Issue 091

August 2012

From sex to teenage angst and a life-long affection for martial arts, UFC commentator and Hollywood comedian Joe Rogan reveals himself like never before.

Joe Rogan is on a roll. The irascible comedian­-commentator is reveling and revealing, in equal measure, in free-form autobiographical mode. Relating his “very insecure, very private” teenage years, then bouncing off the walls as he recalls his narrations to the UFC’s most incredible moments.

Rogan, martial arts evangelist, fight-freak extraordinaire, and multi-millionaire with as diverse a set of interests imaginable. Over a two-hour interview with Fighters Only, which, in places, feels like talking to him on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, we discuss nootropics, world order, Adolf Hitler, Nikola Tesla, Bruce Lee and Fear Factor. He also discloses with brutal honesty how martial arts became a “sacred” guiding force in his life.

It has also given him a tough skin, and behind the beefcake physique, and snarling brilliance, clearly rests a soul full of intelligence, hungry to breathe the universe in and out.

He is compelling company, as millions of viewers would testify when he sits inches from the action in the Octagon, week-in, week-out. He’s rarely wrong… well, never, in his mind, and why should he be?

Everything with Rogan is delivered with horns on. He is a giver. A 100%’er. And, aged 45, he is a highly successful 21st-century entrepreneur, who puts his mouth where his beliefs are.       

Joe looks back. “I was a real mess at 15 years old. But before that, my parents divorced when I was five and we moved away from my dad when I was seven. There was physical abuse, and my mom remarried. We went to San Francisco and I lost contact with my father. So until I got into martial arts I was a real mess.

“I had no confidence, I was very insecure, very private. I read books. I had no friends because we moved a lot. When I moved to Massachusetts I got into martial arts. I was tired of people picking on me. I wasn’t big. I didn’t like the idea that people could physically hurt me. It happened to me and to friends. It’s very disturbing, especially if you’re small.

“I took up wrestling and taekwondo and was trying to do them both, but I decided to concentrate on taekwondo. I love wrestling as a sport, but with the lack of submissions it wasn’t nearly as exciting.

“There were no jiu-jitsu competitions at the time and absolutely no MMA. I got really good at taekwondo and it was the first thing I got good at. I did it every day and I even got injuries from overtraining. I was really, really obsessed for four, five years of my life. But as I got older, like 19 and 20, and I had left my parents’ house, I was still competing, but I lost a lot of my motivation.

“There was no money in it and I didn’t want to be a loser, I wanted to make a living. I dabbled in kickboxing and I started thinking of taekwondo as very foolish. There were too many aspects that didn’t make sense, like keeping the hip down, no punching. I thought that was a ridiculous agreement, to not punch each other in the face in martial arts.

“There’s great things about taekwondo. Like the dexterity and some stuff that people never use, like axe kicks, wheel kicks. Rare things.” Remember how excited Rogan gets when he sees an axe kick? “Yeah you can knock people unconscious with them you just have to be able to do it. 

“One of the first KOs I ever saw, my good friend was axe kicked in the face. It was brutal. This guy was lightning-fast. It was like he got hit in the face with a baseball bat. So from that day I was obsessed with axe kicks. So when I see someone do that in an MMA fight I get very excited (laughs).”

We are back to his teenage years. A troubled yet formative time. Martial arts worked for him. At least they helped him work through it, and began to define him as a man. “Fighting was a part of the real manual that I used to get discipline. Almost a religion to me. 

“For me, it was the first thing that gave me self-worth and I was so fanatical. I had a girlfriend at the time and I had the keys to my taekwondo school and she would come with me and I would train for two hours by myself and she would want to fool around and I would never fool around. Not when I was in the school.”

It was a hallowed place. “I was just fanatical – despite being ridiculously horned out at 15, 16. I had to have some incredible belief in what I was doing. It was very sacred to me. If you gave me the chance to f**k my girlfriend outside, man, I would f**k her in the woods… I did that all the time. But even when I was by myself, I would bow to the flag when I entered the room.”

