At the age of 28, Jeremy Kennedy (15-2-1) feels like he is just entering his prime, yet the Canadian already has a wealth of experience throughout his professional Mixed Martial Arts career.
After making a name for himself on the regional circuit in Canada, the then-undefeated featherweight earned his shot in the UFC. Two decision wins over Rony Jason and Kyle Boachniak respectively had gifted Kennedy quite the leverage heading into his final contracted bout, where another win would only cement his spot as a future contender. But things, as they so often do, never played out as planned.
Kennedy would lose to current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in Perth, Australia, handing him his first pro loss. Following this, he opted not to re-sign with the promotion after a lengthy negotiating process and has since bounced between Middle Eastern promotion BRAVE and the PFL. But now, he has a home.
He spoke to The Scrap about his upcoming Bellator debut, what he learned from fighting Volkanovski, and more.
Ready for Bellator debut
Many fighters can only dream of throwing on a pair of UFC shorts and competing for the organization, one which undoubtedly offers its members a platform second to none in MMA. Despite the ever-present goal of attempting to attain UFC status, many are satisfied testing their skills elsewhere.
Following a loss at the hands of future featherweight kingpin Volkanovski, Kennedy’s contract was up for renewal but after a drawn-out negotiation process, he was unable to come to terms with the promotion. Kennedy, unlike many others, took a risk by moving elsewhere to compete, not allowing himself to be lowballed by the company.
He opened up on this experience.
“It’s definitely not easy, especially doing it without a manager at that time,” he describes. “That was definitely one of the biggest mishaps of my career. Signing with Dominance MMA was the best thing that I’ve done since the UFC.
“There’s a lot of managers out there that just want to be managers, for a young fighter on his own I tried it out and it messed me up.”
After trialing this system and finding lesser success, Kennedy signed with managing firm Dominance MMA, run by Ali Abdelaziz. Dominance is one of the more powerful forces in MMA management, representing fighters ranging from Khabib Nurmagomedov to Henry Cejudo.
“I didn’t know what good representation was like until I was with Ali” Kennedy claimed. “You don’t have to worry about anything and that’s the way it should be.”
With his UFC career in the past, Kennedy inked a two-fight contract with BRAVE CF where he picked up two stoppage victories, placing himself back in the win column. These performances drew the attention of the PFL, a North American promotion known for their 1 million dollar championship tournament.
While the result of 1 million dollars is lucrative, the path is not easy by any means, as an athlete will have to fight an average of four times that calendar year (with good results) just to cement their spot in the finals. This was no qualms for Kennedy, however, as fighting five times with a good rate of pay is only added motivation.
“It pays great. The regular season was what my management and promotion discussed and then negotiated and whatnot, just like any other promotion. The playoffs had a great structure, it was great money being able to fight twice, two full purses on one night was definitely nice. A lot of guys have to wait for months and months and months to fight twice. Five fights in the year, all with good money, and then the end purse [of] one million dollars is like the pot at the end of the rainbow.”
In the playoff stage, fighters are expected to fight twice in one evening to book their tickets to the final, hence the two purses. Kennedy was able to exact vengeance in his first fight that night, finishing Brazilian Luis Rafael Laurentino, a man who had disrupted his PFL debut just five months earlier. Unfortunately, Kennedy would be robbed of a place in the finale.
His semi-final fight would take place hours later, where he was scheduled to meet former and future UFC vet Daniel Pineda, a well-respected submission artist with over 13 years of experience. Kennedy would lose via guillotine choke in the second round, but what followed would shake up the division’s bracket and its fighters.
Pineda tested positive for a banned substance; he had an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in his system, thus resulting in his two playoff wins being overturned to No Contests. With Pineda out of the finale and a position free, many thought Kennedy would be the one to fill the void and throw down with reigning champ Lance Palmer, but circumstances never amounted. Instead, Alex Gilpin — a man Palmer had defeated two times prior — would get the shot.
“It is what it is, you can’t focus on the what-ifs,” Kennedy stated. “He was in control of that, I wasn’t in control. He paid the price but it’s frustrating that both of [us] did, but that’s the hand I was dealt.”
Rather than let the situation irritate him, Kennedy chooses to look at the positive side and figures he wouldn’t be where he is now if it wasn’t for Pineda’s failed drug test.
“If you want to look at it in a positive manner, if that wouldn’t have happened I’d be in Lance Palmer’s position as their champ, locked down for a year and a half” he explained.
“It was a blessing in disguise; it was frustrating from a competitive and athlete aspect, but looking at the big picture that is what it is.”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the PFL has been unable to find its footing, causing unrest within its wide roster of combatants. Some are threatening lawsuits, whereas many have simply requested their release and are looking elsewhere for a home, with Kennedy managing to find his; in October, it was announced that he had signed with Bellator.
“Bellator is one of the top promotions in the world and they have a great featherweight division. It was something that I’ve always been interested in and Ali Abdelaziz made it happen, he said he was going to find me a home that’s stable.
