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Jeremy Kennedy explains nightmarish last-minute withdrawal from PFL 8

Jeremy Kennedy
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Jeremy Kennedy went from having an outside shot at a million dollars to going home completely empty-handed.

Certainly, it would have taken a lot of dominoes to fall for Kennedy (12-1) to become eligible for the Professional Fighters League’s seven-figure playoff prize, seeing as how he was only contracted to appear as an alternate for the league’s 2018 featherweight tournament. And he would have had to defeat a tough opponent in Marcos Galvao, a former Bellator bantamweight champion to lay claim to the alternate spot.

But all of that became moot when it was announced that Kennedy would not be competing at PFL 8 last Friday after all. Kennedy successfully made weight the day before, only to be told by officials that he had been pulled from the card. He broke the news himself via social media.

So what happened?

Following a 3-1 stint with the UFC, Kennedy made the surprising decision to forego negotiating a new contract and instead sign with the Bahrain-based Brave Combat Federation (in June, Kennedy told MMA Fighting that he preferred to stay active rather than be mired in prolonged negotiations). The 26-year-old was under the impression that his Brave deal would allow for exceptions when it came to potentially taking fights in other promotions.

“I signed an exclusive with a UFC out, and then with the ‘under good faith’ or whatever wording they had it, if I notified them as long as I was within a certain period of time of a fight with them, I would be able to fight elsewhere as well, granted their permission,” Kennedy told MMA Fighting on Tuesday. “When I first went back and signed with them, it was a big thing how they’re all about the fighters and ‘fighters first’ and ‘we’ll never hold you back’ and ‘whatever’s best for your career’, it was just all kinds of vibes is what I got from them and conversations that I had with them.

“That’s why I was so eager to sign with them. It’s perfect. Anything that comes up stateside I’ll be able to jump on and then across the seas I’ll be able to fight for them.”

Kennedy made an impressive debut for the promotion in August, needing a little more than two minutes to punch out Danyel Pilo. He would then return to Las Vegas, where he trains with the Xtreme Couture team, to get back to preparing for stateside opportunities. Zipping between Vegas and his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kennedy’s last few months have been filled with uncertainty.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Kennedy. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. Mostly my girlfriend’s been super supportive of it because I do split my time between Vegas and home and I try to limit my time down in Vegas to only around fights and stuff like that, and I just got back from Morocco [for Brave 14] after spending pretty much six months straight down in Vegas because I was getting ready for things that were falling through. And then I had my Morocco fight, and then I came home.

“I came home for about a week and then there was a chance that I would get a shot at the PFL thing. So it wasn’t even for sure, but I was like, I can’t risk it. I flew back to Vegas, started right back into training camp again, with no real direction yet. It was just kind of talked about. Then it was off the table, on the table, off the table, and I was still sticking to my diet and I had my brother’s wedding and I had a bunch of stuff planned in September because I wasn’t planning on fighting. I was just grinding through it all, training, and flying home on the Friday, wedding on Saturday, flying back on Sunday. It was a nightmare and then obviously it was all for nothing, which was terrible, but I got better, so I gotta look at positives.”

The PFL fight didn’t happen because Brave officials contacted the league to tell them that Kennedy would not be permitted to compete on the Oct. 5 card. MMA Fighting confirmed with officials from Brave and the PFL that Kennedy was under an exclusive contract with Brave and thus it was those officials who made the final decision on whether Kennedy could compete outside of the promotion.

Kennedy chalks the messy situation up to a misunderstanding.

“They were in the right, they had the power to stop it, I guess, but I don’t think it’s right they did in the sense of what I went through,” said Kennedy. “It’s not like they did anything wrong by putting their foot down. It was just more so I had a different understanding of what Brave was all about, if that makes sense.”

When the possibility first arose that he might not be able to compete at PFL 8, his management told him to focus on fight preparation and to let them handle it. Kennedy successfully weighed in at 145.2 pounds, but it was still up in the air whether his bout with Galvao was a go.

In the end, PFL officials told Kennedy that the fight was off. Kennedy’s said he’s already reached out to Brave to clear matters up and is waiting to hear back from the organization.

That said, he’s not resting on his laurels. In the wake of UFC 229’s wild post-main event brawl, Kennedy is already seeing an opening for himself to step back into the Octagon. During a melee involving Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor’s corners, Nurmagomedov’s teammates appeared to get into a physical altercation with McGregor, leading to three arrests, according to UFC president Dana White.

