Bellator 293: Aaron Jeffery on “Overnight Success That’s Also Been 12 Years in the Making”

Canadian talent Aaron Jeffery (13-3) has risen to the top of the Bellator middleweight division rapidly by virtue of a knockout in under ninety seconds on eight days’ notice against former title challenger Austin Vanderford. Now going into his third fight in the promotion against another former Bellator title challenger in John Salter at Bellator 293, Jeffery does feel like things have all happened quickly, but also knows he has put in the work to make it here.

“It’s an overnight success that’s also been like 12 years in the making,” he told Cageside Press ahead of Bellator 293. “I’ve been grinding my ass off since I was fighting amateur, I’ve been working for this forever, it just kind of went from no fame and fortune to all of it hitting all at once. It’s not that it wasn’t expected it just all came on very quickly.”

Many aspects of this are all new to Aaron, who grew up watching The MMA Hour and now has appeared on it twice just since his last fight, “It was very surreal man, I watched that show a lot when I first got into MMA, so when I first turned on that Zoom call and saw Ariel introducing me it was pretty crazy.”

Yet one oddity of this precipitous rise is that although he has been written about in a number of newspapers in Canada, his hometown does not number among them, “My mom is very pissed about it, every time I go home she mentions that the Tillsonburg newspaper hasn’t yet published an article about me. But maybe this fights the one.”

If Aaron wins against John Salter he is surely in line for a title shot next; it would be shocking to see his own hometown continue to not write about him when he fights for a belt in a major promotion.

However, for Aaron and many other Canadian fighters, the last year brought tragedy as Canadian mixed martial arts trailblazer Elias ‘The Spartan’ Theodorou passed away. Aaron had a particularly close relationship with Elias, he was the Canadian representative on The MMA Hour to talk with Ariel Helwani about Elias’ life, passing, and legacy.

It is clear that Theodorou had a profound impact on Aaron as a young mixed martial artist. When asked about if this fight, Jeffery’s first since the passing of his friend, Aaron responded, “Not specifically but I feel like my whole career is in some way dedicated to him. I really don’t think I’d be here without him, he took me under his wing when I was young, he beat the shit out of me for years and years. He was experienced, he’d been in the UFC, he helped me physically and mentally and business-wise and everything, so I feel like pretty much every fight from here out is somewhat dedicated to Elias.”

Having an experienced leader like that to be around clearly benefited Aaron’s career. And now he finds himself on the other side of that dynamic, as with his rapid rise to the top he has also become a leader at his own gym, Niagara Top Team, as the second most experienced fighter from the gym and the highest ranked one. “They call me team Captain at the gym now; I help out with the coaching a bit… I think a lot of the younger guys come to me when they have questions about the sport.”

Speaking of those younger guys who he’s becoming a leader of, he’s quick to put them over “We’ve got a lot of high level guys. My buddy Kevin Popowick…is making big strides right now, he’s 4-2, got four finishes in a row; he’s cleaning up the regional scene here in Canada so I’m expecting big things from him soon.”

Still, it’s not necessarily easy for guys from smaller gyms to get all of the training partners they need at their home gym; Aaron has traveled to get different looks at times, especially to KillCliff MMA in Florida. Despite his loyalty to his core team, he says it’s a necessity for him to travel, especially since he is the only 185-lb fighter out of Niagara Top Team.

“I think everyone should do it at some point in their career, you got to explore a little bit and see how other people do things. As far as making it a regular thing, it depends. For me it’s kind of necessary because there’s not a lot of big guys at my gym, we have a lot of high level guys, but I’m pretty much the only 185er. So I get good work here, I get good, technical work, I have [specialists] in the different disciplines I work with a lot…but I don’t have middleweight MMA fighters, so I go down there to get some more big bodies to work with.”

