LAS VEGAS — At a glance, it’s easy to take a guess how Jalin Turner earned his in-cage nickname, “The Tarantula.”
The 23-year-old Contender Series alum stands at a long and spindly 6-foot-3, a size especially interminable for the lightweight class in which he usually plies his trade. Not only that, but the dark, braided hair that tumbles from the top of his head very much resembles the legs of an arachnid, giving further cause to his namesake.
But in actuality, that’s overthinking things. The real answer as to how Turner first earned his “Tarantula” moniker is much simpler — and in a curious way, much more unique.
“I actually own tarantulas,” said Turner, who makes his Octagon debut in a welterweight contest against Vicente Luque at UFC 229. “I have a little collection going on right now. I used to have upwards of 200 at one point in my life.”
Upwards of 200.
No, you did not read that wrong.
While others may be mortified enough at the idea of one tarantula crawling around their home, Turner actually maintained quite the extensive collection in his younger days.
“I had a bunch of babies, I had adults. I kept them in a small container,” he explained. “They don’t need a lot of room. Just shelves with a bunch of little containers, like little critter keepers and all kind of stuff for them.”
For what it’s worth, the time for 200 has passed. Turner said he currently has around 12 tarantulas roaming among his room.
The young lightweight prospect still lives with his mother for the moment. He expects his jump to the UFC will change that soon enough, but as he tells it, tarantulas have been a source of fascination for quite a while.
“I’ve always been a nature boy. I grew up watching Steve Irwin, so my mom’s been used to it for pretty much her whole life,” Turner said. “Like, ever since I was a kid, I’ve had lizards, snakes, all kinds of pets, so it was just a new pet for [my mom] to get used to.
“At first I had a little bit of fear towards them. I didn’t have [that fear] growing up, but it just started to come about, I started getting creeped out by spiders. And I was like, ‘You know what, let me conquer this fear. I’m going to get a tarantula as a pet.’ Got one, started holding it. It was so cool. It just interested me, like, the way they interact, the way they move, the way they kill their prey. Everything. And there’s so many different species. Like, there’s so many different species. You can’t list — it’s almost impossible to have them all. It’s kinda like Pokémon.
“I still live with my mom to this day — shit, the UFC about to take me out of there though — but I actually had about 50 babies get out and they were, like, all over the house, and she flipped the f*ck out,” Turner continued, laughing. “She was like, ‘I’m killing all of them. You’re about to get rid of everything.’ And I was like, I don’t know how they got out. I mean, they just got out.”
If the possibility of 50 baby tarantulas randomly invading your place of residence at any given moment is a frightening thought, you’re not alone.
Growing up, Turner laughs as he admits that wasn’t always the easiest process bringing potential dating material home to meet the arachnoid side of the family.
“When I was single, it was kind of hard,” he acknowledged, grinning. “But now I’ve got Mrs. Tarantula with me, and she supports them, she likes them. She actually has one of her own. My fiancée loves them.”
Nicknames aside, Turner (7-3) couldn’t have asked for a bigger stage to make his proper UFC debut. The lanky lightweight is riding a trio of consecutive first-round stoppages, highlighted by a rout of Noah Tillis under the Bellator umbrella followed by a thrilling win over Max Mustaki on the latest season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He’ll now introduce himself to the Octagon on the undercard of a UFC 229 event that very well could be the highest-selling pay-per-view of all-time, headlined by a blockbuster meeting between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.
It’s there Turner will face Luque, a seven-fight Octagon veteran whose only lost once under the UFC banner. Luque is a seasoned fighter and an incredibly tough task for a first-timer like Turner — he’s finished all six of his UFC wins — however Turner is confident that he will be able to start his own Octagon run with a bang.
“[Luque] has heavy hands, a really good ground game,” Turner said. “His style doesn’t excite me. I feel like he’s just going to play into my game. He comes forward, he’s real traditional, traditional Muay Thai style. He bounces on his feet a little bit, he tries to look like he has a little bit of rhythm but his rhythm’s not all the way there. Just stick and move, stick and move, hit angles, catch him with something crazy. Call it a night.”