Canadian featherweight Jeremy (JBC) Kennedy has waited for his shot at Aaron Pico.
The two Bellator fighters were supposed to meet in April only to have Kennedy sidelined on the eve of the contest after suffering a broken orbital bone in a final sparring session. American Adli (Sunshine) Edwards stepped in for Kennedy, losing via third-round TKO to Pico at Bellator 277.
"All the hard work was done. All the money was invested in (the training camp) and I didn't get to go (fight)," Kennedy said of the late injury withdrawal. "That had me sidelined all through the summer. I happened to get this (fight) rebooked, which was nice. Same matchup, same everything. So it worked out. It just got kind of delayed five months."
Kennedy and Pico try again Saturday at Bellator 286 in Long Beach, Calif. Pico has won six straight in Bellator.
"Looking at the positives, I just got a full year of growing and training … This is the best shape I can easily say I've ever been in," said Kennedy. "I've set a standard for myself moving forward now, which is how good a shape I'm in and how long it took me to get here.
"Just staying disciplined. Eating the same things every day. Training. The regimen. So now I'm really excited to see the improvements in the cage. And then moving forward, just excited to continue building on it."
The 30-year-old Kennedy, a veteran of both the UFC and PFL, has lost just one of his last six outings (4-1-0 with one no contest). His last bout was a unanimous decision win over American Emmanuel (El Matador) Sanchez last December at Bellator 272.
Kennedy, ranked seventh among Bellator contenders at 145 pounds, and Pico, ranked No. 3, will be watching the main event at Long Beach Arena with interest. Featherweight champion Patrício (Pitbull) Freire of Brazil takes on No. 2 Adam (The Kid) Borics of Hungary.
Borics has wins over both Kennedy and Pico — at Bellator 256 and 222, respectively.
Pico (10-3-0) has not lost since meeting Borics in June 2019. All 13 of Pico's fights have been in Bellator, which signed him to a long-term deal in 2014 when he was 18 with his sights on making the Olympics as a wrestler.
Pico eventually placed second at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2016 — losing to Frank Molinaro who went on to finish fifth at the Rio Games — and made the move to MMA. He struggled early on, losing his pro debut at Bellator 180 in June 2017 and going 4-3-0 in his first seven fights. But the 26-year-old is on a roll now.
"I'm anticipating everything," said Kennedy. "I expect this fight to be all over the place. And that's another reason why I was so disciplined in the cardio because you need it to be on those up-and-down exchanges that are exhausting. I have to be prepared to be able to maintain a pace. And for 15 minutes, I plan to do it."
Kennedy (17-3-0 with one no contest) says Saturday's card, given its main event, offers "the perfect platform" to stake his claim for a title shot at 145 pounds.
Unbeaten lightweight (Fearless) Lance Gibson Jr. of Port Moody, B.C., faces American Dominic (All Day) Clark (15-12-0) on Saturday's undercard. Clark has lost four of his last five fights while Gibson is a perfect 6-0-0 as a pro.
Gibson had been slated to fight Chris Avila (8-9-0) but Avila dropped out to face YouTube star Doctor Mike, a family doctor/internet personality whose real name is Mikhail Varshavski, in a four-round pro boxing match on the undercard of the Oct. 29 fight between Jake Paul and former UFC champion Anderson Silva in Glendale, Ariz. Doctor Mike has 10.2 million subscribers on YouTube.
Kennedy has been around the MMA block.
He went 3-1-0 in the UFC, winning his first three fights before being stopped by Australia's Alexander (The Great) Volkanovski at UFC 221 in February 2018. Volkanovski won the UFC featherweight title four fights later when he beat Max (Blessed) Holloway.
Kennedy had won all 11 pro fights before running into Volkanovski.
After the UFC, Kennedy went 2-1-0 with one no contest in the Professional Fighters League. He is 2-1-0 in Bellator.
Kennedy has seen a little bit of everything on his MMA journey. In 2019, he fought two men the same night on a PFL card with a win and loss only to see both opponents fail a drug test. After defeating Brazil's Luis Rafael Laurentino by second-round knockout in the PFL quarterfinals, Kennedy was submitted by American Daniel (The Pit) Pineda in the semifinals.
Kennedy’s loss to Pineda was eventually changed to a no contest.
Kennedy got into MMA because he was tired of being on the wrong end of wrestling tussles with his older brother. At 13, he took a shine to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and started taking part in competitions.
That led to boxing, wrestling and then MMA. He marks each victory by adding a stripe to a tattoo on his side.
A native of Surrey, B.C., Kennedy rented his home north of the border and moved to Las Vegas during the pandemic because it offered more training options.
"But B.C.'s always going to be home. That's going to be my forever home. I've got all my family out there still … But while the fight career is in full swing, this is where I've got to be."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press