Ahead of UFC 247, Juan Adams Is Starting With a Fresh Slate

UFC San Antonio Juan Adams
Juan Adams Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

Having made the move to Jackson-Wink MMA, UFC heavyweight Juan Adams plans to enter his next fight with a fresh slate, looking like a new fighter.

When ‘The Kraken’ was unleashed upon the UFC, he entered the promotion with a big head of steam. Following a successful Contender Series appearance, Juan Adams won his promotional debut, and the sky was the limit. Despite a promising start, however, Adams (5-2) has discovered that physical talents alone aren’t enough to get by on — and he’s looking to reinvent himself ahead of his return at UFC 247 against Justin Tafa.

Reinventing himself entailed a move to Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cageside Press caught up with the heavyweight this week, early on in a process that is already paying dividends.

“I made the move, it’s been tough adjusting. Physically as well as mentally,” Adams admitted. “We’re a little over a week in.”

On the physical side, there’s the elevation change, of course. “A lot of people don’t know this, but when you first move to a higher elevation, you really have to hydrate to speed up your body’s adjustment time,” Adams explained. That process had some unintended side effects. In short, it “made me a little bloated, I was a little chunky for a while,” revealed Adams. “I was worried about it. But it’s back under control now.”

In a relatively short span, Adams’ weight jumped up to 298lbs, then back down to 290. By the end of this week, he expects to be “sitting pretty at the 285 mark. That’s what we want to maintain most of my camp at.”

Making the move, of course, meant saying goodbye to his old team. Adams has nothing but high praise for his former coaches, saying “Honestly I was blessed. The coaches that I had down there [in Houston] really knew what they were doing.” There was one problem, however. “I just didn’t have access to the level of athletes that I needed to be working with.”

High-level heavyweights, of course, are not exactly in abundance. Couple that with the fact that Adams entered the UFC at 4-0. It was a big step up in a young career.

“It’s like going from high school to college. I was there at other gyms, and it got to a point where people just couldn’t compete with me,” he said. Which led to cutting corners. “I would take reps off, because I could get away with it there. It got to a point where I would try to exhaust myself, I was working out 5 to 6 hours a day, just so that when I would spar or I would go to technical classes, I’d be too exhausted to rely on my physical gifts.”

It’s a stark contrast to New Mexico, where Adams is training under the watchful eye of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.

“Out here, I’m going with guys that are good,” Adams said. That’s not the only difference, either. “The biggest difference here is, when you win, it opens you up. Sometimes guys are in awe of you, or they want to gun for you. It’s because they’re not on your level. They don’t share the same goal. Here, everyone at the gym is trying to be the best. They all want to go to that next level.”

Motivation, meanwhile, is all around him. On the very walls of Jackson-Wink itself. The gym has produced numerous champions, including, of course, Jon Jones and Holly Holm. Inside the facility, those big names adorn the walls.

“It’s one of those things, when you’re exhausted, you’re tired, you’re walking down that hall, it’s almost disrespectful not to put in work,” Adams said of his new surroundings. “Because all these champions have shared this champions’ ground. When you go down that hall, you’re always looking, and there’s always motivation. Because there’s somebody on that wall that’s reached a level that you haven’t.”

“That’s what I needed,” Adams added. “I look at that wall, I look in there, and it’s just like ‘okay, I want to be where that person has been.'”

A short while back, Adams posted a message on his official Twitter account that turned a few heads. In it, he wrote that since MMA had become his job, he “needed to really figure out the things that I love about the sport again.”

It’s a quote that just about everyone can likely relate to at some point in their lives. Adams elaborated on the comment for us this week, explaining that “when I said I need to find what I love about this sport again, a lot of people were thinking like ‘oh, well your losses, just because you lost, you don’t have it.’ And that’s not what it is.”

“The Contender Series fight was the last time when I truly felt like fighting was a release for me.”

Instead, it was more about his quick ascension in the sport. “The Contender Series fight was the last time when I truly felt like fighting was a release for me,” revealed Adams. “It got to a point where this was my job, and I wasn’t working out anymore because I wanted to. I was working out because I had to. And I had to really do some soul searching and new goal-setting.”

When Adams started out, he didn’t expect to make it to the UFC until 2020. Instead, “I got there in 2018.” His journey became fast tracked, and Adams soon found himself flying by the seat of his pants. It just wasn’t the same. “When I started fighting, when I was an amateur, I was working six jobs. Fighting was a release for me. It was an escape. I love that about it, I love that pure form of competition. Even when I got to LFA, a little bit bigger promotion, but it was still, I’m not making my living off that.”

