UFC Fight Island 7’s Jacob Kilburn: Long Layoff was for the Best

Jacob Kilburn UFC
Jacob Kilburn UFC DC weigh-in Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

It was seemingly a whole different world, and certainly a different MMA landscape, when Jacob Kilburn made his UFC debut. Back in December of 2019, Kilburn got the call to fill in against Billy Quarantillo when Chris Fishgold had to pull out of the fight. On just nine days’ notice, Kilburn took the call, but ultimately was unsuccessful with a submission loss to the Contender Series alumni.

Looking back at that moment, Kilburn is glad that he took the call – after all it got him on to the sport’s biggest stage. However, he doesn’t really think of that first fight as his actual debut.

“I took [the fight] on nine days’ notice and really wasn’t in the gym or anything. So I’m thankful to have had this much time to prepare and this time there will be no excuses and we can start reminding everybody who I am,” Kilkburn said. “I’m looking at this more as my UFC debut, whereas the last one was just kind of a paycheck.”

This second booking is a long time coming too. Considering the debut wasn’t all that much of a debut to the Tennessee-native, he was looking to bounce right back with another booking. While the calls came for bookings throughout 2020, frustratingly Kilburn never got the chance to right that wrong.

“It’ll be a little over a year by the time we step in there,” he explained. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It’s just kind of the way things panned out. We had fights in the summer that fell through. We had fights in the fall that fell through – Nate Landwehr, Sean Woodson, some opponents you might recognize. For whatever reason, nothing panned out. People got hurt or they couldn’t sign the contract, locations got switched around. We definitely weren’t supposed to wait this long.”

Although Kilburn wanted to get that bad taste out of his mouth, he recognizes that this time away may have been a blessing in disguise. In this time, he was able to shift his camp to Coconut Creek and American Top Team, which he says is paying dividends.

“It just gave me more time to train down here at American Top Team, to keep improving and getting better,” he said recalling the chance encounter that led to the change. “We fought in December [of 2019] – like the first week of December. Thiago Alves fought on that card, so Mike Brown was backstage,” “I walked up to him and said ‘hey, coach, I’d like to come get some work with you guys.”

The famed head coach exchanged numbers with him and explained the process for joining the pro team, which would involve a tryout. Less than a month later, Kilburn would take him up on that offer.

“On New Year’s day [in 2020], me and my wife drove down to Florida. On the three day trip, I did some sparring and some grappling, and took the pro classes,” he said. “He called me on my way back to Tennessee and said everything was good and I was in.”

Just two weeks later Kilburn and his wife moved down to Florida full-time. For this, his first fight in over a year, he’ll have both Brown and coaches from his previous gym in Tennessee in his corner. Kilburn expects this hybrid coaching system to pay off for him as he faces Austin Lingo on the preliminary card of UFC Fight Island 7.

(You can listen to the entire audio of this interview at 2:53)