Later that evening, White said that if any of the men arrested were UFC fighters, they would be released. Nurmagomedov teammate Zubaira Tukhugov was one of the alleged perpetrators (he also boasted of his involvement on social media) and if that’s the case, his Oct. 27 bout with Artem Lobov at UFC Moncton is apparently in jeopardy.

Kennedy took to Twitter and also contacted the UFC directly to let them know he was available to fight in Moncton.

“That same night I messaged (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby, I e-mailed him, I What’sApp’d him, and was like, ‘Hey, if he’s off and he’s out. Let me in,’” said Kennedy. “It’s in my country, it’s a no-brainer to have me fill in for any ‘45er that needs to be, especially on a Canadian card. I put it out there, I don’t think they’re going to give me an immediate answer because they still don’t know what they’re doing with him. They haven’t said that he’s off the card or anything, but I know my name’s in the hat.”

If Kennedy seems overeager, it’s only because he is determined to show how much he’s improved since suffering his lone loss to Alexander Volkanovski in February. He’s specifically been working on improving his standup, which paid dividends when he scored a quick knockdown of Pilo en route to a first-round finish in their Brave bout.

So now Kennedy has to wait for Brave’s call to figure out what the promotion has in store for him. He could be heading back overseas for his next fight, or perhaps he’ll get the all-clear signal to take an offer closer to home. And should the UFC come calling, his current contract gives him free reign to return to the Octagon.

Whatever happens, Kennedy isn’t holding any grudges.

“Once I got the call that it was a ‘no’, what can you do? I can’t hate the world, I can’t hate Brave, I know I still have to do business with them, I can’t hate PFL because they did nothing wrong,” said Kennedy. “It was just a crappy situation and it feels like the only guy who lost in this whole situation was me.”

With additional reporting by Guilherme Cruz.

UPDATE: In a statement provided to MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz by Brave, officials explained that the promotion planned to have Kennedy compete at a Bahrain show in November against Marat Magomedov. Per officials, the bout agreement was signed by Kennedy on Sept. 6.

Though they were aware of the PFL talks, Brave officials let Kennedy’s team know that he could not compete for the league on Oct. 5 as the November date took priority. They go on to mention that resulting confusion could have been due to a “misunderstanding on Jeremy’s behalf or his managements”.

Brave also thanked the PFL for how the situation was handled.

See the full statement from Brave below:

“Jeremy Kennedy was, and is, indeed under an exclusive agreement with Brave Combat Federation/KHK for a multi-fight agreement. We spoke to Jeremy after he made his debut with us on the 18th of August in Morocco and talked about getting him a quick turnaround and booking him on our November card in Bahrain. We sent him a bout agreement for his second fight with us on the 2nd of September (which was signed on the 6th of September) to compete against Marat Magomedov in our Tentpole event in Bahrain in November which was a fight we had discussed for his first fight with us and indeed a fighter he had called out a few days prior to receiving the bout agreement.

“Jeremy did later notify us that his management had brought up the PFL opportunity but since a bout agreement was already in place we made it clear that this would not be possible. We are not sure if this is due to any misunderstanding on Jeremy’s behalf or his managements. When we later found out that Jeremy was indeed going ahead with the PFL bout we attempted to reach the athlete and his management without any success which is when we reached out to PFL and Jim Bramson (PFL General Counsel).

“As Jeremy correctly stated, we are indeed all about the fighters and bringing MMA to new territories and trying to make the sport ‘truly global’ by bringing in fighters from all nations to compete around the world. As a promotion run by fighters where 80 percent of the management team has competed professionally or on the amateur circuit, we pay particular attention to making sure fighters are always well taken care of inside and outside the cage and that they are given the opportunity to build a name, following and career with us and we look forward to seeing Jeremy Kennedy back in the Brave cage.

“We should stress that we do not normally comment on particular athletes contractual issues albeit given the circumstances we felt it necessary in this case. We would also like to thank Jim Bramson and the team at PFL for their swift action in the matter and for giving the case the needed attention given the short time frame.”

Reached for comment, Kennedy responded via text and acknowledged that the original plan was for him to fight Magomedov on Nov. 16 and that he did sign a contract for that matchup. However, his coaches would be unavailable that week due to one of them being in Israel with Ryan Couture for a Bellator show, and another not having a valid passport to leave the U.S. Given those circumstances, Kennedy notified the matchmaker that the November date would not work for him and he requested a different date.

Kennedy asked to be on an October card in Pakistan, which officials told him was full, and then proposed fighting in December, which he felt was far enough in the future that his PFL plans wouldn’t interfere.

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