Albeit coincidentally, there was something poetic in Dana White’s choice of words to describe Jack Jenkins’ contract winning Contender Series performance.
To appreciate the context, however, one must first understand the nickname bestowed upon the Australian Featherweight; “Phar”.
Phar Lap was a New Zealand-born racehorse of humble beginnings, later immortalised in Australian sporting history. The incredible story of Phar Lap, partnered to his anatomically larger-than-average heart, inspired the phrase “a heart as big as Phar Lap’s”; a metaphor for possessing qualities of generosity, courage, or determination.
It was a previous comparison of a then 15-year-old Jenkins to Phar Lap that inspired his “Phar” nickname.
Thus one can’t help but notice the juxtaposition when Dana White dubbed “Phar’s” performance against Freddy Emiliano Linares on Contender Series, undeservedly, as that of a “one-trick pony”.
“That’s definitely crossed my mind as well” Jenkins admits. “I agree, there’s something poetic there”.
An Undeserved Narrative
Those familiar with Jenkins would argue his Contender Series performance affirmed the opposite of Dana White’s judgement.
After all, for an athlete who broke the legs of all three of his Featherweight championship opponents across 2020 and 2021, Jenkins produced a performance contrary to that of the perceived kickboxer narrative; he displayed complete dominance on the ground.
Jenkins, however, not only accepted Dana’s assessment with humility and understanding; he saw opportunity in the narrative.
“Dana [White] only has to go on what he saw” Jenkins explains. “The takedowns I hit were all very similar; kinda like one hand high, one hand low on the leg. It was all, as you say, a ‘one-trick pony’ kind of night”.
“Dana’s called me a one-trick pony, so now I’m just gonna play that up!” Jenkins continues. “When I come out in [UFC 284] Perth and we get into some striking exchanges, there’s gonna be a lot of people – unlike yourself – [that] haven’t done the research, haven’t watched it. The only experience of my fights they have are what they’ve been told – or what they’ve heard – and they’re gonna go ‘Holy sh*t this guy can strike!’. And then, it’s gonna be a good chance for me to get a bit of banter going, and be like ‘Hey Dana, one trick pony?!’; that sorta stuff”.
Mixing the Arts
Jenkins has demonstrated a remarkable versatility across his 10-2 professional record. Thus, for an athlete with such a well-rounded skill set, there is certainly a disservice in branding Jenkins a “one-trick pony”.
Of course, however, there equally exists a disservice in labelling the Aussie based solely on his renowned striking ability.
“Sometimes people try to pigeon hole you as a fighter” Jenkins admits. “Like ‘Is he a striker or a grappler?’; even now still. We’re getting to that further-down-the-line bit of MMA, where no-one coming in is just a striker or just a grappler anymore, like they were 10 years ago. But you still get people wanting to know, will you follow the narrative that’s been set for you”.
“The narrative that was set for me was that ‘This guy’s a kickboxer and a striker, and he’s gonna come in and do that’”Jenkins explains. “Whereas that’s not the narrative I’ve ever set for myself. It’s always been I’m an MMA fighter, and I’ll take the path of least resistance. If I’m gonna be a lot better on the ground, I’m gonna go there; if I’m gonna be a lot better on the feet, I’m gonna go there”.
“In my four fights before I fought on Contender Series, I fought a leg-lock specialist black belt, a black belt who submitted me once earlier in my career, and a black belt World Champion in jiu-jitsu” Jenkins continues. “Well obviously in all those fights, the path to victory was on the feet, but that doesn’t mean I’m just gonna stick to that and hope that’s my f*cking saving grace going forward”.
Winning on the Worst Day
In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, Freddy Emiliano Linares unknowingly predicted the narrative of his bout with Jenkins.
Speaking in the promotional Contender Series preview, Linares claimed “the fighter who is going to impose his will inside the octagon will win”.
Linares was correct; only, it would be Jenkins who would impose his will.
Yet, despite that complete dominance, Jenkins – who by his own admission holds himself to the highest standard – was disappointed in his performance, going as far as to describe it as his worst day.
“I just think in terms of what my mentality was when I showed up and how switched on I was, that was probably as bad as I get” Jenkins admits. “Even some mistakes I made. Watching the fight back, I did some things well for sure, but I made mistakes that I wouldn’t have made once in the last five years in the gym. I just made them because of the enormity of the event and how much was riding on it; I was probably out of my head a little bit”.
Remarkably, it was only upon a chance encounter that Jenkins comprehended just how much damage he inflicted upon his Ecuadorian opponent.
“It was actually quite sobering a little bit” Jenkins reveals. “It just so happened that when we got back to the hotel, Freddy [Emiliano Linares] and his team were leaving the hotel, and in the lobby. The amount of damage on his face. It wasn’t just one cut – at the end of the fight it looked like he just had that one cut. After it had taken some time to swell up, he was barely recognisable. He had these big bumps all over his head, like he had almost a tennis ball around his right eye. He looked really gruesome, and I thought ‘Jeez, I thought I was getting work off, and I’m glad that it shows’”.
