Canada’s Jesse Arnett has made a career out of fighting some of the toughest guys out there on the regional circuit.
Now, at 38, the longtime veteran is set to challenge UFC vet Ali AlQaisi for the UAE Warriors featherweight championship this weekend.
For Arnett (19-8), it’s a return to featherweight, where he last fought roughly five years ago — but after spending most of his career as a bantamweight, he excepts the move to be permanent.
“I’m done making bantamweight. I’ve literally been making that weight class since my first year of university,” Arnett told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview.
Arnett will still cut weight to make 145, mind you. “I can weigh 160, 165. In shape, I’m about 157, 158. I’m the perfect size for this division.”
In AlQaisi, Arnett has an opponent he sees as another tough guy, one who has some experience, and is durable. That said, he sees it as a favourable match-up. “I think I’m better everywhere. I know I’m better everywhere. I’m a better boxer, I’m a better wrestler, I have a better ground game. I’ve got to watch out for a Hail Mary shot; he can’t beat me on the cards. This is my fight to win. I’ve just got to be patient, I’ve tightened up a lot of things, I’ve got a great team behind me right now. I feel I can get him out of there inside of 15 minutes.”
Arnett does believe his upcoming opponent is a good grappler. “He’s got a good guillotine. He’s strong on the body lock. His best quality is, he gets better as the fight goes on too,” Arnett acknowledged. Not that he expects it to make a difference. “Has he fought guys inside the top 30 like I have? No. I’m the toughest guy he’s ever fought by the long shot.”
What Arnett is excited for is that AlQasi is a game, durable fighter — which means he can get in there and “have a good knock with the champ.”
Ali AlQasi is far from the first UFC alum Jesse Arnett is faced. Over the years, he’s squared off against Ray Borg, Nate Maness, Darrick Minner, Johnny Bedford, Roman Delorme, and other talented fighters including Bellator’s Josh Hill.
He’s won some, he’s lost some, but as he noted, “all those guys I’ve lost to, we run that fight back, it’s a pick ’em.”
In 2017, however, Arnett came close to hitting the big time: signed by the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world. “I was 15 wins and four losses, and I did get signed to the UFC. And unfortunately the promoter that I was with at the time did not let me out,” Arnett noted. “And then I lost to Nate Maness and I lost to Josh Hill. Hat’s off, both good fighters, both good guys. And like I said earlier, you run me and Josh back right now, I can win that fight. You run me and Nathan back right now, I can win that fight. So I’m not going anywhere right now at my age.”
Still, at 38, Arnett is focused on the title in front of him, rather than worrying about making the jump to a big promotion.
“My goals are right now to win this title Saturday night, and then defend it later on this fall, and then go from there. Right now I’m definitely staying with UAE Warriors. Obviously if something came up, we can talk,” Arnett stated, noting that while the “UFC doesn’t like taking the older people no more,” they did sign a 40 year old on the Contender Series last year.
“I’m just content and happy where I’m at right now. I’ve had a good career, man. And you know, I’m your favourite fighter’s favourite fighter. I’ve got the respect of all my peers. Some of the best fighters in the world respect me and tell me I’m great, so I know I’m doing something right.”
It’s been a long and entertaining road for Jesse Arnett, long one of the standouts in Canadian MMA. Arnett got his start in collegiate wrestling, in the same generation that witnessed the rise of Daniel Cormier, Ben Askren, Henry Cejudo, and “King” Mo Lawal. He even travelled alongside them, representing Canada on the world stage.
“Mo Lawal ended up being one of my best friends when I was young, because we really loved wrestling, pro wrestling,” Arnett recalled. “I was up 3-0 to Henry Cejudo at the Pan Am Games going into the break, then he was pissed off, he smashed me 13-3. So when that’s happening to me at 20 years old, it definitely carries on 20 years later. Henry Cejudo’s been a thorn in everyone’s side for 20 years, geez!”
Jesse Arnett takes on Ali AlQaisi for the UAE Warriors featherweight championship this Saturday, July 2, 2022 at UAE Warriors 30. The event airs live on UFC Fight Pass.