Known for his volatile antics on the popular MTV show The Hills, reality TV figure Spencer Pratt is actually an avid jiujiteiro who has competed, at times successfully, in prestigious tournaments. I reached out to Spencer to chat about his jiu-jitsu journey, and he took some time to talk about his experience on and off the mat.
“When I was 15, my next door neighbor — shout out, Susie Taylor — was dating this Brazilian guy who, I didn’t know who he was, and all of a sudden, he did some ninja action on me. Next thing you know, I’m begging for mercy. I thought I was a pretty tough soccer player, athlete. I definitely didn’t think I was a baby, and all of a sudden I was just wrapped up in all of this. He was smaller than me and I was like, ‘What is this?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s my family’s art. Come to my house tomorrow and I’ll teach you.’
So I have my mom drop me off at his house in the Palisades and it ends up this is Rockson Gracie. And I’m having my first lesson in jiu-jitsu with Rockson as a purple belt with Rickson Gracie there overseeing it as Rockson’s learning how to teach a private with me. It was all overwhelming. And I remember getting in the car with my mom and I was like, ‘I just wish I could understand his dad a little bit more,’ and now it’s just so funny to me.
I did privates with Rockson, but I joined Rickson’s academy in the Palisades. I got a bunch of my close friends who’ve stuck with it way more seriously when I got into TV. My buddy Eric Soderbergh is one of Rickson’s top black belts. Eric was way bigger, and I armbarred him, or choked him out, or whatever I did to him. And next thing you know, he’s like, ‘What is this? I want to do this.’ And so I got him into it, which is so funny that I created a monster.”
Pratt has since trained with high-level jiujiteiros for many years and holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But like many, he has taken time off throughout his journey.
“I ended up selling a TV show to Fox, which was the Princes of Malibu, when I was around 20 or 21. I moved in with Brody Jenner and he was super anti-jiu-jitsu. Because he didn’t like that, I was already way ahead of him. And he was like, ‘No we’re going to do boxing.’ So I was like, ‘Whatever. I’m living in your $40,000,000 mansion and we’re making a TV show. I can come back to jiu-jitsu. I’m down to do boxing.’ He was the boss.
And then I was managing King Kevin Casey, who was one of Rickson’s top black belts, for his fight career for Strikeforce. I had mats at the house, but I was so obsessed with just being rich and famous that I definitely was not committed to the level that I should’ve been. So I would train with Kevin — King Kevin — excuse me. I had a whole layout of mats in my courtyard, but it’s pretty gnarly going against him. So it’s not something I was into. I was still kind of like, ‘Why would I do this when I could get a massage?’
Rickson was coming over to hang out at my house probably once a week at this point because we just reconnected. I was doing a documentary on him and mainly Kron (which I funded but it never surfaced because they wanted to keep the tapes and, I don’t know, they didn’t want to do anything with it after). I did invest a quarter of a million into Kron and Rickson, and I had a camera crew follow Kron all around Europe and him and Rickson in Brazil, and going and being with Helio at the ranch, all this stuff. Kron has all the tapes, so maybe one day he’ll want to edit it and I’ll get my credit.”
Amazingly, Rickson Gracie and his legendary group of fighters aren’t the only high-level competitors that Spencer has spent extensive time working with, but not before he took another break from training.
“I pretty much lost the plot when The Hills got canceled. We tried to move to Costa Rica and that didn’t work out. So then we moved to Santa Barbara and I got, I don’t want to say depressed, but I turned into a pie addict and I gained weight. I got up to around 225 pounds just eating Mexican food all day long and eating pies.
I would say in 2013-ish, right when I finished going back to college, I was commuting from Santa Barbara to USC. I met these two brothers that worked in my favorite Mexican restaurant (A shout-out Matt and Ito. They’re tough young guys.), and I was like, ‘You two would be so good at jiu-jitsu.’ I’d always heard about Bill Cooper and Jeff Glover growing up from my buddies because they were the top guys. I knew the names and I knew Franginha because of their names. I told the brothers they should go train with Fraginha.
