In MMA as in most professional fields, there’s a big difference between being released and quitting. For Bubba Jenkins, that line was a little blurred on Tuesday, when news came down that the veteran had been released by Bellator.
In his version of events, it is true he was released — but only after he asked to be. It was his idea to part ways with Bellator, and he’s puzzled as to why the promotion got out in front of it in the media, claiming the decision was theirs.
A fired-up Jenkins spoke to MMA Fighting about it on Wednesday.
“Honestly, I guess they want to portray something they’re not,” Jenkins said. “I ain’t saying they are trying to sabotage me, but I can only assume with the way they’ve been acting, with the characteristics and the questionable ethic calls they’ve been doing through my career — I want to say, maybe they aren’t what they claim to be. Maybe ‘fighter’s first’ isn’t what they should be saying.”
Jenkins pointed out Bellator’s social media, which on Feb. 5 was celebrating his birthday.
“For them to treat they have treated me, for them to get out in front of it and put this perception out there, that we didn’t want him, what’s that?” he said. “When just 10 days ago was my birthday and they put out on their social media, ‘Happy Birthday to one of our contenders, Bubba Jenkins,’ and then 10 days later to say, oh, well we released him. You can’t buy me a gift on my birthday, say that you love me on Valentine’s Day, and they dump me before March comes and act like it was me. It just looks funny man.”
Jenkins fought 11 times for Bellator, beginning with his debut back in July 2013 against Mike Barreras. He went 8-3 in that run, with two of those losses coming against the former WSOF lightweight champion, Georgi Karakhanyan. He lost the rematch to Karakhanyan in August at Bellator 160 via a first-round TKO, which was his last fight under the promotion.
Still, the 29-year-old Jenkins was a blue-chip prospect with a decorated wrestling pedigree that Bellator signed in the Bjorn Rebney days. He won a D-1 157-pound title while wrestling for Arizona State University, and there was plenty of buzz surrounding his name.
He lost his second Bellator fight against LaRue Burley at Bellator 100 before rattling off four straight wins (two via TKO finish). Things started to fizzle between him and Bellator around Bellator 132, when he first fought Karakhanyan.
Jenkins cited the infrequency of fights as a major issue of his, along with the general aloofness the promotion showed him as time went on. He also says that the new regime under Scott Coker didn’t take to him the way the previous brass did, and that there was a drop off in how they brand promoted him.
“Absolutely, it dropped off — it dropped off a cliff as if I was just walking on a street and then an avalanche came by and took the street away,” he said. “They say don’t all your eggs in one basket, but man, I had a couple of baskets that got crushed.
“That happened to the point where I was like, okay, I understand I may have been your guy when Bjorn was here and I may not be your guy now. But I just want to know a direction that I’m going in. I know I speak very well, I’m a college graduate, I coach kids, I give back to the community — I have all the little things that would pertain to be a star.”
Jenkins pointed out that he rarely had his bearings with Bellator, not just in the matchmaking process but all the way down to the way he was being presented to the public. He saw it that the fighter Bellator was selling was pretty different from the real man making the walk.
“I never knew what was going on,” he said. “I never knew what they wanted me to do. The Goiti Yamauchi fight [at Bellator 151], they painted me out to be the bad guy. In the walkouts, they had these entertainment promos, and they painted Yamauchi as the quiet Japanese/Brazilian superhero, and I was the loud, boisterous, robust black guy with the shades and the do-rag and the braids. I just kind of didn’t like that look.
“I can speak well. I can interview well. I do have a charisma about me. But I’m not this call-you-out, black guy thuggish what’s-up-all-my homies guy. I’m a charismatic college graduate who knows my self worth, and I know what he’s been through in life. That’s why I carry this chip on my shoulder. That’s why I talk and speak and walk with such confidence. To make me seem like this braggadocious, boastful guy, I didn’t really like that.”
Jenkins, who made it clear his phone had been busy over the last 24 hours to kick off his free agency, said he considered himself a company man — and yet even company men notice when odd things are going on around them.
“I wouldn’t say that big name fighters in other organizations want to leave,” he said. “I would say they get released, or they get this or they that, but for them to want to leave is something about the organization. Why is it that Hector Lombard wanted to leave Bellator? Why is it that Eddie Alvarez wanted to leave Bellator? Why is it that Will Brooks — being a champion of the sport, their champion — wanted to leave? Why is it that people want leave this organization in the prime of their championship buzz?
