There is an old adage which states “out of adversity comes opportunity.” Jon Lemke (3-1) may have faced more adversity in his formative years than most people face in an entire lifetime. His faith and strong will have allowed him to find opportunity time and again in both his personal and professional life. Currently signed to New England Fights Mixed Martial Arts (NEF MMA), Lemke will compete at the fight promotion’s May 10, 2014 “NEF XIII” event scheduled to take place in Lewiston, Maine. Recently, Lemke was a guest on the NEF Podcast hosted by NEF MMA co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson.
Over the course of the interview, Lemke spoke very candidly on his personal demons and struggles. His early life was tumultuous. Growing up with an abusive father who was later murdered, Lemke found himself in trouble on a regular basis in his native Wisconsin. He gained a reputation as a street fighter which, in turn, earned him a lengthy criminal record. Throughout his time in college, his time with the Marines and after, Lemke admittedly lived a wild life fueled by alcohol and violence. He credits his faith and his Team Irish coaches and teammates with turning his life around.
“2003 was the year that the Lord was really trying to get a hold of my life,” recalled Lemke. “That year I got a DUI. I ended up getting charged with felony assault and battery for a fight… for breaking someone’s jaw. Then I got charged, I ended up actually burning down half my house, I got charged with negligent handling of burning material. Through that whole thing, I ended up having to file for bankruptcy… That was an eye opening year for me to say the least.”
It was that same year that he met his wife and moved to Maine. Just when it seemed like things were looking up, Lemke would face more hardship. By 2008 the couple would be divorced after only five years of marriage.
“I went into a really, really deep depression,” remembers Lemke. “That same year… I blew out my knee… I was just completely broken mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I didn’t have anything that I wanted to live for.”
Months later, in April 2009, Lemke would join Team Irish in Brewer, Maine. He had finally found his calling in the fight game. After going undefeated as an amateur in MMA, Lemke would turn professional as part of the NEF MMA roster. He won his first three pro fights in a row, including a victory over Jesse Erickson (2-2) at NEF MMA’s co-promotion with Bellator in March 2013. Lemke would not taste defeat until his loss at “NEF VIII: Nation’s Collide” to Matt DesRoches (5-0) in a heavier weight class than the 155-pound lightweight division Lemke had previously competed in. Still, Lemke was regarded as the number-one contender to the vacant Maine State Lightweight Title when he was signed to meet John Ortolani (7-9) to fill the championship. The bout was scheduled to take place at “NEF X” in the fall of 2013. The fight never happened as Lemke, unable to make weight, decided to pull out of the contest just hours before the event weigh-in.
“When I got into fighting, got into MMA, that was the only thing I wanted to do,” Lemke continued. “I started out on quite a tear. I was 5-0 as an amateur… September 8, 2013 I had fulfilled my dream. I had my first pro title fight… That’s all I wanted – to represent the state of Maine, to be the Maine State Lightweight champ.”
Lemke still had many obstacles to overcome. A year earlier, a trainer who Lemke had considered to be like a father had left the Team Irish gym. Lemke would also suffer shoulder issues throughout the year. Then, prior to the title fight, Team Irish owner and coach Marcus Davis (22-11) was training in Boston for a Bellator fight, leaving Lemke to run most of his fight camp on his own. Before he left, Davis had offered to do anything and everything in his power to provide Lemke with the best fight camp he possibly could. Lemke is the first to admit making a huge mistake by not taking Davis up on that offer. Although Davis would return a week before the fight to finish Jon’s camp, things did not get any easier for Lemke.
“Fight week, I had a bad weight cut,” said Lemke. “I couldn’t make weight. My body just shut down… On the drive down (to weigh-ins), I just couldn’t face everyone. I couldn’t face Marcus… I couldn’t face the guys on the team… Driving down, I had a breakdown. I had a panic attack… I just couldn’t go through with it.”
Given the setback, Lemke has vowed to keep moving forward and getting himself back into the title picture. He will have his opportunity for redemption when he meets Devin Powell (2-1) on May 10 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine. More than anything, Lemke credits his Christian faith with driving him to the future and back to the top of the sport.
“There is life after death,” Lemke stated firmly. “For me, MMA, this is what I love to do. I love to fight… For me, it’s about using all the talents, the abilities, the drives and the passions the good Lord has blessed me with.”
Lemke then spoke on the rivalry between Team Irish and its cross-town rival Young’s MMA. A very public dispute had occurred between Lemke and Young’s team member, and current Maine State Featherweight Champion, Ray Wood (4-0) on the NEF MMA Facebook page. While Wood and Lemke were both posting to support their teammates, Ryan Sanders (6-4) and Marcus Davis respectively, in the days leading up to the highly-publicized Sanders-Davis fight, things got quite heated and personal between Wood and Lemke. Many fans, upon seeing the argument, had called for a bout to be signed between the two.
“Ray is a good person, a better man, and a phenomenal athlete,” said Lemke. “Both of us got a little caught up in the pre-fight banter between Marcus and Ryan. He made some comments. I made some comments back… Team Irish has nothing but respect for Young’s MMA. It is what it is.”
When asked what his goals are for the future, Lemke is very clear.
“I had an opportunity with Bellator,” Lemke recalls. “After that Bellator fight, I still had two fights left with them on my contract, but for me it was more important to take care of business at home… To fight for the NEF Lightweight Title again, that is my first and immediate goal.”
You can listen to the full podcast at www.NewEnglandFights.com/Podcasts/.