“University of Idaho, I broke one of my teammate’s jaws during a scuffle in the locker room,” said May. “He was trying to be something that he wasn’t, talk a bunch of s**t, so he got the s**t end of that stick. Duquesne University, same thing, got into some legal trouble, wasn’t kicked out of school but was asked to leave quietly.”

He would close out his college basketball career at D-II North Dakota State University then dabble in the minor leagues and play professionally overseas. His early promise on the hardwood never led to a multi-million dollar contract or a shoe deal, but May prided himself on keeping order on the court.

Even so, playing professional basketball requires a mix of athleticism, talent, and in May’s case, a mean streak that served him well.

“I guess you could say that I was [an ‘enforcer’] in basketball terms,” said May. “I was aggressive, I just liked to mix it up and be aggressive. My father was an aggressive, abusive-style man, so even when we played out front I was getting the s**t kicked out of me playing basketball. I had that grit, that was my style and I was good at what I did. I was a left-handed player, very unorthodox, very athletic for my size.”

May would later make the decision to apply his physical gifts to the world of combat sports. He trained in both boxing and kickboxing, the latter discipline taking him all the way to a K-1 tournament spot when the famed organization made a visit to Los Angeles in September 2012. He would then get his first taste of the backstage shenanigans that are commonplace in the fight game.

An opponent with similar experience had initially been booked for the still-developing May, but it was then decided May would fight Jarrell Miller, who at the time was undefeated in both boxing and kickboxing. Told to choose between fighting Miller or being removed from the tournament, May said ‘F**k it, let’s take it,” and agreed to the bout, which he would go on to lose by first-round knockout.

Regardless of the outcome, May learned a lot from the experience, so five years later when a similar situation occurred with Bellator MMA, he was prepared for it. May defeated Dave Cryer by 41-second TKO at Bellator 170 in January of last year.

Jack May in a dominant position against Dave Cryer at Bellator 170 on Jan. 21, 2017 in Inglewood, Calif.
Bellator MMA

Though he planned to stick around with the promotion and fight on a recent card in Temecula, Calif., May was told the opponent they’d lined up for him changed his mind. Making the situation worse for May was that his opponent would end up fighting a different name on the card, while May was left out to dry.

Fortunately, he had options. According to May, he had the chance to compete on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but instead chose to join the PFL.

“PFL came to the table with a deal that I would have been stupid to turn down,” said May. “It’s a very lucrative deal and it allows me the opportunity to win and move on and then make a substantial amount of money.”

Should May win the seven-figure prize at the end of the season, the now 37-year-old father plans to buy a house, pay off some credit card bills (“I got a beautiful wife who loves to shop,” he said with a laugh), and save up money to put his two daughters through college someday.

As far as the competition goes, he’s not looking past Josh Copeland, who he meets on Thursday at the PFL’s season kickoff show at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.

However, a potential rematch with Shawn Jordan does have his attention. The two fought in the UFC back in 2014 and it was Jordan who walked out with a third-round TKO win.

“I’d take that in a heartbeat,” said May. “I feel like I had him beat. For anyone that was watching that fight probably would have thought the same thing. I gassed out in the third. I got taken to deeper waters than I’d ever gone in my career, but first and second round, let’s be honest, I was putting it on him. But that’s just how the fight went.

“I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth Shawn because it was a tough fight and he beat me. I would love to have that one back.”

May has gotten to know both Copeland and Jordan personally and there’s no animosity there. Unlike in his basketball days, May now knows how to focus on the professional side of things and not let his emotions lead to unnecessary conflict. The only conflict he cares about now is the one in the cage. The one that puts food on the table.

The one that has become his passion.

“You’ve also got to understand that the way I learned is guys that wanted to get into a fight on the street, when they got their asses kicked, they always wanted to press charges or go to the cops and cry,” said May. “But they were macho dickheads leading up to it and then met a guy that gave it to ‘em, then all of a sudden it’s, ‘Oh, I want to press charges’ and s**t.’

“It takes two to tango and then you’ve got the winner and the loser. So with this sport I get paid. I get to take out aggression, I get to perform under the lights, I get to take the ugly past and paint a masterpiece or something beautiful. That’s just the way it is for me now.”

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