“I wasn’t happy that he went home hurt obviously” Jenkins affirms. “But it was good to see I wasn’t landing glancing blows; they were serious shots”.
Undoubtedly, there is an unrelenting savagery to Jenkins’ execution inside the cage.
Outside the cage, however, one would be hard pressed to find an individual more respectful, and more humble, than Jenkins.
Despite soaring to ever increasing heights, Jenkins remains grounded. A gentleman who gives his undivided attention to anyone and everyone; always grateful, and always appreciative.
By his own admission, however, ‘switching off’ the caring soul, and ‘switching on’ the merciless fighter, isn’t easy.
“It’s actually really quite difficult for me, and it takes time” Jenkins admits. “Like I kinda have to build myself into it over a fight camp. Not only that, but build myself to be able to switch it on over the years”.
“One that I struggled with Freddy [Emiliano Linares] a little bit was that I couldn’t sleep in the days leading up to the fight, and for some silly reason I was online, and I was googling what the average salary of someone who lives in Ecuador was” Jenkins reveals. “I found it really tough to know how much of a percentage of our purse could’ve changed his life, even just for that starting Contender Series fight”.
“I live in a nice country” Jenkins continues. “If I didn’t have fighting, there’s other things I could do. I always battle with the question myself – who’s more dangerous, the guy who has a hundred options and chooses to fight, or the guy who has no options and has to fight? I always try to think about which one of them is a more scary opponent. The guy who chooses to fight is obviously doing it because he loves it; the other guy has no other option”.
“I do struggle with it, and particularly against Freddy [Emiliano Linares] I really struggled to try and end his dreams while pursuing mine” Jenkins explains. “I don’t think that’s going to get any easier as my career goes on. I just focus on when the cage door shuts, focus on the task I’ve gotta do. I don’t really get angry at the person across the cage from me or anything; I just get myself in a position where I’m ready to die, ready to get hurt if need be, and ready to do some damage myself”.
“I won’t be googling the salaries of where my f*cking opponents are from anymore I tell you that much!” Jenkins says.
A Man of his Word
In the post-fight interview following his Contender Series bout, there was a wonderful moment for Jenkins, over four years in the making.
Pointing to renowned MMA journalist John Morgan, Jenkins asked “Do you remember when we met?”.
“When? No when was it?” Morgan responded.
“UFC Liverpool. Dan Kelly versus Tom Breese. I was with Dan Kelly” Jenkins continued.
“I do remember that!” Morgan admitted.
As Jenkins went on to explain, he had previously met Morgan at UFC Liverpool in 2018, and told Morgan he would interview Jenkins one day.
Over four years later, Jenkins delivered on his word, as a recipient of a UFC contract.
“It’s unreal” Jenkins admits. “Sometimes I’m pinching myself. I think you’ve gotta kinda smell the roses a little bit, which I’m trying to do, but also not lose sight of the fact that I never wanted to just get here; I wanted to get here and do really well once I was in”.
“Anyone who says they don’t have doubts is a liar I think, or just not intelligent enough to have doubts” Jenkins explains. “When I went over to Liverpool, and I was helping Dan Kelly get ready for his fight, I was on a two-fight skid at that point when I was there. I’d gone three wins, and then two losses. I went down to the room and he was there getting interviewed, and I remember watching him do the interviews, and I thought ‘F*ck this is really cool, I really want to do this one day’”.
“When we got up, and I sorta introduced myself to him, I said ‘Hey my name is Jack Jenkins. One day you’re going to interview me. I’ll be in the UFC’” Jenkins continues. “He kinda looked at me and was like ‘Yeah, I’m looking forward to it!’. Then, to have that moment after Contender Series – I didn’t know he was gonna be there interviewing; I had no idea what the process was gonna be. So as soon as I saw him I was just pumped. You can see me in the interview light up”.
The Brightest of Futures
Jenkins will make his highly anticipated UFC debut February 12th 2023 in his homeland; UFC 284 in Perth, versus Don Shainis.
Those familiar with Jack Jenkins will know that with his introduction, an already stellar Featherweight division gains a hugely exciting, talented Aussie guaranteed to make waves.
Those who are new to Jenkins, however, are blissfully unaware of the treat that awaits them.
In his own words, Jenkins is elated at the opportunity ahead of him, and knows his potential is limitless.
“[I’m] really happy to be here; really, really happy to be here” Jenkins says. “[I’ve] had the opportunity to prove myself on Contender Series, and now I’ve got my contract and the sky is the limit”.
The author wishes to extend his utmost gratitude to Jack Jenkins for making this article possible. Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.