“I believe Bellator has their certain guys — and every organization has their breadwinners — but it’s like man, when you have a guy that’s been aiming for the top with you and he gets to the top or a he gets to certain platform where he’s like, ‘okay, I’ve been working this hard, can you show me that you care for me,’ and then they’re just like, well we don’t really care for you, and they let people to go or they push you out. It’s like, what kind of sport are we in? It’s such a dog eat dog world.”
One of the things that drew Jenkins to Bellator in the first place was the original tournament structure, which he was familiar with from his days of wrestling. That model went away when Coker took over in 2014. Jenkins says he liked the idea of a tournament because it was inherently merit based, and very easy to figure out. Tournaments did away with gray areas in matchmaking.
“I remember I was coming off the contract with Bjorn, they had just transitioned with Bjorn and Scott Coker, and they cancelled all the tournaments,” he said. “And the reason I signed with Bellator and the reason I liked Bellator was of my wrestling background in MMA. There’s no politics, you can’t talk your way into a championship fight, you can’t have this charisma and then lose a fight and still get a title fight — and that part plays very well for me, because I can trash talk and have charisma with the best of them — but from my background of a tournament style of living, and a tournament style of competing, I was interested in that. You beat this guy, and in about two or three weeks, you know exactly who you got to fight next because it’s a tournament.”
At first Jenkins loved the frequency in which he fought, having stepped in the cage five times in his first calendar year under the banner. According to him, he turned down just one fight in his career — and that was a short-notice fight against his former training partner, A.J. McKee.
He confessed that he was asked to sign a different contract under the Coker-led Bellator, and that he even took a pay cut after losing the first time to Karakhanyan.
“I said, no problem, I’ll take a pay cut, whatever you guys want to do,” he said. “I took a pay cut and fought a guy in his hometown in Joe Wilk. I finished Joe Wilk after a dominant first round, and a minute in I got him via TKO, the referee jumped in and stopped me from punishing him. It was floating around that they weren’t impressed with my performance, they didn’t really like that I took him down and beat him up. I was like, you don’t like when a wrestler becomes a wrestler? I’m not understanding. You hired me as this dominant wrestler/fighter, but when I dominate as a wrestler in fights, you don’t like that.
“So you’re like, ‘oh, we want you to stand up, we gave you a favorable fighter for you to stand and knock him out.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not a boxer and I’m not a Muay Thai guy — I’m wrestler who knows how to beat the hell out of people on the ground. Especially for a pay cut, why would I risk possibly taking a loss, possibly not fighting at my best, with a pay cut, to stand up and try to bang with a guy in his hometown? It wasn’t a favorable assignment, it wasn’t favorable. But because I had not fought in so long, I was like, I’ll take it. Whatever. I just want to be a professional fighter.”
One of the off-putting signals Jenkins says was made clear to him was that Bellator didn’t appreciate his fighting style. This came out in broader strokes after his win against Yamauchi. “I smash him out via unanimous decision, and I’m hearing rumors that they’d have rather seen Goiti Yamauchi lose to me the way he lost to me than me to win the way I won,” he said. “To me that’s like, that’s a nine, that’s a 10, that’s an 11, that’s a 12. I don’t understand how you can say you’d rather see a guy lose to me the way he lost than me win the way I won. Because I won in dominating ground-and-pound fashion.
“It’s just, I have no understanding of what they wanted from me. And I can’t go into this, ‘oh, it’s a conspiracy, they don’t like Bubba J., but the facts speak for themselves. The level of disrespect. The level of non-caring. I mean, they didn’t ask me one question, or ask me to sign a release when they released me. We asked for a release, the very next day they sent the release, no questions, just bye. Very weird. It’s almost like something stinks about the situation.”
Asked what his next move would be, Jenkins said he was talking to his manager Daniel Martinez, and that his team was being open to the opportunities coming his way.
“Obviously the UFC is the Mecca,” he said. “Everybody knows if you want to be a fighter on the highest stage, the UFC is where it’s at. So I would obviously love to be in a organization that promotes their fighters, and an organization that’s going to show their fighters they care. So, we’re all open to everything that’s coming our way.
“The next step is to go up. I don’t want to go sideways. I don’t want to go down. I know I’m coming off a loss, but even in that loss I felt like I did not get a chance to show my true potential. I’m finally getting into a groove of being a good professional fighter. Of course my goal is to be great, but right now we’re just simply good, and we want to be better. And right now we have a good following, we have good fans, we want to be better. We can speak, we can entertain. Now let’s see what organization is going to capitalize on all the things we bring to the table.”