Bubba Jenkins joined Bellator as one of the top prospects in MMA. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In January, Bubba Jenkins was perhaps one victory away from fulfilling the hype that accompanied his signing with Bellator MMA in 2013.
Having shaken off the disappointment of an upset loss to the lightly regarded LaRue Burley in just his second promotional appearance, Jenkins entered his Bellator 132 showdown with Georgi Karakhanyan on the strength of a four-fight winning streak. A win over Karakhanyan, a former World Series of Fighting titlist, would put Jenkins on the fast track to title contention.
Instead, Karakhanyan showed that the 2011 NCAA national champion wrestler is still very much a work in progress. Attacking with the reckless abandon that has thus far defined his mixed martial arts tenure, Jenkins left his neck exposed on a double-leg takedown, and Karakhanyan capitalized by securing the fight-ending guillotine choke 1:49 into the opening frame.
The victory earned Karakhanyan a crack at 145-pound gold -- although an injury forced him to withdraw from a proposed clash with reigning champ Patricio Freire at Bellator 138. For Jenkins, it was back to the drawing board. While he learned plenty from the upset lost to Burley, there was more knowledge to gain from a setback against a far more experienced foe.
“[I learned] not really so much to be more cautious but just to understand there are so many different defenses to fighting a wrestler,” Jenkins told Sherdog.com. “You just want to make sure that you’ve covered your bases of being a complete mixed martial artist. You don’t want to just come in there and be a wrestler... The days of me getting into a wrestling match and looking for good shots are over.
“I’ve got to become more developed, and the champions of each division are developed guys. You can’t just be a one-trick pony. That was the biggest thing out of that fight; I’ve just got to be more well developed.”
Jenkins returns to action against Joe Wilk at Bellator 139 on Friday at Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET, while the preliminary draw streams immediately prior on Spike.com beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Jenkins-Wilk will be the event’s featured prelim contest.
In terms of prestige, Wilk is more Burley than Karakhanyan, but Jenkins isn’t going to let overconfidence get the best of him. That lesson was already learned the hard way.
“It’s really easy [not to overlook Wilk] because the last time I underestimated somebody and wasn’t prepared and just figured I could go out there and take him out, I took a loss to Larue. That’s something that I learned from, and I’m not going to repeat those same mistakes,” Jenkins said. “I know he’s got nothing to lose; I know he’s seen as the underdog. In past situations where I’ve been the underdog I’ve come out on top. Being that guy having nothing to lose and playing with house money makes you a dangerous person.”
Wilk has lost four of his last five bouts, including his Bellator debut last October, so a victory isn’t likely to propel Jenkins to the top of the division. Still, it is an opportunity for “The Highlight Kid” to showcase his improved standup, which Jenkins said has been his primary focus in recent months.
“I used to be very easy to submit and get in bad positions because I was always trying to wrestle, but now that I’ve really honed in on that and started shutting those things down, even really good jiu-jitsu black belts are having a hard time dealing with me on my back or on their back,” he said. “My main focus is to become a better striker. Because I’m fast, strong and hit hard, once I get to the point that I understand striking, I do feel like I’ll be able to change a lot different opinions about wrestlers in the fighting game.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Jenkins is just 28 years old, that he is a relative novice in the MMA realm. Losses at this stage are not necessarily catastrophic events.
“I don’t really see losses as the most devastating thing in the sport. As long as you’re learning from them and not making those same mistakes, it’s a good thing,” he said. “For me, I’m early in my career; it’s probably the most beneficial thing for me. I’m starting to see a lot of things in the sport where I can say, ‘ seen that already.’ I want to just cover all my bases and make sure that I can rebound in the way that I’m supposed to and continue to move forward.”