While he’s spiritual about martial arts, he’s not what most would call religious. “I’m not a person who says there’s no God. Our issue is clearly that human-created things like religion are not some kind of divine print press perfectly intact coming down from God. That’s ridiculous,” he offers. “We rely on humans from thousands of years ago. They might have figured some s**t out absolutely, and I’m not a religious scholar, but by looking at the massive amounts of religion that exists all over the world, it’s clear people like something to believe in or rely on, but then want to fight about it.

“That’s my issue. It’s intellectual bullying. For you to say your God is the only God ­– that’s a**hole talk. I’m not anti-God or religion. It’s you believing that something somebody wrote thousands of years ago, no matter how vague it may be, is applicable in the extreme in today’s world – it’s ridiculous. 

“There are a lot of martial arts very much like religion. It’s very cult-like. It helped me, but it’s a very thin line.” Yet there is a sense that Rogan is still private, still protective, still searching… A big kid, with an adult mind, in a universe that is his playground.

There are so many questions to ask Joe Rogan – and yes, he has an answer for all of them. Erudite, and verbally dexterous, he can get himself out of any wordy hold. But he does it with ease, and with entertainment value.

Commentator and comedian, regular Hollywood cameo actor and occasional television host, he is a genius at presenting himself. Behind the machismo lurks a fascinating human being whose (forgive the pun) stand-up game has developed organically with his commentary of mixed martial arts. He agrees that a synergy has developed between those two paths within his working life.

“I feel like a human being who’s been very fortunate to be able to do what he loves to do, and make my living. It’s certainly two different jobs, creating comedy, putting it together, performing it live. There’s definitely a difference doing that and commentary. But with both things I’m just very blessed, that I can enjoy doing both things so when I’m working, my jobs never feel like a chore. They never feel like work. There’s never a time when the UFC card starts that I wish I was somewhere else.

“I get very excited, it’s 100% organic. I don’t have to force it; I’m a real fan. I don’t even know the rules to most American sports. Football, I don’t know what happens when the whistle blows. I don’t know what that means. I don’t watch other sports. They’re boring. I do watch every combat sport there is: boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu competitions, a lot of Muay Thai. I love HDNet’s coverage of high-level kickboxing, K-1, K-1 Max, it’s such a treat, obscure kickboxing comps… I‘ve been watching these guys for years on YouTube videos, so to see all these obscure fighters – and to see them fight in HD – it’s amazing.”

His comedy circuit does now, of course, take in the UFC events. Or vice-versa. “It’s been very unexpected. I had never connected the two so at first, I would have a UFC weekend and then a comedy weekend and somewhere along the line I started thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I not doing shows on a Friday night?’ And then they became regular.”

Remarkably, he does no specific preparation. For the UFC commentary, that is… It’s all organic. He’s simply a fight freak. “I don’t do anything different on a fight week than a normal week. I’m so engrossed in MMA it’s such a part of my natural day. If I don’t have obligations, my normal day I check my emails and then MMA sites. I wanna know what’s going on, what new fights have been announced, I wanna watch guys training, hear about new techniques. That’s what I do… I’m so fortunate. This could have been just some crazy hobby if I’d been a postman or something and I would have to just go into work and talk about fights all day and they be like, ‘Just do your job, man. What is wrong with you?’

But he’d have been a damn fine postman. “Thank you, sir,” he says. Can you imagine chatting to Joe on a Monday morning delivering the round? Definitely. That’s part of his great persona. He is the fans’ friend. He is Tom, Dick and Harry. He’s a Spartan, too.

It is a trait of stand-up comedians to suffer from angst and self-loathing. No different from Rogan. “I certainly did, yeah. And I think that’s related to the same angst that leads one to try and prove himself as a competitor and as a martial artist… They’re strangely related, but comedy almost is a martial art for dealing with non-physical life. 

