Ahead of Bellator 225 in his home state of Connecticut, Mike Kimbel discusses the treacherous beauty of his MMA journey, being on billboards, and fighting as part of the GOAT generation.
Over the past several years, Bellator MMA has become known as a prospect factory, adept at signing top wrestlers and other talented young fighters. Count Mike Kimbel among those. The Connecticut native, 3-1 as a pro to date, exploded onto the scene last year with with a slam finish at Bellator 194, then followed that up in his next fight with a six second knockout.
Returning at Bellator 225 this weekend, Kimbel described his journey in MMA to this point in rather poetic terms. “I would describe it as a treacherous beauty,” he told Cageside Press leading into his fight against Chris Disonell.
The treacherous part started early. Kimbel grow up in Waterbury, Connecticut, a rather rough place to be a child. To live in, period. Waterbury has a crime rate higher than 99% of the rest of the state. Living in Waterbury? You have a 1 in 200 chance of being the victim of violent crime.
Those sorts of statistics don’t bode well for any kid growing up there. When it comes to surviving Waterbury, Kimbel explained that “one, I got a good head on my shoulders. I’m very alert, I’m quick-witted.” That’s something his mom had instilled in him from an early age. “Two, I’ve had some loyal friends.” Then there’s the factor you just can’t control. “Three, probably the most important, I’ve been blessed, you know. I’ve just been blessed and I’ve always kept my faith strong. I’ve always had a vision and no matter what, no matter if I fell or I was walking, I fell forward, I move forward, I keep pushing, I keep going.”
While many fighters have had times throughout their careers where they question the path they’re on, Kimbel is in a slightly different situation, having made his debut in a top promotion. He’d always expected he’d have to get noticed on the local scene. “It turns out my pro debut was with one of the top organizations, and now I’m signed, and now I get to showcase my skills to the world. But even before that I had a lot of attention.”
So his most difficult time with his journey in MMA has “just been accepting it, accepting that I’m really that guy, accepting that I got these abilities, accepting it.” Kimbel has seen himself go “from a kid where people you know laughed at and I was told that I couldn’t do it so many times, to where, like people are praising me and my face is all over. It kind of punched me in my chest a little bit, it kicked me back a little bit. I was kind of like ‘whoa,’ you know, taken by surprise.”
Kimbel was once the kid watching others in front of the cameras, one he felt that “even in life” was “being second most of the time.” Fast forward a few years, and “now I’m in first place and everybody wants to talk to me and all of these cameras want to be in my face.”
His aggressive fighting style obviously got him noticed, but for Mike Kimbel, it’s something that has always come naturally. “Even when I would get into altercations and fight like that when I was younger,” he told us, “I’ve always been good with my hands, fast with my hands, hit hard, hit fast and get out, you know? So I kind of take that into the cage.”
It’s not just aggression, mind you. There’s no questioning Kimbel’s skill, despite being just 22 years old. “It’s either him or me but as I get a little bit more mature, like you said, I have real skill, I have real abilities.” Which means he’s learning to be patient, not always trying to immediately get opponents out of there. “I can set stuff up, I can think, because I’m way smarter than these guys. You can’t take my passion away from me, you know I’m so passionate, I love what I do in there. I’m giving the fight my heart, whether it be pain, it be joy, it be excitement. It’s so weird that Bruce Lee said it, and it’s truly how I feel — I just express myself when I go out there.”
Kimbel suffered his first setback against John Douma back in February. It was a first round submission loss, but having bounced back since, it still remains a learning experience.
“I wasn’t even disappointed in myself because I made the walk, but I was just a little pissed that I just f*cking gave it away,” Kimbel said of his first pro defeat. “You know, not for nothing I got caught up in him talking all of the sh*t he was talking and he was going to do this and do that. I lost my cool in the cage because I was upset with the fact of how much he was running and how timid and how p*ssy he was fighting.”
“You know, I get if he would just be like ‘you know its going to be a good fight blah blah I’m going to go out there and fight.’ I’d expect it but the way he was talking, I’m expecting him to really try and fight me and then it got a little aggravating,” Kimbel continued. “The card was itself already lackluster and I was like ‘I need to make something happen.'” Instead he wound up caught in a choke. “That’s why I say now, I fight now for myself. I don’t fight for the crowd because at the end of the day the victory is the most important.”
