Mixed martial arts teams exist all over the world, especially with the current rise of the sport on an international level. However, MMA is very much an individual sport. Sure, just like boxers, tennis players, wrestlers or any other one-on-one athletes, good training partners are an integral part of the equation. But if an MMA team gets too big, how do all of the individual fighters get the individual instruction they need to get to the upper echelon of the sport?

Camps like Jackson-Winkeljohn, Team Alpha Male, The MMA Lab, Roufusport, Serra-Longo, Team Quest and The Pit are just big enough to provide excellent instruction and a good core of training partners, but even gyms like this have the ability to lose some guys in the cracks who might otherwise have huge potential. What about American Top Team? That is a monster conglomerate of gyms, supporting well over 100 pro fighters, over 30 of which are in the welterweight division alone.

Jenkins (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Jenkins (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

However, some fighters, like former World Series of Fighting welterweight champ Steve Carl, take it a different direction and focus on their own individual training. He sources out his own coaches and training partners, and he doesn’t really represent any specific camp or gym. Carl’s preparations follow more of a boxer’s training style.

Also, recently, the Elevation Fight Team, in Denver, was formed to follow a sort of hybrid program. Elevation holds group training sessions, including guys like Nate Marquardt, Neil Magny and Cody Donovan, but every fighter’s training is very much individual. Each camp is specific to the individual fighter, but it’s also up to that fighter to source his or her specific coaches and training partners. No matter what style works best for a specific fighter, it is up to the individual to figure it out and do what is best for his training.

Bubba Jenkins recently had to make this decision for himself, and this drove him to break away from his team. Jenkins was an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at Penn State University, finishing as a runner-up in the NCAA tournament in 2008. For his senior year, he chose to transfer to Arizona State University, where he not only achieved All-American status, but won the 157-pound division in 2011.

As a lot of champion wrestlers have done in recent years, he made the shift to MMA. He found himself at American Top Team’s flagship gym in Coconut Creek, Fla., but, as a developing fighter, he had trouble finding individual guidance in a camp that is constantly preparing so many fighters.

In 2011, Jenkins made his pro debut, finishing in the first round with a striking submission. He continued in his winning ways, taking out his next three opponents, one by TKO and two by submission, before suffering his first loss at Bellator 100 last September. After the loss, Jenkins did some soul searching.

“ATT is more like a classroom,” he told The MMA Corner. “It’s really big and has a lot of big names, so you kind of get lost in the sauce unless you actually go up to the guys and reserve some time. Maybe they have some time, and maybe they don’t. So, sometimes it gets a little hectic.”

Recognizing that he is still young in the sport and needed more individual instruction, the 26-year-old decided to move out to the Los Angeles area to pursue a different avenue for his training.

“I’m training with Tiki Ghosn at Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Center, and also with Paul Herrera at Empire Training Center in Corona,” Jenkins explained. “I’m out there with those guys. It’s a little bit different. It’s a one-on-one thing, the way I like it.

“It’s like I’m being tutored. I’m advancing at a much higher level, and I’m being corrected with every little thing I do. The climb is a little bit easier.”

Since making the move out west in October, Jenkins is back on the track to success. In December, he notched a third-round TKO victory at Bellator 109. In March, he went the distance against Sean Powers at Bellator 114 to earn his first decision win. In short, the new training regimen has paid off. Although every fighter really wants to finish the fight, it was part of a strategy move to preserve his energy and take it the distance against Powers.

“I thought it was a good fight,” Jenkins admitted. “I never really got to a 10, you know? I stayed about a seven or eight, because I was a little worried about the altitude, being that I was in Utah. I had really good conditioning leading up to it, and we came out to Utah a little bit early, so we were in real good shape for the fight. But, since that was in my mindset, I never really went up to a 10. We really didn’t have any kind of incentive to finish him, so we just kept it really calm and dominated the fight.”

Jenkins took all three rounds on all three scorecards. The win put the young fighter at 3-1 in Bellator and 6-1 overall.

About two months ago, Jenkins found out that his next fight would take place this Friday night, live from Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., on the Bellator 122 card. He will be facing off against a longtime MMA veteran in Poppies Martinez. Martinez is a Tachi Yokuts Native American who fights out of Thrive MMA in Lemoore, Calif. It’s convenient that so many events have taken place in his hometown. The 30-year-old has been fighting as a pro since March 2003, when he made his pro debut at WEC 6 in Lemoore. In the early days of the WEC, he fought on 11 cards, amassing a record of 9-2-1, all while fighting in that same town. Martinez has gone on to earn a 29-9-1 record, which includes title reigns as the PFC lightweight champion and the Tachi Palace Fights lightweight and featherweight champion. His last fight was at Bellator 116 in April, where he submitted Josh Smith in the first round. Martinez is a finisher, putting away 22 of his 29 wins in the first round and only going to decision three times in 11 years. All nine of his losses have come by stoppage. This guy comes at his opponents hard.

