Bubba Jenkins already knows what it takes to reach the mountaintop.
The 30-year-old had a wildly successful collegiate wrestling career, competing at a pair of NCAA powerhouse programs, Penn State and Arizona State. He was a national champion runner-up for the Nittany Lions in 2008 before making the move down to Tempe where he won it all as a senior in 2011.
It wasn’t long before Jenkins was pegged for MMA greatness, a blue-chip prospect who trained at the American Top Team gym in the early stages of his career. Two years after winning an NCAA title, he was signed to Bellator where he fought 11 times, compiling an 8-3 record with the promotion.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Jenkins. He took a TKO loss in just his second fight for Bellator against the unheralded LaRue Burley, and was twice finished by featherweight rival Georgi Karakhanyan. Jenkins still had a solid winning record, but his championship wrestling pedigree had yet to yield a title shot six years into his pro fighting career.
On Friday, that changes. Jenkins meets featherweight titleholder Elias Boudegzdame in the co-main event of Brave Combat Federation 16 in Abu Dhabi, and he is finally getting the chance to add an MMA championship to his mantle.
“It’s been a lifelong dream,” Jenkins told MMA Fighting. “Obviously, winning a national championship in college and having so many different ups and downs where I almost won it when I was a sophomore and going to this and then going to that. Now we’re at a position where I’m right back to almost like I left [Penn State].
“I left Bellator, I left ACB, and that was my former path, now I’m back at this new university and I have an opportunity to win a championship just how I did in college and just be rectified and go off to do great things as I did.”
Jenkins, currently training out of Black House MMA in Redondo Beach, Calif., is relishing the opportunity to compete internationally. He first caught wind of Brave CF when he was coaching a fighter at one of their shows in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The promotion made a strong first impression on him, and soon Jenkins was in negotiations to compete for Bahrain-based organization.
More than anything, he’s hoping that officials will make sure he doesn’t have to deal with the unprofessional situations he’s experienced in the past, specifically regarding overweight opponents. Jenkins’s last three fights have taken place at catchweight with the other man coming in heavy each time. It’s reached the point where he senses a trend of opponents taking advantage of him.
“I’m going to publicly say I have considered not taking fights just so motherf**kers can stop doing that s**t,” said Jenkins. “To me and my camp, I do believe that people are getting that advantage. They know that I am a big ‘45-pounder that will make the weight and that will fight every time. I think that a lot of people will see that, they try to be as big as they can, can’t make the weight as I can, and then decide, ‘You can take the purse or you can take this.’”
Jenkins lost two of those catchweight bouts, first being KO’d by Karakhanyan and later submitted by Ali Bagov at an Absolut Championship Berkut event in March of last year. He rebounded with a knockout of Diego Marlon at ACB 70 and he’s feeling more confident than ever that as long as the playing field is even, he has the advantage.
“No one, not one man on this planet earth has beaten me with a full camp, with the right people in my corner. Not one,” said Jenkins. “You give me 6-8 weeks with a full camp, I’m going to say that it’s statistically proven, I am unbeatable. I have not been beaten on a full camp. Most of the time I have had something to go on, where it’s like, ‘Oh, no.’
“But eventually in my career I have to get over that point too. There will be times where it’s not a full camp and I have to garner that mental fortitude that it’s going to take to win those fights. We are growing in that mindset too. There are those times where I have had to win fights that the camp was obviously not perfect.”
It’s been over a year since Jenkins last fought and he’s relished having the time to focus strictly on improving technique and not worrying about a specific opponent or staying on a certain weight. He’s never been in a hurry, even as he’s had his sights set on winning an MMA title since day one.
In his mind, the path that led him here is the one he was meant to be on all along.
“I’ve already seen this movie before, I’ve already played the main character,” said Jenkins. “At the end of the day, I always get the girl, I walk away with the trophy, I know that my story has been written and the difference between me and all these other fighters is they are coming. I have been sent.”