Bubba Jenkins still hopes to avenge his only MMA loss. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Although Bellator MMA did away with its tournament format last year, Bubba Jenkins still remains focused on the concept of “advancing.”
While that may no longer be through what was once referred to as “The Toughest Tournament in Sports” is no matter. Jenkins sees plenty of ways in which to move forward, whether that’s in terms of his career, his skills or in the featherweight division in general.
Call it a wrestler’s mentality, if you will. A 2011 NCAA national champion at Arizona State University, Jenkins admittedly didn’t mind the old format. After all, Jenkins made a name for himself on the mats by advancing through numerous brackets over the years.
However, new promotion president Scott Coker’s philosophy of making the biggest fights possible is just fine with Jenkins, too. Under the new leadership, a win over Georgi Karakhanyan in the Bellator 132 co-headliner could fast track “The Highlight Kid” to a 145-pound title shot.
“I’m definitely excited about that. Either way, I wanted to be prepared, and I wanted to advance,” Jenkins told Sherdog.com. “I’m the type of wrestler and fighter that likes to go through a tournament style of things because you advance and you get to see the other opponents. You start to work your way up into becoming the champion. You know once you become the champ you have beaten someone established; you have beaten possibly a champion to become champion.
“I didn’t mind old Bellator regime where they had the tournament, but you get advanced really quickly with this new style of fighting and you get advanced with being the world champion at any given moment with a great performance.”
Interestingly enough, Jenkins will be facing a former champion in Karakhanyan, who briefly held the World Series of Fighting’s 145-pound strap before asking for his release from the promotion. It is the most high-profile matchup to date for Jenkins, who signed with Bellator as a much-ballyhooed prospect and has posted a 5-1 mark within the organization.
“Oh yeah, it’s easily the biggest fight of my career,” Jenkins said. “Each fight I take it gets bigger and bigger. This is the next step up to proving that you want to be in the game, that you’re ready for the big stage, that you’re ready for the big names.”
While Jenkins is working to fulfill the expectations that accompanied his foray into MMA, his lone career blemish is still a sore spot.
He was a massive betting favorite heading into his Bellator 100 showdown with the relatively-unknown LaRue Burley in September 2013, but someone forgot to alert Burley of his stepping-stone status, however, as the Phoenix native weathered a typically strong start from his opponent to finish Jenkins via technical knockout 3:40 into the third round. The sight of Jenkins face down on the mat, in a state of exhaustion and utter defeat, was totally unexpected. It was one of 2013’s biggest upsets.
Jenkins has since rebounded to win four consecutive bouts, but Burley hasn’t strayed far from his mind.
“I’ve asked for that rematch probably 25 -- and if Bellator called me right now, it’d be 26 -- times,” he said. “I’ve asked for it at a catch-weight, 170, 165, 150, 160, 145 -- wherever he wants to go. We can do it in the backyard of his hometown, his gym, wherever they want to fight. I’ve been looking to fight Larue, but obviously his management is being smart and strategic. They have acted as if my phone doesn’t work on their line.”
So what went wrong that night? According to Jenkins, it was a blend of mental -- he admits to buying into his own collegiate hype -- and physical -- he had a broken rib -- letdowns. In the end, he learned a valuable lesson about what it was going to take for him to succeed long-term in MMA.
“The thing that stands out is that I lost that fight before I stepped in the cage. I didn’t lose it to LaRue Burley, although in historical facts, I lost it to LaRue Burley,” Jenkins said. “I wasn’t mentally ready nor physically ready.
“It definitely projected me for being a better fighter going to the next level, understanding that you can’t just take the sport for granted. There’s people who are trying to feed their family. There’s people who really care about advancing and winning. I can’t just think that it’s my college days, and I can show up however I want to show up and win the fight.”
While hardcore fans have known about Jenkins for a while, his appearance on the co-headlining bill of Bellator 132 marks a formal introduction for many others. Some of those people might not be aware of Jenkins’ background, his considerable potential or his greatest failure. Jenkins is confident in his overall improvements and is eager to show them to Karakhanyan -- and the rest of the world -- on fight night.
“I think they’re gonna learn I’m not just a wrestler looking to throw punches and kicks -- that I’m a full-fledged MMA fighter, that I’m explosive, that I’m extremely confident,” he said.
But not so confident that he plans on overlooking anyone in the future. That lesson has already been learned.