This Friday is a huge night for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.  The UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter returns for its 15th season, and for the first time in the history of the show, it will air live.  Also on the same night, the sixth season of Bellator Fighting Championships will air live and feature the first round of its featherweight tournament along with a featherweight championship bout between champion Joe Warren and challenger Pat Curran.  Amongst all of the noise of these events, it would be easy for fight fans to think that they will not be missing any other big events that night. That’s where they would be wrong.

Friday will also play host to Tachi Palace Fights 12: Second Coming, which will take place at Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Leemore, Calif.  The promotion may ring a bell to MMA fans and that is because their last flyweight champion, Ian McCall, is now a UFC title contender.  While the card is full of UFC veterans and hopefuls, one fighter on the roster really stands out: Bubba Jenkins.

Entering the cage for his second professional fight, Jenkins brings with him an elite level of wrestling.  He spent three years wrestling at Penn State University and then transferred to Arizona State to finish off his career.  A competitor in the NCAA championship tournament all four years, Jenkins’ collegiate career came to a dynamic conclusion when he pinned David Taylor for the 2011 national championship while wrestling at 157 pounds.

Bubba Jenkins (L) in NCAA Div. I wrestling competition (Tony Rotundo)

Like many elite wrestlers before him, Jenkins used his wrestling to transition into MMA.  It was a decision he had made earlier in his collegiate career.

“Towards my junior (year), I decided that MMA would be the best route for me because of my athleticism and because of my wrestling ability” Jenkins told The MMA Corner.  “I put two and two together and thought that MMA would be the best sport to get into.  By that time I had already went overseas and won the junior world’s in Beijing, China, so I already felt like I was the best in the world in wrestling and eventually wanted to move on to other things.”

But while most people in his shoes may feel as though they have a target on their back due to the exposure from wrestling, he does not exactly feel that way about it.

“I don’t feel like I have a target on my back,” Jenkins said.  “I feel like I have high expectations based on my wrestling accomplishments along with the guys from Arizona State that are currently doing well in MMA.  I feel a lot of pressure from people watching me, but I do well with pressure based on how I have done with my wrestling background.”

For any fighter, picking a fight camp is always a big decision.  Rather than picking a camp that has a very strong wrestling core, Jenkins decided to train with American Top Team, and he is very happy with his decision to train in Coconut Creek, Fla.

“This is where I need to be,” Jenkins explained.  “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  American Top Team has molded me into a physical weapon!”

Entering MMA with a wrestling background is a great base for the sport, but it is not always easy for wrestlers to move on from training exclusively in wrestling to include all of the necessary disciplines of the sport.

Jenkins (top) pounds on Josh Williams (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“(Training MMA) isn’t too much different,” Jenkins admitted.  “When training for wrestling you have to train your body in distinct and different areas such as wrestling on your feet, wrestling on bottom, and wrestling on top, and it’s the same way with MMA.  There are a lot of styles where you have to train top, bottom and neutral in different avenues and disciplines of mixed martial arts, whether it’s boxing or jiu-jitsu.  I try to keep it in that frame of mind”

However, it has not been all peaches and cream.  While working his way towards his first professional fight, Jenkins was preparing to take on Chris Huerta.  As is sometimes inevitable in the injury-laced sport of MMA, Huerta suffered a foot injury which caused him to withdraw from the fight and be replaced by Jason Williams.  Soon thereafter, Jason withdrew from the fight because of work conflicts, and was replaced by his brother, Josh.  While fight match-ups are often changed at every level of the sport, it tends to be higher for promotions with less national exposure.  This shakeup really did not bother Jenkins, however.

“I realize that in a lot of cases people don’t want to get paired up with a national champ wrestler,” said Jenkins.  “But I really haven’t done too much research on the guys that I am fighting.  I really focus on what I can do and not so much on what my opponent is doing.  I will know a couple of things before the fight, I’ll check out the videos and highlights to learn his tendencies and what he will do, but a lot of guys won’t fight me the way they will fight other guys because I am a heralded wrestler and people know me for that.”

The strategy worked for him in his first professional fight.  He defeated Williams by submission due to strikes in the first round at Tachi Palace Fights 11, but he did not control that fight from beginning to end.  Ten seconds in, Jenkins shot in for a takedown and slammed his opponent to the mat. In the process, the fighters were rolled over where the Arizona State alumni ended up on his back.  Entering the cage with the background and the hype that comes with the title of NCAA Division I champion, the thought process that went through his head had to be interesting based on how vulnerable of a position he was actually in.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t get guillotined, don’t get guillotined, don’t get guillotined!’  That was one of the defenses that we had been working since I’ve been at ATT,” Jenkins explained.  “Ricardo Liborio worked extensively with me to make sure that all of the kryptonites of a wrestler were out of my system as far as getting guillotined and getting overaggressive and putting my arms and neck in the wrong position.  We’ve worked on that so much that I was basically thinking, ‘Don’t get put in that because people will never  never let me live it down!’  But really it was a situation where I had to stay calm, try to get back to my feet, and see if I could wrestle out of the situation.”

Jenkins (red-taped gloves) had to be careful against submission attempts in his pro debut (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

But that fight is in the past, and when asked about his opponent, Chris Gomez, for this Friday at Tachi Palace Fights 12, he was remained consistent with his training for his first fight by admitting that he again didn’t know much about his foe.

“I know he’s had five fights as a professional and that he’s 2-3,” said Jenkins.  “I know that he’s got a pretty good chin on him and I have to watch out for the overhand right, and I know he gets taken down pretty easily.  That’s really all I know based off of the two fights I’ve seen of him.  Other than that I don’t know too much about him because, like I said, I’m more focused on honing my skills and getting better at the things I need to get better at.”

With this Friday being a huge night in MMA, a lot of people would want to be fighting with the UFC or Bellator, but Jenkins is just happy to be along for the ride.

“I’m excited about it,” he said.  “I feel blessed and I feel humbled that Sherdog is picking up the Tachi Palace stream, I’m ecstatic about it.  I love fighting at Tachi Palace, a lot of fans come out and they were good to me.  I am appreciative to have been there, and it is an awesome place to fight. ”

But as far as the return of The Ultimate Fighter and Bellator, Jenkins will have those fights ready to watch on his DVR when he gets back home.

“As much as I love MMA, I am completely focused on trying to get my own win.  I know everything is big news for everyone else, especially for the fans, but it’s really all about the fans, but I am going to do my best to get my W.”

This Friday night is all about up-and-comers in the sport of MMA.  The Ultimate Fighter often features some of the best previously unknowns in the world, and Bellator does a solid job signing guys right on the cusp of making it to the big time.  Just make sure you don’t look past Bubba Jenkins though, because he plans on installing his method of “lay and slay” on Chris Gomez at Tachi Palace Fights 12.

Bubba Jenkins would like to thank Lynx Shreds, Gorilla Group Management and American Top Team.

Top Photo: Bubba Jenkins (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.