Long regarded as Europe’s top male BJJ competitor, Tommy Langaker is now just a few short weeks away from the most important match of his illustrious career.
On June 9 in the co-main event of ONE Fight Night 11: Eersel vs. Menshikov on Prime Video, the Norwegian black belt challenges 20-year-old phenom Kade Ruotolo for the latter’s ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Title.
The highly anticipated clash goes down live at the iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, and will be Langaker’s third appearance in ONE Championship.
Naturally, ONE’s global fan base is dying to know more about the 29-year-old submission ace who blazed his way to a World Title shot against the planet’s top pound-for-pound grappler.
A Start In Traditional Jiu-Jitsu
Growing up in the coastal town of Haugesund, Norway, Langaker developed both toughness and an interest in hand-to-hand combat at an early age, thanks to his status as the youngest of three energetic brothers.
He told ONEFC.com:
“I grew up with two brothers, so I guess that’s how I started getting into the martial art life. [I was] always getting beat up a little bit.”
With plenty of fraternal “love” coming his way, the young Norwegian soon took up the art of traditional jiu-jitsu, competing around Europe in full-contact tournaments.
Unlike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is practiced today as a strictly grappling art, traditional jiu-jitsu blends together striking techniques from karate, throws and takedowns from judo, and some ground techniques.
While he would eventually transition to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu once that became available to him, Langaker credits his early competition experience in traditional jiu-jitsu for the steely mindset he’s displayed in high-stakes matches throughout his professional career.
“I was lucky to have very supportive parents helping me and supporting my interest in martial arts. I managed to go on a national team there. Since I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so late, part of my life where I traveled a lot and did traditional jiu-jitsu and competition, I got the edge of getting [rid of] all those nerves. I know how to handle the competition.”
Finding His Calling In BJJ
When he was 17, BJJ finally arrived in Haugesund, and the athletically gifted Langaker was immediately hooked.
Just like he had with traditional jiu-jitsu, he competed as frequently as he could around Europe, constantly searching for a new challenge. But at his earliest possible opportunity, Langaker and fellow Norwegian up-and-comer Espen Mathiesen visited the world-renowned Art of Jiu Jitsu Academy in Costa Mesa, California.
That trip would be a pivotal moment in the budding grappler’s career, proving to him that he belonged among the planet’s top BJJ competitors.
“We went to [Art of Jiu Jitsu Academy] for three months. It blew our minds, because we came there knowing we were decent, and we [wanted] to see where we [were] in the [grappling] world.
“And then it turned out, our level was to be lined with them. That really ignited that self-belief part for us. We could hang with all these guys that [were] doing it full time.”
Loaded with confidence and determined to make a life as a professional grappler, Langaker returned to Norway where he began training in earnest, hoping to build an elite BJJ scene in his country from the ground up.
Looking back on that time, he says his one-track mind and genuine love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu carried him to success no matter what obstacles he faced.
“I’m a samurai when it comes to it. I do it because I really, really, really, really love this sport. And this is all I want to do. This is my calling. So I would just mindlessly go — never a thought about anything like economics. It [didn’t] matter, it [would] all solve itself. I just pursued it.”
Like countless other aspiring professional grapplers, Langaker struggled to make ends meet early in his career.
Despite those financial challenges, his steadfast determination helped him power through those tough times.
“As I said, I’ve just been very stubborn in what I do. So I put my training and my passion in front of everything else. I think that’s the biggest adversity when it comes to making this life in jiu-jitsu, because there’s very little income, especially in the early career. And if you want to catch up with the rest, you have to invest so much of your time.”
Barely making any money and trying to build the Norwegian BJJ scene from nothing, Langaker never once considered quitting.
Some might wonder why. But for Langaker, it’s simple:
“I’m doing it because I always compare it to if you’re a good carpenter. If you have a nice house, you want to show it off if you’re doing good work. I’m very proud of my jiu-jitsu. And I know my house is the best house, and I’ll be there if somebody has anything better. But I’m going to go in there, and I believe my jiu-jitsu is always going to be superior.”
Bonuses Under The Bright Lights
Langaker has now put on a pair of stunning performances in ONE – first earning an electrifying decision over Renato Canuto and then taking out Sambo World Champion Uali Kurzhev by heel hook submission.
Each of those victories earned him a US$50,000 performance bonus from ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong.
From barely scraping by as he built his name as Europe’s top BJJ athlete to thriving as a ONE superstar about to challenge for a World Title, Langaker couldn’t be happier.
“I feel great. It’s amazing. Finally, I’m secure — everything is. I’m being smart with my money, and I keep trying to build up my brand.”
Unburdened by any financial worries, the Norwegian can now put his one-track mind to good use as he elevates his venomous submission game to new levels, ready to take on the world’s best in Ruotolo.
“It just made it a lot easier now as it’s more stable. And then again, it makes it much easier to focus even more. Now, it’s nothing. It’s just pure laser focus.”