“Then I get to the UFC, and winning a fight determines if you need a day job or if you don’t.”

His personal life brought added pressure. People wanted more of him. “Not necessarily financially, but just my time, my energy. I love people, I’m a people pleaser, but I get burned out. I was getting burned out, I was getting drained.”

It got bad enough, explained Adams, that walking out for a fight, he wasn’t even worried about that fight. Instead, he was “worried about all the stuff before the fight, and all the stuff after the fight. And that’s not going to let you go out there and be successful.”

Despite that, he’s not worried about fighting at home in Houston for UFC 247. “When I go home, it’s not going to be like that. Fighting at home, I don’t feel like it’s going to be that big of a distraction. Mainly because I haven’t been there this entire camp.”

That means less fanfare and obligations. Plus, “when I go back home now, I won’t be staying in my apartment, I’ll be staying at the fighter hotel. It’s going to be business. And then after the fight, yeah I’ll go out there, I’ll probably spend two weeks there at home. And then I’ll come right back here.”

In other words, Adams is treating his Houston homecoming like any other fight on the road. “Exactly. That’s how I have to treat it.”

As for opponent Justin Tafa, “I know he’s talented,” said Adams. “Obviously if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be in the UFC, he wouldn’t have drawn the comparison that he has. But I do have some advantages. For one, I’m a lot bigger than he is, I’ve got the reach advantage and all that. So there’s that aspect of it. We’re just going from there.”

The comparison in question, of course, is Tafa’s link to Mark Hunt. Just 3-1 as a pro, Tafa has been billed as Hunt’s protege. Whether or not he lives up to those expectations remains to be seen. Recognizing his opponent’s strengths, Adams summed up Tafa by saying that “at the end of the day, he’s going in there to take food off my plate, he’s going in there to take my spot. That’s how we view him, as an opponent. We see every opponent as dangerous.”

Part of his rebirth, or rebuilding process, at Jackson-Wink, will be a more meticulous approach to preparation. “This is the first time that I’ll be watching film and doing all this, and really taking a planned approach to this.”

Adams does see some similarities between himself and Tafa. They both came into the UFC young, with a big head of steam. But those become less important with the reality of the fight. “It’s a test for both for us. Same as career-wise. We’re both coming off of loses. This could determine my fate with the UFC, and same with him. So we both have to take this fight very seriously.”

Without a doubt. Combat sports is unlike any other pro sport when it comes to wins and losses, really. You’re not blowing up the team after a couple of losses in the NFL or NBA. The Yankees aren’t about the ditch their star reliever after a handful of bad outings. But it only takes two or three losses to severely derail if not end a career in MMA.

Adams understands that, but he’s also not dwelling on it. “It’s something I’ve got to push to the background right now. It’s really weird, because you do have to acknowledge that the losses were the motivation for this move [to Jackson-Wink]. It’s one of those things where, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

“From there, it’s so crazy with MMA,” he continued, “because people only remember your last fight really. And it’s one of those things where, everyone feels like they can fight, so everyone feels qualified to talk about it. That is a very strange dynamic that you have when approaching this. But those losses, they’re kind of in the back of my mind right now.”

What’s at the forefront is that UFC 247 offers a fresh slate for Juan ‘The Kraken’ Adams. “We’re taking the skills that I have, we want to sharpen them, we’re going to add things to them, and just go into this fight looking like a completely different fighter.” Working with coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, and teammates like Christian Edwards and a host of others, Adams feels extremely upbeat about the move to Albuquerque.

“I like it a lot out here. There’s always somewhere to walk out here. I’m a big walker, it helps me clear my head.” Just another added benefit from his fresh start.

And if all goes well in Houston at UFC 247, Juan Adams knows what he wants for the rest of the year. “I want to fight at least three times in 2020. That will be the goal. I’ve got a list of about five fights that we’d like to fight after this one.”

“We’re focused on this guy. We don’t have a callout in mind,” he said, in case there’s any worry that he’s overlooking Tafa. “But there’s a list of guys that we want to fight, that we think are good match-ups for me. If their schedules line up with my schedule, then let’s do it. But right now, the goal’s obviously get this win in February, and by the end of the year, I’d like to be 8-2.”

UFC 247 takes place February 8, 2020 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.