Bubba Jenkins has finished each of his first four opponents. | Photo: Wilson Fox/Sherdog.com
A two-time NCAA All-American and 2011 national wrestling champion, Bubba Jenkins only has four professional mixed martial arts fights under his belt. However, “The Highlight Kid” has had little trouble living up to his nickname.
Jenkins will return to the cage under the Bellator MMA banner on Friday, when he meets Larue Burley on the Bellator 100 undercard at the Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix. The blue-chip lightweight prospect has finished all four of his opponents and sounds ready to tackle his latest challenge.
“Training for this fight went really well,” the 25-year-old Jenkins said. “American Top Team really helped me get ready, and coming out to Ultimate Training Center [in Huntington Beach, Calif.] for the final few weeks really polished me up for it. Everybody around me is looking out for my best interests. They have my best interests at heart, [and they] are taking me to that next level and pushing me to be my best. I’m really excited about the all-star coaches I have.”
Many fighters train at one camp, but those with more than one set of coaches tend to stick to camps that are relatively close to each other. However, American Top Team and Ultimate Training Center are located on opposite sides of the country. Jenkins has been able to glean valuable information from both camps and apply it to his game.
“At ATT, it’s such a big gym and they have so many of the toughest guys in the world,” Jenkins said. “It’s a really good classroom where we really grind and help each other. When I come to Ultimate Training Center, it’s more about tutoring and one-on-one. I like that aspect of it. Not many fighters are able to have that. Most fighters are either at a big gym or a small gym, not both. Now I have both, and it helps me to be successful.”
Jenkins’ bout against Burley will be his second in Bellator, as he recorded a second-round knockout against Mike Barreras at Bellator 97 in July. The knockout halted a run of three straight first-round submissions, but Jenkins believes his latest victory showed the different dimensions of his game.
“My career has really progressed the way I planned it,” he said. “My hands are finally getting good enough to where I’m comfortable on my feet. My submission defense and offense are coming along. I’m excited about where I’m going to be five or six months or a year down the line when I get more comfortable with everything. Even now, I’m showing different types of offense in the gym.”
Well-traveled MMA veteran Tiki Ghosn, who serves as one of Jenkins’ coaches at the Ultimate Training Center, thinks the prospect’s ability to learn quickly has helped him evolve at a faster rate.
“He is very coachable, and that makes things a lot easier on me,” Ghosn said. “He picks up things like a sponge. You can tell somebody to do something and explain it to them or they can copy you. He mimics what I want him to do, and he does it well. He picks up something, and it’s a weapon in his arsenal immediately. It’s almost like he’s downloading it.”
Jenkins concedes his mental approach needs work and believes this camp has been a step in the right direction in that regard.
“If I really need to work on something, I’d say more on the mental anxiety,” he said. “In college, being a highly ranked wrestler added a lot of pressure for me. In a match, I’d go for one or two shots and get frustrated. A lot of these fights I’m having, people are watching and expecting me to do great things, so there’s some pressure there.
“I need to do a better job of staying focused and staying relaxed,” Jenkins added. “This camp has been a lot more relaxed, and I think that’s keeping my anxiety at a low level. I just want to get to the point where I can go out there and do what my body does.”
A natural lightweight, Jenkins walks around at 165 pounds, and he has no desire to change weight classes anytime soon. He also is in no rush to jump into one of Bellator’s tournaments in hopes of earning a shot at lightweight champion Michael Chandler.
“He never has to cut much weight,” Ghosn said. “Bubba could make 145 in a week, but there’s no reason to. He’s been making weight his whole life, so going down to 145 wouldn’t be a big deal; but what weight class he’s in doesn’t matter because he’s going to be a very strong individual for his weight class.
“He is good, but he’s a work in progress. He’s a year and a half or two years out [from fighting for a title], if he’s fighting consistently,” he added. “It’d be great to get him in a tournament at 155, but I feel like he’s about four fights away from that. He still needs those fights to sharpen his skills.”
Jenkins has been a pro for less than two years -- he made his debut in December 2011 -- and trusts those around him to help him make wise decisions regarding his career path.
“I’m really going to stick with what the people around me have to say,” he said. “They’ve been around this game a long time and seen what other top prospects have done. Right now, I just want to stay busy and keep doing what I’m doing. My focus is on the next round or the next fight. I just feel like the sky’s the limit on what I can do. We’re thinking about career longevity, and that’s what I want. I understand wanting to step up the level of opposition and fighting better guys, but I’m going to stick with what they say. I’m in this for the long run.”
Ghosn, who has worked with and fought against some of the top names in MMA, has high expectations for Jenkins’ future.
“Bubba is one of the most successful athletes I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “People are going to see a lot of this guy, and I guarantee this guy will be a world champion.”