On paper, Tait Fletcher could be a character out of one of Raymond Chandler’s detective novels. His resume, in brief: ex-pro MMA fighter, ex-bodyguard for UFC announcer Joe Rogan, Hollywood actor/stuntman on films like The Avengers and Thor and TV shows like the last season of Breaking Bad (I begged him not to give me any spoilers, and he assured me there was no danger since the show is adept at keeping even the cast in the dark). 8-year-old me would be envious and awestruck; right-now me is extremely envious and awestruck. I spoke with Tait to find out exactly how his career path has taken him from UFC welterweight contender Carlos Condit to Jennifer Aniston and all points in between.
Fightland: How did you get started in martial arts?
Tait Fletcher: I met Arlan Sanford, a founding member of Dog Brothers Martial Arts, and started swinging sticks with him. I found jiu-jitsu, met Greg Jackson, and started competing a lot. I look at that as a time when I really had a purpose and a focus for the first time. I started looking for jobs that would suit my training; my whole life was about training. And so I got a job at a nightclub, and I started bouncing. That club turned into a bigger club and I started running the security team. This led to running security teams for clubs around town. I could take weekends off to compete, and I didn’t work during the day, so I was able to train twice a day. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was beginning to start cutting out all the obstacles — the reasons why I couldn’t do something — and focusing on why I could perform in that endeavor. For me to become successful in submission grappling, competing with some of the highest-level dudes in the world, and medal in those tournaments, I’ve shaped my life around that. That what mattered to me. I’ve formed my life around jiu-jitsu, around scrapping.
How did this lead you to movie work?
I worked in the film industry for a month because [rapper] Master P’s dudes came into my club and said, “Hey, we’re looking for some big white boys for this prison film.” And me and a buddy of mine ended up getting SAG cards out of it. And the guys who were the stunt coordinators said, “You ought to do this, come out, you can stay at my house, get some work in LA.” I thought, “This is far-fetched. I’m a poor kid from Michigan, I’ve got this job where I can train right now, my life is set up.” So I put that suggestion on the back burner.
Fighting was really my focus. I’d gotten to be well known around the area. There was a handful of us -- Floyd Sword was the first one, out of Four Corners [In Farmington, New Mexico], and he had a buddy Joey Villasenor who moved down to Albuquerque. So it was Joey, Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine, Carlos Condit, and me who were on the frontier, were sort of the trailblazers for MMA in New Mexico. I had a fight out there, and the day after the fight a movie I was working on was moving to LA. My girlfriend and I finally decided to move out there.
And did things snowball from there?
I wound up training at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu with Eddie Bravo, and Joe Rogan mentioned that he had some bodyguard work I could do. We had all become good friends rolling at Eddie’s, and Joe needed somebody to go around with him because the UFC was gaining steam and there were more and more knuckleheads around; even just getting into the restaurant or the venue was becoming an arduous task without somebody to kind of buffer between him and fans, so I became that guy. He and I and Eddie traveled around everywhere. I traveled with him doing comedy, along with one of the guys that I was in The Longest Yard with, Joey Diaz, was around with us all the time too. This whole world of comedy and fighting and bodyguard work for me all kind of merged into one. I did The Ultimate Fighter and had a few fights after that, and I started getting to a point where I’d see dudes who’d been fighting too long, and I thought, “I don’t want to be one of those guys.” It wasn’t what I wanted.
I started really thinking about retirement, about the longevity of my physicality and my intellectual health. I’ve been knocked out a few times, and there’s a lot of damage that goes on; it’s real damage. Nobody really likes to talk about it a whole lot, but you start to see guys that’ve gotten clipped over and over again, and I went to the guys in my gym in Santa Fe to sit down and talk about it, and we talked about how hard of a segue it is, you know? It’s like once you retire, Who are you now?
So you were ready to move on?
I just got really cerebral about it. I saw guys who’d just take fights no matter what and knew that I didn’t want to do that. My meditations started looking towards that, and I started putting that out in the world, and a guy walked into a jiu-jitsu class I was teaching, and he, again, changed my life. He put me on a movie he was doing [as a stuntman], and I worked for him for a few weeks on that job, and then I got taken to Detroit to work on Red Dawn for a while, and I started meeting other dudes and getting other jobs, and I thought, “This could be my segue out of fighting.” I stopped doing bodyguard work, and then I went full on into the stunt world. And then after that the question became “Are you only a stuntman? You better work on your acting chops, because you’re the size of a fucking gorilla, and there’s no leading dudes in Hollywood that need you to double them cause they’re all five-foot-six.” So I started getting specialized jobs as a bad guy. I was just on this last movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a mercenary because the director liked my look. I started working on my acting more, and then I got an acting role with Jennifer Aniston in this film We're the Millers that’ll be out next summer or something.
What lessons you've learned in the gym have you been able to apply to your life outside the gym?
There are very few douchebags in jiu-jitsu. The ego can’t handle it. When you put yourself at risk of being dominated in the most primal way, to the point where you have to submit to somebody, even if there’s a chance that that might happen, you’ve got to really get your head right. You’ve got to be a pretty cool guy, with the attitude that "I’m not here to win, I’m just here to learn." I never understood the saying "When everybody does better, everybody does better” until I put it through the prism of jiu-jitsu. And when I put it in that context, it makes sense. If I’m good, and I’m teaching you and I just triangle you every time and never teach you the setups, but I just kill you every time, then I’m never going to get better. But if I teach you my setups and you block my setups, well, now I have to grow, and I have to get out of my comfort zone, and I have to do something new and different that I’m not used to doing. So I have to have you get better, I must have you get better, in order for me to succeed. That’s a beautiful way to live. That’s a nice game to play.
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