Some of those other middleweight and welterweight names are easily recognizable to fans of the sport. Aaron says there are a bevy of talented fighters whom he spars with at KillCliff. “Brendan Allen, Gerald Meerschaert, Derek Brunson, Logan Storley, Impa Kasanganay, Dilano Taylor. I can probably name many more, KillCliff is a crazy gym man; there’s so many high level guys.”

It is interesting that Jeffery trains with Brendan Allen now, as Allen defeated Aaron by submission in Aaron’s first time on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019. But Aaron seems to be a friendly guy to everyone, even past opponents. “We’re cool now, he’s awesome man I love that guy. He’s good, he’s very good. It’s crazy when guys hold a grudge and they’re like, ‘I’m not going to train with this guy who beat me or who I fought in the past,’ whatever, he’s a f***ing great fighter, why would I turn down the opportunity to train with him?”

Aaron just wants to do whatever he can to get better, and training with a top-15 UFC middleweight is so beneficial to that journey that he does not seem to have ever questioned whether or not to train with a former rival.

He is all about fighting, and changing his personality outside of the cage to help his career is not an option to Aaron, who just wants to let his skills speak for himself, “I think I’m too reserved to [be a loud, brash talker], it would come across way too fake, everyone bugs me about it, buddies who watch the sport say, ‘Man you got to call someone out, you got to say some s***.’”

But that is not who Aaron is, so he responds to those friends by saying, “I don’t know man, I don’t think I could do it. I’ll try and say some funny stuff and let my personality come through but I don’t think I’d be very good at faking it.”

Jeffery’s goals for his career are broad and far-reaching. It is clear he loves the sport and wants to be recognized for his efforts, like anyone else. He somewhat looks up to one of the best-regarded active fighters in the world and a rival in the Bellator middleweight division: Gegard Mousasi. “I want to be a guy that’s a veteran with a sick record, I want a ton of fights, I want to be well-known. I want to have fought the who’s who and be remembered after I’m done, like a Gegard. I’m probably too old to get that many fights now but a dude with sixty fights who’s fought everyone, everyone knows who he is – it’s legendary, so I want to build a resume like that.”

Helping Aaron in his goal to get people to remember him is his recognizable mullet which has become synonymous with himself. His girlfriend is even a hairstylist who helps him keep it looking sharp. “She loves [the mullet] man, she loves it a lot. She styles it for me, she wanted to do a perm for me. She’s always wanting to do s*** to the mullet so I don’t think she would want to cut it even if I asked her to.”

When asked if that mullet ever makes him feel like one of the Trailer Park Boys, one of Canada’s top comedy shows (about so-called ‘trailer trash’), he laughed and said, “I do a little bit but I like to say that I have a more polite mullet, it’s a mullet that you can wear to meet the in-laws and not get funny looks, it’s more stylish.”

Aaron’s easy-going, not overly serious nature makes it easy to forget that he has fought some absolute killers in his relatively young career, especially for a guy who has only technically fought two fights in major promotions, both of those being in Bellator. Across Bellator, CFFC, LFA, and DWCS he has faced: aforementioned top-15 UFC middleweight Brendan Allen, top-15 UFC welterweight Sean Brady, Bellator title challenger Austin Vanderford, and two guys with undefeated UFC records in Andre Petroski and Caio Borralho.

When asked to rank his next opponent, John Salter, among those past opponents, he said, “It’s hard to say until I get in there with him, but I don’t know man, at a certain level everyone is kind of neck and neck. On the regional scene you get guys who are really good and guys who are really bad. But when you get in the big leagues, you get guys who are in the top-10, top-15, everyone is pretty neck and neck, there’s not a huge skill discrepancy, so I’d say all these guys are pretty close.”

Aaron Jeffery has had a mixed record against those names in his career, going 2-3 against them, but has done perhaps his best work in his most recent fights, winning all of them comfortably. Fans are starting to take notice of the Canadian mullet man, and so a big victory in the biggest fight of his career will almost definitely see him in a title shot the next time he steps into the Bellator cage.

Watch our full interview with Bellator 293’s Aaron Jeffery above.