FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Former Nitro singer Jim Gillette, now happily divorced from Lita Ford, takes out aggressions as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion
Long Beach, CALIFORNIA — He was once known as the prince of glam back in the day as the lead singer of rock band Nitro, then he was known as the beleaguered former husband to wild rocker Lita Ford, and now Jim Gillette is fighting a new fight — and doing quite well at it.
Gillette, 48, was recently crowned Masters champion at the annual World Jiu Jitsu championships in Long Beach. His 18-year-old son, James, also competed in the open division, and another son, Rocco, 14, is also a Jiu Jitsu black belt and an up-and-comer at the junior level.
Meanwhile, Metal Sludge has some moves, too, nd we managed to pin down Gillette for an exclusive interview — and yes, we have some Lita questions for him — so without further ado, here we go.
METAL SLUDGE: You’ve gone from glam rocker to martial arts champion. What do you think of all this?
JIM GILLETTE: It’s not a big deal. I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s a way of testing your skills against other guys, and I was lucky enough to come out on top.
GILLETTE: Ouch. You know, for anybody that goes from rags to riches, I don’t know how they keep that eye of he tiger, how they stay hungry. I mean, how hungry can you be when you have millions of dollars instead of no longer having to live out of your van? I hope she trains harder and does better next time.
She never got that armlock. Her armlock always wins.
GILLETTE: Yeah, you know, she has been on top, so dominant, almost like she wasn’t prepared to have someone stand up and bully her. She’s still a great fighter. People are quick to jump on the bandwagon and to jump OFF the bandwagon. She’ll come back stronger.
GILLETTE: I wouldn’t want to bet on that one. If I was forced to, I’d bet on Ronda.
You’ve got to two sons that are really good in martial arts, too.
GILLETTE: Yes. There is James, who is 18, and he actually got a world title when he was 16 o 17, and now he is competing against full-grown men for the first time. There is a lot more pressure. It’s kind of like rock and roll. You can’t expect to headline the Coliseum on your sixth or seventh gig. You need like 100 under your belt to get to that level, and in James’ case, not six or seven tournaments. But my son, he goes up against UFC fighters in the gym, and he does very well.
And the little one, he’s 14, right?
GILLETTE: Rocco. He’s amazing. He started when he was two years old, so he has an insane pedigree starting down from Helio Gracie, who had trained Royce Gracie, his son.
Editors Notes: Below are videos of Rocco at age 7 training and his first ever amateur boxing match at age 8.
Completely off the beaten path of Jiu Jitsu training Rocco is also an expert level yo-yo enthusiast. See video below.
So you’re 267 pounds now, a lot bigger than you were when you were the singer for Nitro.
GILLETTE: That’s true. When I was in Nitro, I weighed like 200 pounds when I was 21 or 22. Back then, I had a 10 1/2 shoe, and now it’s 13 extra-wide, so I grew a bit in my mid-20s. I know it’s strange, but I did. James, he is 18, and he’s like 6-2, 190, but he’s going to be a heavyweight. He has a long way to go.
GILLETTE: That’s true, I haven’t, but the way you do that is you don’t get into any street fights in the first place. Maybe years ago, but not in a long time. I don’t think too many people want to fight me in a street fight. I’m 267 pounds, and there aren’t too many as ugly as me and covered in tattoos, so I’m not a target.
Do you miss rock and roll?
GILLETTE: No, not really. It was a great time, and I look back with fondness and good memories. Back then, rock and roll was a way of life. Now it’s MMA and jiu jitsu. It’s not about screaming into a microphone and rocking out and all that crazy stuff when I didn’t eat healthy or work out. Now it’s a whole different thing.
I have to ask some questions about Lita Ford. This is Metal Sludge, after all.
GILLETTE: That’s OK.
You’re officially divorced?
GILLETTE: Yes, going on two years.
You know, we’ve seen and heard about all the crazy stuff, the rumors and allegations. I just want to hear it from you.
GILLETTE: Well, I have full legal and physical custody of our children, and if that doesn’t tell you what’s gone on, nothing will.
Can you be more specific about what exactly the problem is? Violence? Drugs, too many pills?
GILLETTE: I’ll just say that a lot of people have problems, and you do the best you can to deal with them and to get on with your life. I do want to say that I wish her all the best.
Usually it’s the mom that gets custody, not the father.
You had better hair than Lita, too.
GILLETTE: My hair was a lot longer.
Yeah, but Lita Ford did have nice hair, too, so it’s significiant.
So, what’s your story now? Are you dating again, or have you been scarred forever?
GILLETTE: I do have a lady.
Oh? What’s she like?
GILLETTE: She’s just a great girl. She is very normal. Not crazy.
I guess in some ways, your marriage to Lita Ford fullfilled a lot of male fantasies. You married a beautiful millionaire rock star and moved to the Caribbean.
GILLETTE: Millionaire who?
She wasn’t a millionaire? I thought Lita Ford was pretty big.
GILLETTE: She certainly wasn’t a millionaire.
Well, she was famous.
GILLETTE: Yes, she was definitely famous.
Jim, Rocco and James Gillette filming with four-time Emmy winners Peter
Brennan and Lisa Lew for P&L Media in Los Angeles
What was it like living in the Caribbean?
GILLETTE: We had moved to an island called Turks and Caicos. The boys, they loved it there. They had a great time. I eventually did a lot of business there and developed like 400 acres on the islands, all these roads and utilities.
GILLETTE: No, she wasn’t recognized.
Maybe she went stir crazy, like island fever.
GILLETTE: I don’t know what was going through her mind.
And just for the record, there will be no official Nitro comeback?
GILLETTE: No, there is no reason. That’s the past. We’ve got plenty of stuff going on without it.
You’re the answer to the trivia question: Whom did Stevie Rachelle replace in Tuff?
GILLETTE: There was never any animosity or bad blood. I quit Tuff and just wanted to do something in a different vein, and when they got Stevie, I always thought that was cool. I think he’s great. He’s not one of those rock and roll tragedies, strung out on drugs. We have mutual respect for each other, and we’re very good friends.
GILLETTE: I haven’t fought professionally, but Royce Gracie was my sparring partner. Quite a few other UFC guys, too. I helped in their training. But I’m old now, I’m 48.
Yeah, but 20 years ago, when MMA started, you were still in your 20s.
GILLETTE: I considered it briefly, but I was already making money in real estate. If I wasn’t doing well financially back then, it might have been different, but you’ve also got to remember how risky it was, especially back then because there wasn’t a lot of money in it.
Let’s put it this way: You say you’ve trained with UFC fighters. Any of them, do you think you could beat their ass?
GILLETTE: There is kind of a code, so I will never name names, but I think I could do just fine. I am sure I could have. I know one thing about UFC fighters — half the time, they all lose because the other guy wins!
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at email@example.com