Fighter of the Month: Jarett ‘Real Talk’ Conner

By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Primo Catalano, Stephanie Drews, and Rollie Robles/Chingasos MMA

Everyone knew Dean Bo Moskowitz. The chants of “Dean Bo, Dean Bo” told as much. Moskowitz was the darling of the University of MMA, the ruthless Israeli-American fighter whose young 3-0 amateur career included a five-second knockout and two dominant submissions.

But who was his challenger? Who was the man with the quiet swagger and the million-dollar smile? Who was Jarrett Conner?

Before the fight, Conner didn’t appear intimidated; he seemed unfazed by the pedigree of his opponent and a crowd cheering for his failure. Yet there lay something behind the mask of the self-proclaimed superhero.

Jarett 'Real Talk' Conner (left) vs. Dean Bo Moskowitz, at "University of MMA: Fight Night 2." (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Jarett ‘Real Talk’ Conner (left) vs. Dean Bo Moskowitz, at “University of MMA: Fight Night 2.” (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

“I knew that [Moskowitz] was great, I knew he was the best there,” Conner said. “But I’m not going to let him know that. I was freaking scared of Dean Bo. I mean, he knocked a dude out in three seconds.”

Fear instinctually inspires a primitive fight or flight response. And competing in the oldest sport known to man, Moskowitz presented a true threat to the less experienced Conner. But Conner channeled his fear in rising to the challenge of this ultra-talented opponent.

Referee Mike Bell brought them to the center of the arena and gave them a moment to touch gloves, a moment to acknowledge one another as willing sportsman, not gladiators. Bell’s offer was declined.

“There was no disrespect intended,” Conner said. “I’m not one of those guys who’s going to shake your hand and then punch you in the face the next second. At the weigh-in, I didn’t want to let him know that I was scared by looking him in his eyes. But when I stepped into the cage I looked him in the eye.”

Moskowitz was a trained martial artist, one who had been honing his body as a weapon since age four. Conner, on the other hand, was a converted football player who had first fought just seven months prior.

Moskowitz had yet to have a fight go past the second round. But over the course of three full rounds Conner flashed the athleticism and explosiveness of a gridiron star, taking control of the fight with a series of massive takedowns.

“I wanted to knock him out really badly, and I think I was a little bit too focused on getting that knockout,” Moskowitz said. “I feel like maybe if I were a little bit more relaxed and didn’t bring all of that tension in there that something different would have happened.”

Conner performed a wrestling clinic in his match to win the University of MMA welterweight title. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Conner performed a wrestling clinic in his match to win the University of MMA welterweight title. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Every time Moskowitz crashed to the canvas, the chants of “Dean Bo, Dean Bo” where replaced with collective “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s” from the Club Nokia crowd. Whereas Moskowitz effortlessly cut apart previous opponents, he was continually foiled in landing a decisive blow on Conner.

In the end, Conner’s raw displays of power propelled him to a unanimous victory. After his hand was raised, Conner leapt on top of the cage, keeping his hand high in the air as he beamed at the Club Nokia crowd.

“It was amazing man,” Conner said. “It was like Vegeta beating Goku, Harry beating Voldemort, or Noah kissing Allie at the end of ‘The Notebook.’ It was all of those feelings wrapped into one. I felt like the best on the planet. It was amazing.”

If you’ve never spoken with Jarrett Conner, his choice of words probably strike you as odd. References to Japanese anime, Harry Potter, and ‘The Notebook’ do not seem befitting a heavily muscled, tattooed martial artist.

But five minutes into a conversation with the 22-year-old, you’ll realize you’re dealing with a class-A nerd. Shredding the stereotype of the fighter as the consummate meathead, Conner unashamedly admits to watching Dragon Ball Z and having read all seven Harry Potter books several times over.

If you’ve only watched him fight, his superman trunks are the first giveaway of Conner’s inner fanboy. His passion for fantasy is further expressed by the “Superbatman” symbol emblazoned on his chest, a tattoo that like Conner, has evolved in conjunction with his martial arts journey.

“I consider myself a superhero,” Conner said. “I initially got the Superman tattoo because that was my nickname in football. I was a lot bigger then and really hard to bring down.”

“I recently chose the Batman tattoo because I felt like Batman represents my darker side and a darker past. Everyone has a darkness to themselves; it’s just a matter of learning to control it.”

