Bubba Jenkins (8-1) is a Bellator MMA fighter bred from NCAA division 1 wrestling. He was NCAA Division 1 runner-up out of Penn State and went on to win the NCAA Division 1 championship out of Arizona State University in 2011. After his collegiate wrestling career, Jenkins pursued a professional MMA career that has landed him in Bellator MMA. We ask Bubba Jenkins what his strategy will be against veteran WSOF fighter Georgi Karakhanyan in the main card of Bellator 132.
Scifighting: How many years did you live in Germany before moving to the U.S.?
Jenkins: I lived there about 5 years. I won’t say that German was my first language because my mom and dad both spoke English. German kids were the first kids I played soccer with.
SF: While it’s not on your record, we understand from your promo that Germany’s where you had your first fight.
Jenkins: Absolutely, that’s when I first knew what competing and trying to win something combative and physical was. A kid destroyed my snowman and from there it was on baby.
SF: What are HB Ultimate and Empire camps doing to prepare you for your fight against Georgi Karakhanyan?
Jenkins: We’re really looking to control the pace, be the athlete and be faster. I think he’s training for the wrong fight because I’m capable of throwing some hands and punching. Sometimes people think I’m just going to come in and wrestle but that was the old me. Now that I’ve been training for a while, I’m starting to find what I can do and what I’m capable of. I’m trying to fine-tune my boxing and my kickboxing in order to set up my keys to victory, which are wrestling and punching while they’re on the ground.
SF: What is your experience as a wrestler going against an opponent with a strong jiu-jitsu background like Georgi?
Jenkins: My biggest challenge is to not depend on my wrestling as much as a lot of people do. When wrestlers start losing the standup battle, they go right into wrestling. I gotta trust in my hands and I have to trust in my training. Everyone has a gameplan until you get hit in the face and start wrestling for what you need to take them down. The hardest thing to do is trust in what you’ve learned, trust in who you are as a fighter and not depend so heavily on the things you’ve always known.
SF: That’s the famous Mike Tyson quote. Do you have anyone that you look up to in particular as a modern role model of mixed martial arts?
Jenkins: Not necessarily in MMA, but I look up to Mike Tyson in boxing. I met Mike and he sat with me for 2 or 3 hours talking with me about the different ins and outs of the game. I’ve always had an open ear to really learn from people who have been in the game. I like sitting around with grandpa and grandma to listen to their stories because that’s where the knowledge comes from, that’s where the wisdom comes from. I look at the upper echelon of success and see how the sport has changed them in different ways. I look for the pitfalls and things like that so I can be successful and make my own path where I don’t have those downfalls. Those people who I’ve learned from and modeled my life after really help me understand why they did what they did and what it takes to get to the next level without having these downfalls and pitfalls.
SF: Are you a knockout fighter or are you more comfortable as a submission fighter with your wrestling background?
Jenkins: When I step into the cage I’m looking for the knock out because that’s the most exciting thing. That’s what people want to see, that’s what scares the next opponent, that’s what really drives home that you’re the real deal. Most people are afraid to be in a situation with a knockout artist.
I’m mostly looking for the knockout but as I’ve been training and wrestling I’ve always taken what I was given. I’ve always been able to just grab what I’ve got and go with that. Whatever they give me is what I take from them. A lot of times when I was wrestling, I wouldn’t come in with a gameplan, I would just go into my wrestling matches thinking okay, whatever they give me I’ll take. That’s mostly how I look at it in the big picture.
SF: Standup fights are always entertaining. Unless you’re a jiu-jitsu fanatic, sometimes it’s hard for the audience to understand what fighters are doing on the ground.
Jenkins: Absolutely. I never forget the fact that we’re in this for the entertainment. We’re in this for the people in the stands that paid to come see us, so it’s not something that slips my mind. I know that they want to see somebody get knocked out or choked out and I’m one of those crowd pleasers. I named myself “The Highlight Kid” because I try to put on as many ESPN top plays as I can.
SF: What is the biggest medical responsibility of being a fighter?
Jenkins: I would say it’s mostly nutritional because your body’s got to work off of that fuel–what you feed it is what it’s going to perform with. It all comes back to what did I eat before practice? What am I going to eat after practice to really get everything out of the workout? We gotta make sure everything’s right and stay hydrated. There’s a bunch of things you don’t think about from the outside looking in.
SF: Do you have any future plans to compete at Grapple at the Garden?
Jenkins: They didn’t reach out to me this year. I really haven’t been wrestling as much because of my newfound love for knocking people out and rocking people in the gym. Wrestling was my first love–it’s like riding a bike, I’ll never forget how to do it so as long as I’m in shape. If the money’s right, the timing’s right and I’m not looking for a fight any time soon, then I’m all about about it. I love putting on exhibition events like that for the community of wrestling because a lot of people are starting to get into MMA from the wrestling background. That’s why I did it initially, to continue showing support for the sport that got me to where I am. I definitely have no problem with wanting to go back to New York and slam some rivals on their head.
SF: When did you first learn how to strike?
Jenkins: I would say I was surviving with what I had learned at American Top Team, but when it came down to sparring time I really wasn’t looking for punches. I was looking to survive and take the guy down and beat him at that game. As I moved here to Huntington Beach and started working at HB Ultimate, that’s when I became more of a striker and started looking for my striking during sparring. I was looking to throw punches a little bit more and set up more of my striking and Muay Thai game in The Thiago Meller and Poppies Martinez fights.
(Bubba Jenkins elbows Sean Powers)
SF: What striking discipline came most naturally to you when you started out?
Jenkins: I would say that boxing came the most natural to me because I watched a lot of boxing. I’m one of those guys that if I see it, I can do it. If I can slow it down and study it, I’ll be using that in my next go-around. I got to see a lot of boxing, start boxing myself and then start learning how to actually throw punches from my hips. That’s what came most natural and that’s what I started doing at a very high level.
SF: Have you done any MMA-related charity events?
Jenkins: I love doing charity and I love giving back. I used to do a lot of camps even after I graduated from college. I love teaching kids how to work with wrestling and letting them know that I came from a background they’re coming from. I have done a charity event in Huntington Beach, I believe it was to support children with cancer. I really haven’t done a lot for MMA as far as charity, but I love to give back and reach out. People who want to see that, all they have to do is call me up and set up something in my schedule. I’d love to be there.
Catch Bubba Jenkins in action at Bellator 132 on Spike TV at 9/8c.