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Four years into his MMA career, Bubba Jenkins feels he’s now on par with the hype


When Bubba Jenkins got rolling in MMA after a decorated collegiate wrestling career, it came with a buzz. With his base, people were wondering not only how far he could go, but how fast he could get there. It was a lot to live up to out of the gate.

Here we are four years into his MMA career, and Jenkins has been pretty good by normal standards, going 6-2 in Bellator (9-2 overall). The wins have ranged from workman-like to explosive, but the losses have cooled expectations a bit. As he gets set to face Jordan Parsons at Bellator 146 on Nov. 20 in Thackerville, Okla., the jury is still out on Jenkins as a prospect, who at 27 years old is just coming into the peak period of his career.

The older, wiser Jenkins is now training at Bodyshop MMA in Lakewood, Calif. with the likes of Antonio McKee and Emanuel Newton after having trained with the American Top Team in Florida. Though he’s had more ups than downs in the cage after a winning a national championship at Arizona State at 157 pounds, Jenkins says he still feels he should be further along than he is.

"I should probably be a little bit more ahead than where I am," he told MMA Fighting. "I didn’t take the first year-and-a-half to two years I’d say too seriously. Coming off of college wrestling I jumped right into MMA, and I probably should have took a break. I probably should have relaxed a minute. Because I’ve been competing all my life. Soon as I stopped wrestling season in high school, I’d go into football season, then wrestling again. Then I went straight to college.

"I never took any time off in years. For 12 straight years, I was always competing and at the highest level. It wasn’t like I was playing around with what I was doing — I was always in the toughest room, at the toughest tournament, competing with the toughest guys. So that was something that I really didn’t analyze, especially coming into my career in MMA. I didn’t go amateurs when I went to MMA, I went straight to the pros and straight to ATT after I graduated, and I started training. I would say that my mindset of wanting to have that break and have a little relaxation played into how I was training and how often I would show up in a week."

After scoring a victory against Mike Barreras in his Bellator debut back in July 2013, Jenkins got a rude awakening in his follow-up bout against LaRue Burley. Fighting in LaRue’s backyard of Phoenix, Jenkins lost via third-round TKO — a lackluster effort that hit like a thud for those pegging him as the next lightweight champion.

Jenkins says that, in retrospect, he lost that fight before it even started — and that it was necessary for him to realize what it takes.

"My first loss to LaRue Burley, I learned an immense amount," he says. "I don’t like LaRue Burley to this day because he’s been running from me, and I’ve been asking him to fight in the garage, I’ve been asking him to fight in the Phoenix parking lot, anywhere we can get it done. For his sake, I’m glad he’s not wanting to fight, and I wouldn’t want to fight me either knowing that I got away with the first one.

"But I really learned a lot from it, and I’m glad it happened early. It really shook me up to the point that where it was like, if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to do it the whole way. You can’t half-ass it. You’re at the pro level. People are paying their bills with what you’re doing, and you’re over here fighting like an amateur at the pro level."

That’s the difference, he says, between that early loss and the one that came against Georgi Karakhanyan this past January. For Karakhanyan, he was merely still a step behind on the learning curve.

"The Karakhanyan fight, it wasn’t a loss that I lost before I got to the cage," he says. "That loss was experience, off of nerves, off of somewhat being tentative with what I wanted to do, not sticking to the game plan. But the LaRue Burley loss I wasn’t mentally there. I wasn’t doing things correctly. That loss came became before we even touched gloves."

Jenkins rebounded from that loss with a beautiful performance against Joe Wilk at Bellator 139 in June (second-round TKO). That was the fight that he got back to his bread-and-butter, which was to pin his ears back and wrestle.

"I felt great about that fight," he says. "Obviously I wanted to showcase my hands a little bit more, but once he got on his bike, and once I saw that he wasn’t really engaging like I expected, and not really going after it as far as the hand conversation goes, I decided to take it to where I felt most comfortable. If we’re going to have a long conversation, it might as well be on a subject and a topic that I understand and know, so I took it to the ground."

A win against Parsons could put him back in the other conversation. The one that he found himself in perhaps too soon when he got started.

"I think Parsons’ an okay fighter, you know?" he says. "Being 11-1 and beating that Cesar guy — or Chavez, or whatever his name was [Julio Cesar], who was 30-0 — that’s pretty decent.

"But as far as calling me out, and trying to get under my skin — he didn’t get under my skin as far as getting in my head, he got under my skin in the sense that it makes me train harder. It makes me run more, he makes me want to hurt him more than I want to win the fight. I’m going to knock his ass out. That’s as simple as I can put it. I don’t know what round it is, and I don’t really have a strategic game plan.

"None of this ‘I’m going to use my jab,’ no, I’m going to come out here and throw bombs on him. I’m going to try and hurt with every bone on my body, whether it’s a knee or an elbow or the ones that are in my hands, I’m going to try and split him open and make him not such a pretty boy."

Jenkins, who is a father now, says he’s undergone a transformation in his four years as a fighter.

"I feel like, I would say I’m seriously in it for two years and I’ve jumped leaps and bounds because I’m more focused with it, I’m more prepared everyday in practice with what I want to do and what I want to achieve," he says. "I’m happy with where I am. I know I probably should be more ahead than where I am because it’s been four years but you can’t just jump into the game and expect to the champion right away. You’re going to have some ups and downs and peaks and valleys."

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