PFL Contender Bubba Jenkins on Shooting His Shot for $1 Million: “I’m Perfecting My Purpose”

Photo/Instagram: bubba_jenkins

Bubba “Bad Man” Jenkins has been around the fight game for a long time – and though he’s currently busy cutting a swathe through PFL’s featherweight division, he’s previously fought for several other high-profile promotions, including Bellator.

The reason he’s picked his current gig with PFL? The chance to fight for a cool million in November 2022.

“I’m entering PFL’s world championship, which comes with a million-dollar bonus,” Bubba tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “That’s the big deal.” 

PFL sets itself apart from other professional MMA promotions by virtue of its competitive format. Rather than crowning a champion, and building a division around challengers for that belt, PFL models itself along lines more similar to that of older professional sports – such as baseball and football – complete with seasons and playoffs.

“PFL is much more of a league than any other fighting organization,” explains Bubba. “The other organizations do a lot of events, but this is a league – each year is a season, each year, you fight for a championship, and each year, you have a new champion. It’s a special league, and it’s the only format with a regular season and playoffs and things like that.” 

Was that part of what attracted Bubba to the PFL in the first place? “No,” he admits, with good-natured frankness. “The reason I wanted to come over was because they were giving out million-dollar checks. I don’t care what the format is, as long as they give me a million dollars.” 

As a veteran of other MMA promotions, how does Bubba feel about how the PFL experience compares? “There’s definitely a difference [in the PFL structure], in that sometimes you go into your next fight still nursing some injuries from your previous fight, just because everything is much more back-to-back,” he notes. “If you win the championship, you’ve done four fights in six months, and that’s a pretty heavy schedule as far as fighting goes. It’s pretty grueling on the body, and it’s something I had to get used to for sure – but something I’ve been okay with adapting to.” He grins. “If they’re giving you a million dollars to get the job done, I’ll do it.”

So what does a title shot in the PFL look like?

“We’re making sure that we’re doing everything we’ve been doing, but locking in the focus,” says Bubba of preparation strategy. “We’ve got a five-round fight this time, so we just turn it up a little bit more, and add a little bit more timing to what we’ve been doing. I have a great coach, and I have a great system, and it’s worked really well for us this year. Dewey Cooper is my head coach, and what he says goes – and what he says has been golden so far, so we’re not changing much. I give him full design control, and all direction, of my camp.”

According to Bubba, each fight he’s had this year has made him a better fighter, helping him build toward his shot at the championship. “Each fight has shown me a little bit of what my next opponent will present,” explains Bubba. “Him being the best of the best, one of the last guys standing in a twenty-man bracket – that means he’s more than the rest of those guys.” 

The way Bubba sees it, every opponent has a different lesson to teach. “My first guy [this season] prepared me to be in hostile territory with a striker and a guy who keeps coming forward,” he offers as an example. “My second guy prepared me to keep my confidence high, even knowing that I might have a war, even knowing that passions might be running high – to stay cool, calm, and collected.” He likens them to bosses in a video game – with the final boss arriving in November at the championship. 

Much of Bubba’s passion for – and success – in professional fighting stems from his highly decorated wrestling career, as both a freestyle junior World Champion and an NCAA Division I collegiate champion. He’s even beaten the legendary Jordan Burroughs. “Wrestling is a cheat code,” says Bubba. “Being a wrestler is the best base for fighting, period. Even bears wrestle. Even monkeys out in the wild wrestle. Snakes, alligators, animals wrestle. It’s a natural form of combat. Little girls, little boys, little sisters, little brothers, they all come out naturally horse-playing and wrestling.”

“It’s the oldest sport,” he continues. “There was nothing else before wrestling. It’s the number one beginning of all sports, and therefore it’s the best base – and I’m not just saying that out of bias. If you look at all the champions on every platform out there, you’ll see that they’ve all got at least a bit of a wrestling base. So say what you want – men lie, women lie – but numbers don’t, and I’m glad to have what I have.”

Bubba got into wrestling when he was nine years old, after his father passed away. “I was fighting every day for the first two weeks after it happened,” he remembers. “So my mom and my uncles put me into the sport.” He smiles. “My mom, she kind of knew that I was special from a young age.” His mother had always recognized her son as a natural athlete – it was just a matter of where he’d channel his gifts. 

These days, Bubba still keeps in touch with his wrestling roots, not only by coaching fellow professional fighters on their grappling game, but also by moonlighting as a local high school wrestling coach. 

Unsurprisingly, the teenage wrestlers that Bubba trains love being coached by a professional fighter. He laughs. “I’m always getting tagged or re-shared in Instagram video stories from my guys – I’m still really big in the wrestling community, so they still see me more as a wrestling legend than an MMA guy. To them, I’m still more the guy who beat Jordan Burroughs than the guy who’s going to be PFL world champion.”

What advice does he have for non-wrestlers looking to get into the fight game? Learn wrestling, certainly – but stay calm, and train intelligently. “The biggest thing you need to do while you’re learning to become a better wrestler for mixed martial arts is to find your entry points,” says Bubba. “Find the ways you can be successful when bullets are flying at you in the midst of war. You’ve got to take this guy through the battlefield, and put him through little holes and traps that you’ve set up for him, even when those bullets are flying – that’s how you get your takedown.”

Of everything that Bubba has accomplished athletically, the thing that makes him proudest is where he is today. “I’m proud to still be here at this capacity, at this resiliency. It feels like the world is only just getting to know me – but I’m also a veteran.” Bubba laughs. “I have the superstardom of a guy without substance, but the longevity of a guy who’s been in the game for a long time. So you can’t play me with any tricks, you can’t show me any bright lights I haven’t seen.”

“You’re going to have to be real, when you’re dealing with me in this sport,” he emphasizes. “Not only have I gotten my jewels out of this sport, I’ve crowned myself as king in the vision that I’m looking to become champion in, because I have longevity.”

“I’m trying to show the world what purpose looks like, and perfect it,” adds Bubba. “I found my purpose. And with finding that purpose, I’m running toward perfecting [my purpose]. I’m running toward becoming who I’ve been called to be. I know what I’m doing. I know what I want to do. And that’s why I talk with this confidence and authority, as if I’ve been here before and know that it’s coming, because I do, and I have, and I am – working on not only the future I’ve envisioned, but the substance behind getting there.” 

To keep up with Bubba Jenkins’ career, follow him on Instagram.

To watch the PFL World Championship, tune in on ESPN+ at 6PM ET on Friday, November 25.


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