Before joining Upland MMA (formerly known as the Pimpit Fight Team Academy), Conner was a talented athlete who lacked direction. He grew up shining on the gridiron, but a promising football career at Upland High School was derailed by a poor work ethic and reluctance to embrace the fraternal nature of the sport.

“I was never really a team player. It wasn’t about the team: it was about Jarrett,” Conner said. “If I wasn’t getting the ball, my attitude was ‘forget you guys.’ I wasn’t a team player until I joined Pimpit. Even though it’s just me in the cage, I’m constantly thinking about my teammates and all the hard work they put me through.”

Conner attempted to resurrect his football career at Chaffee College but quit when the demons that plagued him in high school resurfaced. Soon thereafter, Conner met Pimpit coach Jerbo Nerney, a former fighter who boasted a 7-0 professional record from during the pioneering days of MMA, when it was still known as No Holds Barred.

Upland MMA's Kobe & Phil. (Photo by Rollie Robles / Chingasos MMA)

Upland MMA’s Kobe & Phil. (Photo by Rollie Robles / Chingasos MMA)

Nerney recognized something special in the misguided but wildly-talented Conner, whose initial reluctance to study martial arts was eventually broken down by the persistent coach.

“I consider it a Phil Jackson-Kobe Bryant type of relationship,” Conner said. “I’m one of those guys that will joke around a lot in class. If you go to the gym, you’ll see me salsaing during the breaks. But at the end of the day we’re serious. He’s like a father figure. Everyone in the gym respects Jerbo.”

Though Conner asserts that martial arts has transformed him for the better, he’ll be the first to tell you that his work ethic didn’t change overnight. His nonchalant playfulness did not mesh well with the rigors of an MMA curriculum.

“He was one of those guys that loved to fight but didn’t like to train that much,” Nerney said. “Since the Dean Bo fight, he’s started to realize that he has to train more seriously. Now he’s training about twice as much as he was before.”

Conner’s football background translated into explosiveness in the ring. But conditioning has been a pressing concern for the young fighter. Immediately following his contest with Moskowitz, Conner briefly collapsed to the cage floor, clearly gassed from going full three rounds.

The display caused some, including U of MMA color commentator Andrew Montañez, to question if Conner would have survived three-minute rounds with Moskowitz (amateur MMA matches for fighters with less than four bouts are limited to two minute rounds). Among those in attendance were the members of the Elite Training Center fight team, whose own 170-pound Roman Todorovich had defeated 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu’s Erik Cruz just two fights prior.

Jarett 'Real Talk' Conner defends his welterweight championship for the first time at 'University of MMA: Fight Night 5.' (Photo by Primo Catalano)

Jarett ‘Real Talk’ Conner defends his welterweight championship for the first time at ‘University of MMA: Fight Night 5.’ (Photo by Primo Catalano)

“Since Fight Night 2,” both Conner and Todorovich have enjoyed continued success, winning their subsequent bouts via round-one submission. With a combined record of 8-1, the two make for an ideal match for U of MMA’s Fight Night 5 on February 9th.

Having witnessed his conditioning in the Moskowitz fight, Todorovich’s camp challenged Conner to expand from two- to three-minute rounds. Conner accepted these terms.

“Jerbo told me to fight two-minute rounds, but I told him I want no excuses when I beat Roman,” Conner said. “That’s where my competitive side comes in. Whatever they want they can have. I think they want three-minute rounds because of what the commentators said after the Dean Bo fight.”

You could argue that Conner’s decision stems from pride, overconfidence, or a lack of respect for Todorovich. But those closest to this 22-year-old superhero know there’s more to the decision than hubris.

“Jarrett’s the type of guy where if you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to work harder to do it,” Nerney said. “That’s actually the way I get him to do a lot of things. It’s going to be one-third harder but he told me he wanted to do it. That’s the only part that I’m a little worried about.”

“Fight Night 5” will reveal just how much Conner has developed in the past eight months. No longer an unknown commodity, he will have to perform under the spotlight as a champion, not a challenger.

“This fight against Roman is going to be different than the fight against a Dean Bo in every way,” Conner said. “That’s why I’m so excited to fight this guy. Because Roman’s right there with Dean Bo. I’m going to let Roman know that he’s fighting for a belt. He’s a fighter I’d never take for granted.”

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