“Comedy defines and looks at the absurdities of things. A method for avoiding damage, very much like jiu-jitsu, like anything that involves great attention to detail and a lot of technical knowledge. A lot of it comes from an unbalanced place and for fighters and for comedians as well it comes from not feeling loved. It’s usually what drives the craziest ones. There’s something there, a massive need to prove themselves.

“It’s not always that, lots of fighters had happy homes they just grew up and loved that more than anything so it’s not a hard, fast rule. But there are a lot of people who are comedians and fighters in that way.”

So, on to MMA itself, and firstly, judging. “Look, there’s good judging and bad judging. I’ve watched both,” he says. “The good judging doesn’t get rewarded. No one sits down and says, ‘Let’s give it up for the judges,’ when it’s right, but when they get it wrong they’re hated. It’s a tough gig but I think they should only give that gig to people that have trained. It’s really that simple.

“I’m not saying having trained qualifies you to be a judge, but when you get guys that are trained it’s going to make it much easier to recognize stuff on the ground, knowing what’s effective, knowing positions and all that stuff. If you don’t train I don’t think you really have a grip of what you’re talking about… It’s like me talking about childbirth. I’ve been there twice, I’ve seen it, but am I gonna pretend I know what that feels like?

“I feel that way when it comes to martial arts, if you’re not a martial artist and haven’t put a substantial part of your life into martial arts, I don’t think you should be allowed to judge them. It’s silly. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a sacred thing – guys training every day for six to eight weeks, eating tiny portions all day, drinking gallons of water all day and then you’re gonna f**k it all up with bad judging? You’re ruining what should be a sacred event; these guys are trying to find out what they are made of in front of millions of people.

“If they are not legitimately qualified, unless you can do it, it’s like me teaching you a bunch of words but you not knowing how to make sentences. They haven’t practiced, been kicked, been strangled, got out of something. How are they going to understand that? There’s so much that’s subjective. What’s more important? A leg kick or a jab? I think you have to have a background in martial arts to judge martial arts.

“Doc Hamilton has a terrific idea with the half-point. It’s a better system, I believe, than what they use right now. I’ve had some arguments with good judges but they judge by the rules as they see fit and I agree, the tools they’ve been given are lacking. But it’s difficult. It’s difficult to find good judges and referees.

“I think it would be good, and a good thing, to keep ex-fighters in the loop… I’m sure if Rich Franklin was to become a referee people would go crazy for him. The whole sport is still growing and there are little bumps along the way.”

He is the fans’ voice, and he is loved by the old school for that. There is an honesty about his involvement, through MMA’s sub-culture years, the underground, and now into the glaring spotlight of the mainstream on Fox.

“There are people we know are just involved because they want to be a sports commentators and it could have been any sport. I had no aspirations to be a sports commentator. It was Dana [White] who talked me into it. In ‘97 I was doing post-fight interviews; commentary is far more difficult,” Joe says.

“The fans know what comes out of Dana’s mouth is the truth, what he’s thinking. If he tells you to go f**k yourself it’s because he’s thinking, ‘Go f**k yourself.’ When we first started out, we tried to think what would be the best thing for the UFC… If you had a billion dollars what would you do with it? And what we said was we needed some really rich dudes who are super-fans, guys who were huge fans of MMA. And who the f**k expected that would ever actually happen?

“When the Fertitas came along it was almost like divine intervention. $44 million from one family. That’s serious money. They were $44 million down the hole. It would have cost $80 million to get it back. It’s insane. And they’re paying fighters and production – there’s very few who would have gone down that road. For me, who was part of [previous owners] SEG, and they treated me great, they were very nice people, but the level and scale in comparison is imaginably vast; an uncrossable chasm. The UFC has hundreds of employees. It’s a gigantic sports empire now and it came out of martial arts.”

