Bellator 160: "Henderson vs. Pitbull" takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Aug. 26, 2016) at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., featuring a Spike TV-televised main event between former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, locking horns with former Bellator Featherweight champion, Patricio Freire, in a No. 1 155-pound contender eliminator match.
Earlier in the night, however, an intriguing rematch has been set for the 145-pound weight class. Bubba Jenkins -- who is in the midst of a three-fight win streak -- is back on track for a No. 1 contender eliminator bout of his own with wins over quality opponents like Jordan Parsons and Goiti Yamauchi. Unfortunately for Jenkins, the last time he was in a similar position he went head-to-head with Georgi Karakhanyan, who he will rematch this weekend. Their first encounter didn't end well for Jenkins, who was put into submission that left him frozen on the mat. Before Karakhanyan could cash in that title shot, however, he went down with an injury and Daniel Weichel stepped up in his place.
Can Jenkins make it four in a row, avenge his loss to Karakhanyan and move up in a crowded field of Featherweight contenders in the process? That's on his mind to be sure, but so are the Make-A-Wish kids he visited a week before the fight.
"Yeah man, going to the Ronald McDonald house to visit with a couple of kids -- mainly this kid named Cameron. It was awesome, I love giving back and having charity and things like that. It made me feel good and it obviously helped the kids with their day and their pains and stuff so I thought it was really cool."
Not every fighter would take time out of training camp right before a crucial fight on a big card, but Jenkins believes in giving back to the community whenever -- and wherever -- he can.
"That's something that I like to do, whether it's motivational speaking or going to the Ronald McDonald house or just seeing kids out there. Cameron and his family reached out saying how much he'd like to see me and we made it happen before he had to go back home to Oregon."
Confidence is high for Jenkins leading into his featured fight on Spike TV. He believes that he has moved to another level in his career, while Karakhanyan's has stalled out.
"Absolutely! If I didn't feel that way, we started off on the wrong foot. Three straight wins, you know I haven't lost a fight since I lost to this opponent, and obviously I'm going to turn the tables turn the tide turn the cards or whatever cliche name you want to say. It ain't gonna be the same results -- it's gonna be a very different one."
Jenkins also takes exception to the assertion on Karakhanyan's part that he's only achieved a win streak by fighting lesser caliber opponents compared to him.
"I don't agree with that at all. I think that Goiti Yamauchi's jiu-jitsu and quickness is equivalent to his. I do believe that Jordan Parsons - rest his soul - had the athletic capabilities, wrestling capabilities and all around heart to have such a tough formidable match. Georgi is mistaken. I can't say that Joe Wilk is on his level but any of those other guys he can compete with and they can compete with him, so I don't agree."
There's also the little matter of Karakhanyan claiming that the fight is academic because he's already beaten Jenkins once so beating him again won't be a problem.
"Oh it does matter because me being choked out is plastered all over the Internet and on his page so, it does matter and I was his last win, which I believe matters to him. He was my last loss, which obviously matters to me. I didn't call for the rematch or ask for the rematch -- Bellator gave it to me. The fact that I'm a champion and want to become the champion, I've got to beat the guys that have beaten me before just to go up that ladder."
The most important thing of all for Jenkins is that a win gets him one step closer to fighting Daniel Straus for the title somewhere down the road.
"Every fight that I win I move up to the top whether it looks that way or not. My fans are amazing -- they always get behind me, especially with wins. They've been calling for a title shot. Whether 'Pitbull' was here or not, whether Daniel (Straus) was healed or not, I'm coming! That's not just me being biased toward me wanting to be the man, it's an obvious thing that's happening. It's not a matter of if -- it's just a matter of when."
Speaking of Straus, we're creeping up on nearly a full year since he beat "Pitbull" for the title. If Straus continues to be sidelined for the foreseeable future, would an interim title be of interest to Jenkins?
"I'd take an interim title! I'll take any title. I'll take the making weight title -- it don't matter. Any belt they want to throw my way, I'll take it. I'll step up to it. I've never declined a fight (and) I won't start now. Anybody who's got a belt, put it on the line. I'll fight Hulk Hogan if he's got a belt that they want to give me."
"Real American" Hulk Hogan versus "I'mma Bad Man" Bubba Jenkins? What'cha gonna do, brother, when the pure wrestling takedowns run wild on you? Jenkins says Karakhanyan's about to find out.
"He's desperate because he could be on the chopping block. He could be going backward since he beat me a year ago and he'll be coming off of a loss after August 26th. Desperate fighters and desperate men do desperate things. It gives him more holes than a Swiss cheese block so I'll be sure to post on him, I'll be sure to pressure him, and be sure to let him know we're two fighters going in two different directions."
Both fighters are very confident about the outcome at Bellator 160 in Anaheim, but only one will be moving on up to the top. Tune in on Spike TV tomorrow night to find out who gets their piece of the pie.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.