On July 31, a man named Bubba will step inside the Bellator cage for the first time. Although the name is synonymous with Forrest Gump, this Bubba knows more about shrimping than the actor could learn in a lifetime.

That’s because this man is named Bubba Jenkins, and he’s in Bellator to prove that the hype is real.

Jenkins sports only a 3-0 record in MMA. In most cases, fighters with that many fights would be journeying through the local circuits, looking for their big break. However, Jenkins’ big break came before he ever put on a pair of MMA gloves.

After leaving Penn State due to a disagreement with his coach, wrestling legend Cael Sanderson, Jenkins went to another wrestling powerhouse in Arizona State. In 2011, Jenkins won the NCAA Division I championship at 157 pounds. In a moment of irony, Jenkins captured the championship after pinning Penn State freshman sensation David Taylor in just over two minutes. Although Jenkins expressed that he had no ill-will towards Taylor, the win vindicated Jenkins’ decision to leave Penn State and proved that, just as he believed, he was the best man for the job (something he and Sanderson apparently disagreed upon).

Jenkins (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Could there be more disagreement on the horizon for Jenkins? After all, he has signed on with Bellator, which has received plenty of bad press due to its contract structure and the ongoing dispute with one of its former stars, Eddie Alvarez.

“I trust in Bellator, and this is the right move for me right now,” Jenkins told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “They’ve given me the perfect opportunity and I trust everything will work out how it’s supposed to. There’s been plenty of stories where people’s situations in Bellator have worked out bad and good for them. I just stay in my own place and trust that it will work out.”

Jenkins’ focus on self-improvement is an attitude that drives the former wrestling champion to succeed.

“I fight against myself, not [my] opponent,” he said. “I study [my] opponent to be aware of strengths and weaknesses. I train to fight the best guy in the world. I treat every training session like it’s against the best.”

It’s this motivation that Jenkins will need as he steps into the Bellator cage on July 31. He faces Mike Barreras, a guy that hasn’t done much in MMA and who sports an unimpressive record. Jenkins is well-known among many in the MMA world due to his status as one of the top prospects in the sport, and he is already being pegged as a winner at Bellator 97. Being put in a situation where you’re expected to win undoubtedly would add quite a bit of pressure for anyone, but it’s nothing Jenkins hasn’t encountered before.

“Pressure is what you make it,” he said calmly. “I can only fight one minute, one move at a time. I don’t feel the pressure. When the time comes and I’m ready, I’m ready. Only a fool trips over what is behind them.”

Only a fool would ignore what’s behind Jenkins when discussing the pressure that’s been placed upon him. Jenkins was a star in high school, winning state and national championships on the mat. His high school career led him to Penn State, where other wrestling standouts like Phil Davis have competed. His departure and subsequent national championship at Arizona State only propelled Jenkins further into the limelight. He also appeared on Bloody Elbow’s 2012 Scouting Report as the No. 10-ranked featherweight prospect in the world. This was after only one fight.

MMA fans and journalists aren’t the only ones raving about Jenkins either. Ricardo Liborio, his head coach at American Top Team and a well-respected man within the MMA scene, believes Jenkins has the skills to become a superstar.

Jenkins (third from left) celebrates with his team (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Jenkins feels honored to be receiving such high praises from someone like Liborio. Although he is well-known for his wrestling accomplishments and the super-duck, Jenkins is quick to give credit to American Top Team as the reason behind his hype.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity given to me by guys like Ricardo Liborio, Dan Lambert, Roger Krahl and all the great training partners at ATT,” he said. “American Top Team has given me a great platform to succeed. I’d like to thank Dr. Kessler out in Irvine, Calif., who has helped me not be banged up before this fight.”

Many people have already written a career path for Jenkins to follow during his tenure in MMA. He’s a top prospect coming into the world’s second best promotion with three fights under his belt and is expected to compete with the best in the world sooner rather than later. Although Jenkins’ story seems to be going as predicted, the former wrestling champion feels that he is still in control of his own destiny.

“When holding a pen and telling a story, I like to be the one holding the pen for my story,” he said. “It’s very important to me to not be a one-trick pony, to continue to learn and get better. I want to be the best fighter who happens to be a wrestler, not the best wrestler who happens to be a fighter.”

Photo: Bubba Jenkins (rear) submits his opponent (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.