“I had expressed the whole tournament situation and being on a set, set schedule, you know? PFL is every May, every June, and all through the summer. Playoffs in October, finals in December, which is great, but when life throws different things at you and you’ve got a wife and want to start settling down, it’s nice to be able to structure your own schedule.”
Within weeks of becoming a Bellator athlete, the 28-year-old would receive a fight offer in his inbox. Many are hesitant of throwing down on short notice, particularly in a major promotional debut, albeit Kennedy was raring to go.
“It was just a matter of switching over my work visa because I already had one with PFL, so I never had to apply for a whole new one. So it came together pretty quickly as within two weeks they were able to switch it over. They then sent the name, the date and it was good to go. I think it’s right about four weeks’ notice, but prior to those four weeks, I had put in six weeks of hard, hard training.”
Mere weeks after inking a multi-fight deal with Bellator, Jeremy Kennedy once more signed on a dotted line, marking his return to the cage following a year-long absence. Specifics were not needed — all he wanted was a date.
Bellator is responsible for often giving their debuting athletes sub-par competition (look no further than Aaron Chalmers or Costello van Steenis), yet despite this, Kennedy’s inaugural bout is certainly a stiff test.
On Thursday, November 19, he’ll lock horns with UFC and Bellator alum Matt “The Mangler” Bessette at Bellator 253.
“It’s a great matchup [with] a good opponent, too. He’s been around and had tons of fights in Bellator, a few in the UFC, he’s a staple in CES and is from around this side of the country, so he’s a local guy. I think he’s a guy that brings out literally everything in me, all my tools. I think this fight is going to go everywhere.
“Matt is durable, he’s game, he’s good on the ground and good on the feet so I’ll be able to show everything. I’ll be able to dictate it with my wrestling, I really believe that’s one of my stronger suits, and I [believe] that’s one of his weaker suits. I think I’ll be able to dictate the pace, the fight, but wherever I take it he’s game, so I’m excited [about] it.
“I see myself winning every position and every transition, I don’t want to give an inch,” Kennedy continued. “I’m a really stubborn fighter, I don’t want to give him any space. When it comes to the fight I can’t tell you I’m going to knock him out or submit him, I just know I’m going to win every second of that fight like I plan on doing.”
There are many external variables that go into preparing for a prizefight that fans, unfortunately, fail to recognize. While physical training and reaching peak condition is seen as a priority, the mental aspect of fighting is just as important.
Kennedy is continually visualizing the fight weeks before it occurs and describes it as an obsession, something which spectators will never specifically understand themselves.
“People don’t realize [that] I’ve been thinking about Matt Bessette for a month straight, every night before I go to bed and when I wake up. You almost get obsessed, and then when it’s done, it’s done.
“I’m always thinking about transitions, picturing him across the cage standing there. Because a lot of times when you’re thinking about a fight and watching one of your fights back on TV, you’re looking at it from a birds-eye view. It’s really hard to bring yourself into the cage, standing across from Matt with my corner behind me, walking out and getting patted down.”
As previously stated, Kennedy has an added six weeks of training in the books in preparation for his debut, which has only further sharpened his skills and raised his fitness. For these six weeks, he was training at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Nevada, a reputable gym called home by Francis Ngannou and Brad Tavares to name but a few.
During this time, he was able to train with some of the sports more well-rounded and fierce fighters and because of this, he feels that Bessette won’t bring anything he hasn’t seen to the table.
“It’s awesome, every day is just a grind,” Kennedy said, excitedly, “You almost have to manipulate your own schedule to give yourself some rest and just some you time, you know, to focus on yourself. Training with high-level guys is how you get better, and that’s how I know going into this fight I’ll be staring across from Matt Bessette, and he’s not going to be able to do anything.
“Getting rounds in with Magomed [Magomedov], [he’s] amazing. Aljamain [Sterling], Cody Stamman, the list goes on and on. Dan Ige is always in there, Justin James, all UFC guys that I’m training with.
“They’re all high-level guys with great records and a ton of experience, so when your training with them guys they show you things that you’re going to see in the cage.”
Training alongside some of the UFC’s finest bantamweight’s and featherweights is undoubtedly a confidence booster, and so too is his accomplished resume; although suffering a defeat at the hands of Alexander Volkanovski two years ago, he gained invaluable experience fighting one of the best.
“To me, it was a learning experience and I got out of my comfort zone [as] I flew to Australia, fought him at 9 am. I just didn’t show up and he did. He’s a good fighter and he went out there and proved it. After me, it was Elkins, Mendes, Aldo, and Holloway, so it is what it is on that one.”
Kennedy has been yearning for a rematch with the current UFC champion and hopes that the stars will align later on down the road.
“I want to do it again. That was one of the hardest things because I didn’t perform. If I went out there, performed and lost, then I’d be like ‘ok, it is what it is.’ But I didn’t even get to test myself against the now UFC featherweight champion so that one stings a lot.
“I do wish one day when I get this Bellator belt we do a cross-promotion fight, maybe a few years from now.”
Jeremy Kennedy vs. Matt Bessette is scheduled for November 19 on Bellator 253 and will take place on the preliminary portion of the card.