And his own job? “My job is to tell the truth, to commentate on something. And if there’s an unfortunate call that’s my job to say so.” Like asking Mario Yamasaki to explain his disqualification of Erick Silva? “Some people said it was unprofessional, how is that unprofessional? If I’m a commentator my job is to comment on things no matter if I agree or not. It was an unfortunate call. Refs usually get attention when they f**k up and I think Mario maybe didn’t have a good vantage point and maybe one or two of those strikes did go astray… That happens in a lot of fights – not just ones he referees, but to a lot of people. Sometimes there’s strikes to the back of the head and it doesn’t necessarily mean the fighter is trying to do that. He’s trying to win. 

“Sometimes they have a brief window and they hop on that. There’s that situation, and there’s also times where they’re intentionally targeting the back of the head and that’s a problem and I totally agree with making sure they don’t get to do that. The rules are pretty clear, whether or not you agree with science regarding hits to the back of the head, and it seems pretty clear to me, but there’s always going to be some people who want to go old-school elbows to the back of the head, vale tudo style.”

Silence for a second… He digresses. “Do you remember when Renzo Gracie fought that judo guy, in World Combat or something? He was the s**t! That guy wouldn’t stop f**king with him, so when he got him on his back he elbowed the back of his head. But I don’t think Erick Silva was trying to do that, that’s a sideways move to try and get at the guy’s face…”

There is no pause for thought, however, when Rogan is asked the greatest change he would bring in concerning the running of MMA. “I think it should be run by fans and people that can do their job very professionally. I think there are enough people that are fans of the sport. That would be an ideal situation.

“Sometimes, I hear fighters aren’t being respected and one of the reasons is the people they are communicating with have no respect and I think the whole thing could be balanced out. You need to be able to understand it, and the only way to understand it is to be trained in it.

“People think they understand boxing, but they’ve never been hit in the face. I’ve heard people saying that leg kicks don’t win fights… That s**t might stop your heart, man! You gotta respect that s**t.

“The UFC has done a great job of putting the sport in different states and helping get it passed through state commissions. That alone is enormous for the sport. And when I meet a guy who’s been a state champion wrestler on a commission, I love that. Or when I go to Boston, and one of the guys on the commission is Joe Esposito, a lifelong martial artist, that’s beautiful. These people should be running this.

“The martial arts community as a whole, we understand there’s different kinds of competition, the mental state fighters have to be in to make weight over days. There’s some amazing s**t they have to go through. The mental fortitude these guys have to have when they’re competing, a boxer wouldn’t understand, or the work ethic of a wrestler. People that understand that. 

“I’ve always said there’s a pyramid of techniques in MMA, and the bottom of that is wrestling. You have to have wrestling or some form of grappling. It might not necessarily have to be wrestling, it could be judo. Look at Karo Parisyan, or Ronda Rousey. You can take a guy down with judo and the thing is someone has to tie up with you.”

Rogan is perfectly placed to discuss the downside of the UFC going mainstream. Even him… He admits that he would wear a tie “if I had to, but I’d still say the same s**t.” Then he settles on shirt, waistcoat, and “a pocket watch, old-school style.”

He adds: “Seriously, there’s going to be some growing pains. I think there’s probably going to be some criticism; all types of people like all types of things. You’ve got the UFC fans who are just UFC fans, but then you’ll have the people who are flipping through channels now and they find it on Fox and they’re gonna have a different take on things, different ways of looking at stuff. Regular people are going to be like, ‘What is this? This is barbaric.’

“My point is there’ll always be people who don’t like boxing, who don’t like martial arts and think it’s horrible and violent and kids will be using it at school, and they won’t have competed or know the true essence of it. Outside of war there’s nothing scarier than MMA. People don’t understand that this is a test of will and strength and technique and preparation. It’s the human pushed to his limitations in hand-to-hand combat.