“He’s a big step up in competition,” admitted Jenkins. “He’s got almost 40 fights, and he’s got a couple of belts in Tachi Palace, an organization I know and used to fight for and respect. I’m looking at him as a really good opponent and real good step up for me in my next fight.

“He’s a really tough guy. He’s not one of those guys that quits, and he’s not one of those guys that stops. He’s just a really tough guy. He comes at you with everything he’s got. He’s always trying to really hurt you, and that’s good. You know, he’s really experienced. I’ve got seven fights under my belt, and he’s got plenty more fights than I do. The experience factor is pretty lopsided, but that’s something I need to stay keen to and stay crisp. I need to dot my I’s and cross my T’s.”

Jenkins may be fairly new to the fight game, especially compared to a guy that’s been fighting professionally since before he even went to college, but he would not have won an NCAA Division I championship if he couldn’t handle the pressure. Jenkins is not only a top performer, but he has an intangible quality that Martinez will need to deal with.

Jenkins (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Jenkins (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“It’s my heart,” Jenkins intimated. “I’m not one of those guys that are just going to let a submission happen to me. I’ve fixed my conditioning problems immensely. A lot of the mistakes that I’ve made were mental, and we’ve corrected those things. I got back on the horse, and we’re looking to be dominant and aggressive all three rounds. His biggest worry about me is my athleticism and my high caliber of wrestling.”

With Martinez carrying 18 submissions, eight knockouts and a 3-0 pro boxing record into the ring, Jenkins knows he’s going to need to fight his fight, and not his opponent’s. His well-rounded MMA training allows him to bring a little more to the cage with each fight, but his bread and butter is his wrestling. One of the biggest factors leading into this fight is the relative size of the two combatants. Jenkins is one inch shorter, but he has an eight-inch reach advantage. More importantly, though, both men have spent the entirety of their careers at lightweight, other than Martinez’s one TPF featherweight title win, but both will be making their official Bellator featherweight debuts. This should make the fight quite entertaining, assuming their relative energy levels are high. This is not a concern for Jenkins, who sees the weight cut as an advantage.

“I haven’t been under 155 [pounds] in quite some time, so I was a little worried about it,” Jenkins confessed. “We’re training really hard, so the weight’s just naturally coming off and it’s not that big of a problem. I’m going to be a big 145er, but that’s something I’ve been used to as a wrestler and I’m excited about it. It’s a new weight class, but I feel I’ll be in tip-top, primetime shape as an athlete and a fighter at 145. At 155, I could have a little leeway, maybe not doing everything 100 percent correctly, but with having to go down to 145, I have to be at 100 percent with everything—with training, dieting, conditioning, all that.”

With two strong, fast featherweights in the cage, this has the potential to be a fast-paced, exciting match-up.

“I visualize it’s going to be scrappy,” said Jenkins. “He’s one of those guys that has a family to feed, and he’s looking to make a little name in Bellator. He’s going to come out and punch and do what he’s got to do to try and finish me. I’m not sure if he’ll want to go into the third round with me, but I’m ready to go four, five, six rounds, and that’s how we’ve been training. I think it’s going to be a hard-nosed fight.”

With a newfound, yet successful, training regimen and a new weight class, Jenkins plans to continue on his road to Bellator glory. It all starts against Martinez on Friday night. With the addition of Scott Coker as the new president of Bellator, everyone is wondering how the organization will change, but that will all be discovered in due time. For now, it’s all about this fight.

“I’m one of those guys who’s focused on right now and looking at who I got right now,” stated the young fighter. “I’m not looking past people. I am looking to continue to fight and continue to fight with Bellator. After this, I’m going to have to sit down with Scott Coker and talk to him. I heard he’s a really nice guy and he cares about the fighters, so I’m really excited about that. For now, I’m focused on Poppies Martinez and trying to win that fight in dominating fashion.”

Jenkins has come a long way in a short time. In just three years, the wrestler, who was born in Germany and grew up in Virginia, has won an NCAA Division I wrestling championship, made his pro debut in mixed martial arts, fought out of ATT’s flagship camp in Florida, secured a Bellator contract, switched camps to California and racked up a 6-1 record in MMA. Those are some pretty big short-term accomplishments for the young phenom. On Friday night, fans will get to see what this kid is all about.

“A lot of athleticism will be shown. I’m going to stand up a lot more than I usually do, because my hands are starting to come together a little bit better. I’m becoming a more well-rounded athlete. A lot of people see me try to take guys down and beat the hell out of them, which will be one of the tactics, but also maybe stand up and throw my hands a little bit.”

Jenkins would like to thank Tiki Ghosn, Paul Herrera and all of the guys who have worked with him at HB Ultimate and Empire Training Center. He would also like to thank all of his family, friends and fans. Follow Bubba on Twitter: @2sinsurrJenkins