About a month or two later I see them, they’re all yoked up, just totally different energy. And they’re like, ‘Man, we’re training at Paragon. It’s incredible. Thank you so much.’ I looked to my wife and I was like, ‘How am I telling these guys to go train and my b*tch ass can’t even go train?’ So I started doing a private every day with Franginha and then a private with Bill Cooper, and just got all the way fully immersed back in the game. I definitely hit some of the morning classes and a couple of classes. But the way my brain works — I think it’s because I have ADHD — I just need somebody to just really focus on me and show me things for me. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot in the class, but in my privates, I’m just rolling hardcore for an hour.
I couldn’t imagine getting more out of brawling with BTG (Bill Cooper) for an hour and a half and having him give me direct instruction. It’s just such a different level. Obviously, it’s a blessing and a miracle that I can afford it. And I was spoiled. The other way makes champions, too, and not everyone gets to do that style. But for me it, it worked great. And in my experience also, when I go with guys at my same level, sometimes maybe it won’t be technique, just more like wrastlin’. It turns into, ‘Why don’t we just wrestle?’ whereas if you train with elite level people, you’re forced to just use the technique or at least try to use perfect technique. You’re only watching and feeling technique and it’s not just ‘I’m stronger than you, I’m bigger than you, I’m tougher than you.’ Eventually I got up to brown belt under Franginha.”
At this point, Spencer trains primarily with Edwin Najmi, one of Gracie Barra’s top competitors. Considering his lengthy time working in show business as a sort of entertainer, I was interested in Spencer’s thoughts on the state of competitive grappling with constantly emerging super fights and promotions.
“First thing is people need to stop bootlegging and IG-live-ing, sharing illegal clips. They’re only hurting their own sport. I paid for FloGrappling, I buy every PPV, obviously I have money, but get together with a couple of your buddies. You can split the money. That’s a major thing that’s affecting views. I’m saying the first step is to get more money from advertising. They need more views, but the views are all down because everyone is just Facebook live-ing things and stealing it. That’s just the base you can fix right there and increase your ad revenue for most of these events.
Then in the bigger picture, you need to get celebrities like Charlie Hunnam and Ashton Kutcher to go head to head. These guys that train need to just step it up and volunteer. There’s enough guys that there should at least be a couple of super fights with some actual name-brand celebrities. Even if it were lower end jiu-jitsu. I would definitely pay to watch Ashton Kutcher and Charlie Hunnam go at it for ten minutes. Definitely anyone that trains jiu-jitsu that’s famous needs to compete in an event against another famous person. That’ll get the TMZs.
But to get the sport bigger, that’s been stumping me for a solid four years because I’ve been trying to figure out how I can actually capitalize. It’s just so challenging because unless you train jiu-jitsu, it’s a hard thing. Even the UFC’s numbers are down, and these guys are trained in everything and beating each other up. So it’s hard to get people who don’t train jiu-jitsu to want to watch — as my non jiu-jitsu friends would say — ‘guys wrestling around in robes or whatever.’
I see a lot of clips nowadays that are getting way more action-packed — guys like Edwin Najmi that the competitors need to fight to win, and not fight to win by points. That’ll make the sport if everyone’s going for submissions and if, somehow, submissions become more important in the rule set than just winning by points or if you get more advantages for a real submission attempt. And there are guys like Eddie Bravo trying to figure that out. I’m really into jiu-jitsu, so I’m fine with watching somebody win by some advantages, because it’s hard to get advantages. But the difference when you watch these competitions where the guys can win $40k, you see a different style of fighting. If that kind of fighting is on the weekends at these IBJJF Opens or if everyone just starts competing like there’s $40k on the line, we’re going to get way more highlight clips. Submissions are definitely going to be the key to opening the audience.
The level (I feel like at least since I’ve been a fan) is getting more elite every year, and you watch these young guys coming up at Mendes Brothers’ academy, and they all look awesome! I think ten years from now, there’s going to be so much more submission content. I wish I had the answer to that because I put a lot of time, money, and energy into jiu-jitsu.”
You can follow Spencer on Instagram at @spencerpratt.