UFC 221’s Jeremy Kennedy Ready to Settle Some Unfinished Business

Jeremy Kennedy, UFC featherweight, will appear next at UFC 221
Jeremy Kennedy, left, of Canada, fights Alessandro Ricci, of Canada, during a lightweight bout at a UFC Fight Night event in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Aug.27, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

At UFC 221 this weekend, Canada’s Jeremy Kennedy gets a chance to settle some unfinished business, getting back a fight he was forced out of last Fall.

Undefeated featherweight Jeremy Kennedy got into MMA thanks to roughhousing with his older brother. After years training multiple disciplines and taking his first amateur fight at 16 years old, Kennedy has built up an impressive resume over the past couple years, emerging as one of Canada’s top mixed martial artists. At 11-0, he’s become a prospect to watch in the UFC, where he has won all three of his fights to date.

Last October, however, he was briefly sidelined with a neck injury, and forced out of a bout with Alexander Volkanovski at UFC Sydney the following month. Fights fall through in MMA on a regular basis, and injuries are part of the game. It would have been little surprise had Kennedy and Volkanovski never crossed paths again. Instead, Kennedy made sure to get a second chance at a fighter he’d already prepared for. The pair will finally meet at UFC 221 this weekend.

‘JBC’ spoke to Cageside Press ahead of UFC 221 about the fight, going to war in enemy territory, getting Canada on his bandwagon and more.

Addressing last Fall’s injury, which had been reported as a bulging disc in his back, Kennedy set the record straight: “It was actually a bulged disc in my neck” he told us, though in the end it was “still the same thing, same result, I was unable to train.”

Either way, there was no avoiding pulling out of the fight back at UFC Sydney. Thankfully his neck is feeling way better these days. “It was only a five or six week injury, but it just didn’t make sense for the fight. I wouldn’t have been able to grapple or do anything kind of wrestling.”

That’s all behind him now. “I’ve been training for a long time now, so it’s not even a thought for me. I’m just ready to go” Kennedy said. Surprisingly, he was even able to get the same bout back. Volkanovski defeated replacement Shane Young via a decision back in November, and was ready to go at UFC 221 in Perth.

“I actually asked for this one” Kennedy explained. “Right when I was ready to go again, and I saw that first, Alex won, that was good, his stock kind of rose.” Then he saw that “they were going back to Australia, but with a PPV event, I was just like ‘why not?'”

The fight makes all sorts of sense for the Canadian. “I’d done all my homework on him, I was ready to go for that specific opponent, and it does make sense, our fight, where we’re ranked right now, it makes sense” he said, adding that “the winner is going to go on to do bigger things in 2018.”

Calling it what it is, Kennedy referred to it as “unfinished business. I agreed to it, I wasn’t able to follow through with it, so now I get that chance.”

In what will soon be four UFC fights, Kennedy will have fought three outside of Canada including UFC Perth. That said, Kennedy is prepared for the long flight down under, leaving early to adjust to the time change. “And I’m not too worried about the hostile crowd” he added, saying “nothing can be worse than Brazil.”

He did, however, note that the Perth athletic commission will have a different approach to weigh-ins, with no early weigh in. And since the card is going down Sunday morning (locally) to make things work for the North American PPV audience, weigh-ins will be Saturday morning. “I kind of got used to the whole early weigh-ins” he admitted. That despite spending most of his career with just twenty-four hours between hitting the scale and entering the cage. So the plan is “to make sure I’m nice and light, re-hydrate properly, nice and easy cut, and that’s about it.”

“I think it’d be weird if I wasn’t getting booed at this point”

With his coaches and girlfriend (who he suggested “keeps me sane”) making the trip with him, Kennedy isn’t expecting any complications. Plus, he’s used to going to war in hostile environments.

“I’ve pretty much done that my whole career now” he suggested. His UFC career, anyway. “My last two, I fought Kyle [Bochniak] in New York, and he’s from Boston, so me being the Canadian, I wasn’t a fan favorite over there. And then Brazil, fighting Ronny Jason in his home town.”

“I think it’d be weird if I wasn’t getting booed at this point” Kennedy said.

The upside is, it’s a chance to win fans. “It’s a nice feeling when they’re booing and you’re winning, and your arm gets raised, and they changed sides and now they’re your fan. It’s a cool feeling.” With all that said, however, Kennedy says he would “ideally like to fight in Canada, mostly just for financial reasons. It makes a lot more sense, it’s cheaper, I don’t have to pay these crazy withholding taxes or anything like that.”

