Top Canadian bantamweight Jesse Arnett might just be one win away from a long-awaited call-up to the UFC.
After picking up his ninth win in a row in March, Jesse Arnett thought he had finally done enough to warrant a call-up to the UFC. To him, his long-awaited debut under the bright lights of the Octagon was all but official. That’s what the word on the street was, anyway.
But six months removed from his second-round submission victory over Maged Hammo in the Hard Knocks 54 main event, which won him his second Hard Knocks title (the bout was for the featherweight belt, and Arnett was already the bantamweight champion), Arnett is booked to fight Johnny Bedford, a UFC veteran, at Fight Night: Medicine Hat 4. “Big Cat” has gone over three years undefeated — and eight of his last nine wins ended inside the distance — yet still has not walked to the UFC cage for the first time.
“Coming off that champ champ fight, we were told that we had the nod; we were secured for UFC Edmonton, we were hoping,” Arnett told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus.
Arnett figured he wouldn’t be able to fight in MMA until September, because that’s when the UFC’s debut in Edmonton, UFC 215 — which takes place this weekend, on the same night as Arnett’s fight against Bedford — was scheduled for. So the 33-year-old branched out and made his pro boxing debut, as well as competed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“The plan was to not fight MMA, but I wanted to stay active,” he said. “So they offered me this boxing fight. And this whole McGregor vs. Mayweather thing, I’m like, ‘Hmm, maybe I can beat Conor to this.’ And that’s exactly what we did. It was MMA vs. boxing.”
But plans changed after he won both the boxing and jiu-jitsu match. The UFC did not sign Arnett as he was previously told, but instead said he needed to rack up one more win in the 135-pound division.
“Right after the boxing match, we were then informed from (my management group) First Round Management — UFC apologized and everything — we needed to take one more fight,” he said. “We needed to take one more fight at 135 pounds just to seal it.
“They’re not signing people like they used to right now. The (Dana White’s Tuesday Night) Contender Series was just for Americans. It is what it is. I can get bitter, or I can get better.”
Should he get past Bedford on Saturday night, it sounds like he’ll finally get the phone call he’s waited far too long for. Arnett added that he is “hoping” to debut at UFC on FOX 26, which takes place in Winnipeg on Dec. 16.
“We’re told after this one, that we have a sealed deal for UFC when they show up to Canada next time around,” he said. “It’s out of my control. And with First Round Management, they are a big management company as you know, I have to believe what they’re telling me right now at this point. All I can do is stay in the gym and continue to get better every day.
“It’s sounding like with a win here, we shouldn’t be denied.”
Despite not getting the call after his featherweight title win in March as expected, Arnett has had offers from the UFC in the past — quite recently, actually. And two offers, to be exact. But both of them were for short-notice fights up a weight class, at featherweight, and Arnett said he was better off fighting elsewhere and not accepting those offers.
“Long story short, short notice was not something I want to do. I’m 33 years old. I’m a bantamweight. In shape, I’m 150-155 pounds. I’m not going to fight outside of my weight class on seven, 10, 20 days notice just to say I’m a UFC fighter and get the Reebok shirt,” he said. “I know what I can do at 135 pounds. Mark my words, I’ll do big things yet. I know this.”
If you would have asked Arnett in July 2016 whether he was in the UFC a year from then, he would’ve said yes. Of course, he would have also been wrong, but that’s all out of his control.
“It’s a different ball game since the UFC sold and they got those new owners. Sean Shelby and those other guys, they don’t have as much say as they used to, even though we might think they do,” he said.
Arnett joined the First Round Management roster earlier this year, and said being backed by such a large company is “very nice.” Admittedly, he doesn’t think he’d be one win away from a shot in the UFC without it.
“What it seems like is you need to be signed with one of these big management companies. And even when you get into the UFC without them, a lot of [fighters] sign with one of these big management companies as soon as they get into the UFC,” Arnett said. “I think these days you have to be hooked up with a big management company in order to make some noise.”
Arnett described the upcoming Bedford fight as “do-or-die,” because should he happen to fall short in the Medicine Hat headliner, his UFC dreams might just be over — for good.
“I’ve been told straight up if I come up short on Saturday night, it’s going to take me three or four wins to build myself back up,” he said. “I’ve already been caught four times; I can’t afford one more loss. … I’m 33 years old. I need to finish Johnny Bedford. I need to do it with style points to continue this run.
“Do I have time to run four wins back together on the regional scene? I don’t think so. I’d like to go get a different job if that was the fact. But I don’t even think like that. I’m going to put Johnny Bedford away. I’m going to knock him out or choke him out, and you can take that to the bank.”