 “This is America, you should be able to do what you want to do. If you make a TV show and a lot of people watch it then it’s gonna be successful and then it’s good; the market decides. What’s happening is people are tuning in like crazy. You can watch fights all the time – there’s a lot of fights going on now.”

We’ve been on the go for two hours… and Rogan is just warming up. His limbs are loose, and his mind is running free. We depart where we began, having completed the circle. “I play high-level pool. When you play really well and your body’s in tune there’s a deep sense of accomplishment. You use your mind and control your body with your mind. You aim with your hand but you control it with your mind. Your focus, you can’t even be slightly off, and when it is on, that ball will slap in the pocket with a satisfying slap. But the average person most likely won’t figure out how to do it, but when you do you elevate your character.

“There’s a great quote I like from a samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings. I think when you get really good at anything you understand what it’s like to excel and see things to their highest potential. Musashi wrote that once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things.” Rogan is well on the way…

Joe Rogan on... nootropics

“There is a supplement company that I have a piece of which supply nootropics. They’re vitamins that are shown to enhance brain function and smooth your ability to make thoughts and sentences. It’s something I’ve been taking for years,” says Rogan. 

“I started when I met this guy called Bill Romanowski, a former American football player who suffered a bunch of injuries and was having problems. He got involved in brain nutrition and vitamins and he discovered Neuro1. Neuro1 is a really potent blend of nootropics that he mixed together for his own personal use and then he started selling them. 

“I started taking them and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really interesting.’ So I started Googling nootropics and I bought stuff from Amazon. One of the guys I was in business with already was involved in the vitamin business so we started talking about putting together some form of nootropic and selling it through my website. We have something called cordyceps mushroom, which is a nutritional mushroom that’s been shown to help the body’s ability to process oxygen and has a lot of B12 in it. It’s a really good endurance exercise vitamin supplement.

“We have another one called ShroomTech Immune which helps boost the immune system. And another one called New Mood that is a 5-HTP supplement that helps your body produce serotonin, which makes you feel better and kind of has a delayed effect. I’m really fascinated by things that you can do to make your body feel better or make your brain work.” 

Joe Rogan on... marijuana

“It has been passed in California. If you were on Adderall for attention deficit disorder – legitimately – you can’t compete in MMA and you would have to wean yourself off it. When it comes to marijuana, it’s a medicine as much as Percocet, a herbal remedy. So the question is: does it aid performance? And what do they do to monitor the levels? Someone who smokes it for medicinal purposes like Nick Diaz does it for anxiety and has a medical prescription. He only tested for metabolites, which means he had it many days earlier, and it was not psychoactive. That’s where I think it gets squirrely. I don’t think you should be able to get high and then fight. Some people can’t sleep without it and the difference between sleeping with that and something like Ambien is that you can wake up from marijuana, whereas with a sleeping pill people wake up and it’s like they are still drugged.”

Joe Rogan on... his hero

“It’s Randy Couture. He’s my hero. The guy’s a f**kin’ savage. He was one of the most incredible guys. I have a picture up in my gym of him beating up Gabriel Gonzaga with his broken arm. He was an animal and never got injured and never pulled out of a fight – which is really incredible when you think about that… The guy fought for how many years? That’s spectacular, everyone gets hurt but that guy is just an animal… Calling him ‘The Natural’ is perfect. Never looks nervous, always fights to the best of his ability, deep into his 40s… And who the f**k else can pull off wearing a scarf, man? A white guy from Oregon but he can pull that s**t off…”

Joe Rogan on... dinner for four

“So, I’m having a dinner party, and I’m inviting four people. Nikola Tesla… Bruce Lee… Carl Sagan and JFK. Can you imagine that? I would just let everybody talk and ask questions. That’s the greatest dinner party of all time. Wait a minute… we need a black guy. Sugar Ray Robinson. I would love to have a perspective of a young guy in the middle of the worst case of racism. It must have been intense back then, people had white-people faucets and black-people faucets.”