There are other benefits as well: fighting in the same timezone, being comfortable at home, and “I can be the hometown guy, I can be the fan favorite for once.” Yet in reality, he admits that “it’s all just superficial anyway. At the end of the day, it’s a fight.”

Which can happen anywhere. “I really want to fight in Vegas” he added, noting that Las Vegas is neutral ground in the fight game. So Kennedy said he’s aiming for a “Canadian card or Vegas” — but “if they tell me to go fight some English guy in London, I’ll still do it.”

Having made some headway in the UFC, things have changed in regards to his profile in Canada. “Yeah I think so” Kennedy answered when asked about his status at home. “We do have a lot of talent here, and it’ll come in the next few years. There’ll be a lot of guys coming up. I’m okay with leading that, I’ll be the face if need be. All I gotta do is keep winning fights.”

So far, so good. And “the more Canadians that want to back me, the better. All these other fighters have these whole countries behind them. That’s how Conor had such a big rise, because he had all of Ireland. If I can get all of Canada behind me, it’ll make it a quicker rise.” Georges St. Pierre most certainly captured the nation, so it is possible.

“Even guys like Yair Rodriguez, he had pretty much all of Mexico” Kennedy estimated. “It’s kind of up to Canada at this point.” So long as he keeps winning, “once they start taking notice that I’m this young prospect, I’m 25 years old, hopefully they can see that and get on board.”

Turning the focus to upcoming opponent Alexander Volkanovski, it would seem the pair are fairly evenly matched. Similar records. Both purple belts in jiu-jitsu. Kennedy, however, doesn’t focus on the belt system. “The belt ranking to me, it’s kind of been a wash for a while now,” he explained, “because I haven’t put on the Gi in probably a few years. So a few years ago, I was a purple belt. Once I started getting all these active MMA fights, I kind of just retired the Gi in a sense. All I do is No-Gi now. I’m rolling with black belts every day, and it’s not like I’m a fish out of water or anything like that.”

In his estimation, “I would consider myself an MMA grappling black belt, with the punches and the wrestling mixture.”

“I can hold my own with anybody” Kennedy stated.

“He’s going to adapt to my pace.”

There are areas, however, where Kennedy feels he’ll give his opponent fits at UFC 221. “When it comes down to it, my length and leverage will be a factor for him” the Canadian suggested. “Most short guys, their style is his style, that grind-y wrestle-y type. I’m used to that. I’m used to grappling 5″5, 5″6 guys who are wrestlers predominantly.”

“There’s not many guys that are six feet tall fighting at 145 that have that static strength, [and] grappling wrestling style as well.” Instead, “they’re usually tall, long strikers with no takedown defense.” Kennedy feels there will be a big difference between himself and other opponents Volkanovski has faced, based on body type alone.

“Especially with me using my range on the feet” he continued. “Then when he tries to close that distance and wrestle and he gets stuffed and starts to panic, then I start turning him and now I’m taking him down. That’s not something he’s going to be used to at all.”

Saying that he watched plenty of tape on Volkanovski back in November, and is leaving the rest to his coaches, Kennedy said “I’ve already done my homework” for the fight.

He does respect his opponent’s strengths. “He’s probably the best grappler I’ve faced in the cage right now,” Kennedy admitted, “but that doesn’t mean he’s the best guy I’ve competed against or grappled against in the gym.” From observing his opponent, ‘JBC’ has seen that “he’s got a few tricks you see him do lots, which is that spinning elbow off the cage. He likes his lead head kick, and big overhand right which most short guys have.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll use any of those. “Who knows? It’s a fight, and everybody’s different. He might come out and not [use] those things against me because of my different stance or height or whatever.” Which means that Kennedy’s focus is on what he can do, rather than what his opponent might do. “I’m kind of more focused on what I’m going to do to him, and not necessarily what he’s bringing to the table.”

Ultimately, “he’s going to adapt to my pace.”

Jeremy Kennedy has a clear goal for 2018 should he get his hand raised at UFC 221: “I want to be ranked by the end of this year” he told us. “I think a win over Alex will put me there, and if not, it will put me in line to face somebody who is ranked.” As for who’s next? The featherweight didn’t want to put the cart before the horse, but you could find out soon. “The wheels are already spinning” on a future opponent he finished.

Jeremy Kennedy faces Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 221 on February 11, 2018. The fight takes place as part of the televised prelims on Fox Sports 1 (TSN 2 in Canada).