Even if he’s not fighting for the crowd, however, Mike Kimbel is fighting in a way that should please them. “I always go out there to put [an opponent] on his head, so I always go out to finish. I’m just calling a spade a spade, if I touch somebody on their head or on their chin they will fall or get rocked, I just hit very hard,” said Kimbel. “So I don’t really look for [the finish] but I know if I land it’s going to happen.”
In response to his first loss, “I took it as a lesson on both perspectives,” revealed Kimbel. “One perspective, it sounds cocky but it’s true. I am aware of how much of a threat and how much power I truly posses in that cage across from my adversary. They can say whatever they want but when we get into that cage my mind goes numb and they’re thinking ‘oh sh*t I got this dude in front of me right now.'” Once that point hits, it’s all about staying relaxed and maintaining composure. “If they want to run, play with them. Make them come or chase them but don’t chase too much.” Aside from those two areas, the other takeaway was dealing with “the lights, the cameras in my face. You know I’m not a morning person, they got me up at seven in the morning to do f*cking interviews and stuff like that. I’m like ‘yo dude I got to make weight, I got to train.’ Being on the main card and stuff like that, it was a good experience, there is nothing that I would change about it, it was a great experience and I’m fortunate for it.”
Kimbel bounced back in his next fight, a split decision win over Sebastian Ruiz at Bellator 222 in New York. Now, it’s on to Chris Disonell. “I’ve watched all of the tape that I could watch on him. You know he is a good opponent, he’s a tough competitor, he comes with intensity. I hope he brings that because I like that type of sh*t. But I’m prepared, you know, If something happens to him God forbid on Tuesday, to accept [another opponent] on Wednesday. I’m just training to be the best me.”
Kimbel is taking a wait and see approach in terms of how the fight plays out, mind you. “You know, I’m not sure. It could go one of two ways, he could come in with that intensity and that sh*t that he was talking and he could come, try to throw that and we’ll be in a real fight,” he suggested. “Or I’ll have to play it cool, set him up, pick him apart and then finish him with a big shot, or I make him panic wrestle, because he’s in there with a real threat and I submit him.” Ultimately, “there are so many ways that the fight could go that you never really know, but I do know that I am going to win.”
History by The Day by working over nights 🔪📈 @BellatorMMA never had a fighter billboarded off The iconic I-84 thanks to my team for getting it together! It humbles me knowing kids like me see this and go ohhhdreams are possible! Now it’s time to handle business👹🔪pop out📈☝🏽 pic.twitter.com/1guo2PgEqU
— Mike Kimbel (@kimbelmike) August 7, 2019
Just 22-years old, and Kimbel is not only fighting in a major promotion, but he’s featured on Billboards promoting him. “It makes me feel good, you know it’s an inspiring feeling. It’s a little unreal but it’s amazing you know, that an iconic billboard on the highway, there’s two of them actually, I’m on two billboards. To know that the kids and the people that I’ve spoken to and even people that I’ve said ‘yeah I’m going to be this’ and they’ve laughed at me or they’ve kinda been ‘yeah, whatever,’ they look and they’re like what, ‘whoa this kid is not playing.’
The crazy part, recognizes Kimbel, is how early in his career this has come. “I’m going on my fifth fight, I’ve already made history once and I’m making history again. I’m the first one on the billboard, I’m about to go make history in my state, because there has never been a show there before, it’s amazing, I can’t believe it.” If you’re confused about the making history part, Connecticut only just sanctioned mixed martial arts. Prior visits to the state all took part on Tribal lands, mainly at the Mohegan Sun. CES MMA held a show earlier this year, but Bellator’s trip will be the first time a major promotion has touched down since the state opened up. “I feel like I’m really the leader of the new generation. This is the GOAT generation, because every fighter in this generation can wrestle, they can box, they can kickbox, they got jiu-jitsu. So when I get crowned the king for this sh*t, I’m the best.”
Mike Kimbel returns this Saturday, August 24 at Bellator 225, going down at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.