SURREY — Jeremy Kennedy can vividly recall the details of his first MMA fight, which took place during a charity event at Relate Church on 152nd Street in Surrey.
“It was 2009, and it was down the street from my house in a church there,” said Kennedy. “It was pretty crazy, and I was 16 years old with braces and a head full of hair and fighting a 24-year-old, or something like that, and I won.”
He had little idea about what he was getting himself into that night, Kennedy admitted.
“I kind of thought I would be fighting with shin guards and headgear and everything, but we showed up and it was small gloves, full MMA, ground and pound and everything, so that was fun,” he remembered with a laugh.
“But my parents weren’t too happy about that. They had to sign a release, and that’s not what they were expecting going into it.”
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Fast-forward seven years and Kennedy is still on a high from his latest adventures in the octagon, this time in a much more high-profile venue.
It was a dream come true for Kennedy on Saturday, Aug. 27 when the MMA athlete made his UFC debut at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and won.
In the card’s first fight, a lightweight-division battle, he scored a unanimous decision over fellow Canadian newcomer Alessandro Ricci. Kennedy, 23, is a natural featherweight (145-pound class) who was competing in a division up.
After his fight, he sounded thrilled and definitely ready for more action in the UFC.
“I knew it’d be the majority of my crowd, but there were a lot more people there than I expected,” an elated Kennedy told reporters in a video posted to the “UFC on Fox 21” YouTube channel.
Later, in conversation with the Now, Kennedy talked about growing up in the Fleetwood area of Surrey, how he got into the sometimes bloody sport of MMA and why he keeps at it.
Since 2009, he’s gone from amateur to pro, from bottom-of-the-card fights to main-eventing along the way. He lived in Thailand for about a year and fought there, but eventually returned to Surrey to train.
“There were a lot of rough patches where, like, I’d think I wasn’t going to make it, that I’d just do it for fun and see how long I can go for,” Kennedy said. “It was more of a hobby and I had to work different jobs and that affected my training, and there was a lot of back-and-forth, where I didn’t know whether I wanted to do this full-time,” he continued.
“So to finally make it here and win, and now I’m waiting for my next call (from UFC officials), it’s pretty crazy. My dream actually came true, you know.”
He got into carpentry right out of high school, from Fleetwood Park Secondary, just for quick money. But a plumbing job with his father was a better fit, as it allowed him more flex time to train. With bills still pilling up, Kennedy landed a job at the Chevron oil refinery in Burnaby.
“It was really good money, but the hours were crazy and I couldn’t train as much as I wanted,” he said. “That was a turning point where I didn’t give it up, but I almost made fighting just a second priority, not a first priority.”
Fatefully, he was offered a teaching job in a Vancouver-area gym. “That really kind of kept me on course with MMA,” said Kennedy, whose nickname is JBC, which stands for “Junior Bacon Cheeseburger” and was given to him because of his taste for the fast-food menu item.
His UFC fight in Vancouver, on home turf in front of family, friends and fans, was the start of a four-fight contact for Kennedy with the high-profile organization.
“So I’m here to stay, and if I keep winning hopefully I can re-sign and everything like that, that’s the plan,” he said. “They can terminate that (contract) at any time, so winning is crucial. But if I keep winning and re-signing, that’s the career, you know.”
RELATED STORY: Surrey’s Kennedy wins UFC debut fight on home turf (from Aug. 28, with video)
Kennedy is “itching to get that call again,” now that he has one UFC fight under his belt, and he’ll train in the meantime.
“It’s up to them when I fight again but ideally it’d be every three or four months, so I’m looking at November or December as perfect timing,” he noted.
While Kennedy’s goal has always been to make a UFC card, since he started toying with MMA at age 13, his next goal is to open a gym here.
“That would be something to retire to, a business to have after fighting, right, because there’s only a small window in your life where you’re fighting,” Kennedy explained.
“I’m using fighting to help build my name, build my brand and then that helps my career. Me fighting in UFC is like going to school for a lot of other people, you know. I have to chip away at savings, too, to help start this thing. Hopefully I can retire (from fighting) and then have that gym to coach my own MMA fighters, younger ones, in the future here.”
But first, Kennedy said he’ll add to his ribcage-area tattoo, the one that counts the number of his pro-fight wins.
“I’ll add a ninth notch to it,” he said with much enthusiasm, “because I’m nine-and-O now.”
A look into the Now archives found the following story that mentions Jeremy Kennedy. The story was headlined “Blessed Brutality” and written by contributor Sarah Jackson for our July 26, 2009 edition:
SURREY — Spotlights flutter on and off as amped-up Christian rock music rattles the black walls of the diamond-shaped auditorium.
Blue smoke engulfs the front stage, shadowed by three giant video screens, each displaying information about Surrey’s Suitela Fight Club.
Massive light panels behind the stage cover the platform with red flashes. And as if to top off this sensory smorgasboard, the tempting aroma of hot dogs sizzling on a grill can’t help but make you hungry.
Fight clips from event sponsors introduce a beginning to the action. But not before the church welcomes its visitors.
Pastor John Burns grabs a microphone.
“We did not invite you here to convert you,” he tells the crowd, made up of mostly young men sporting fight club T-shirts.
A collective sigh fills the room.
The bright lights then suddenly dim as a fighter struts confidently to the ring. Another fighter comes out. This will be the first of nine matches.
“Let’s fight!” the referee yells.
Jeremy Kennedy, 5’9 and 135 lbs., takes down Paul Fitzpatrick, 5’8 and 139 lbs., to the mat. Fitzpatrick escapes Kennedy’s grasp and pounds his opponent against the rings.
Wrestling to maintain a dominant position, Fitzpatrick trips Kennedy and both fighters hit the mat with a loud thud. Kennedy takes control, striking Fitzpatrick’s face with wide hook punches while kneeing him in the chest.
The fights become increasingly intense as the night goes on. Crowd members strain their necks to watch Shaun Payne, a 5’10” fighter from Nanaimo, pummel Christiaan Allart, 6’2” and 148 lbs. Allart’s face wrenches with pain as Payne slams his fist into his face again and again.
The crowd loves it. Shouts of “Attack!” and “Finish him!” fill the room.
This was the scene at Relate Church, which – to the surprise of some churchgoers and fight fans – hosted its Second Annual Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Championship for charity Friday.
The crowd of about 700 raised $14,100 for Mercy Ministries, a women’s shelter that is building a Langley facility. The shelter, founded by the church’s pastors, plans to offer a six-month program to women suffering from addiction, eating disorders, unwanted pregnancy, depression, self-harm and, ironically, physical abuse.
“They would not like violence,” says Pastor Burns. “The reason they need help is because of men.“
Burns hopes the event highlights the difference between violence and aggression. He says MMA is a sport requiring skill and strength and that aggression is “part of being a male.” But violence, says Burns, is directed by anger.
The church wants men to feel welcome and “guys like fights.“
Koby Liesch, 22, works with the church’s youth ministry.
“I like seeing things turned around,” he says, adding the charity fundraiser is “taking something that was bad and turning it into good.“
The event, organized by Suitela Fight Club and Honour Combat Championship, featured fighters from B.C. and Washington.
Andy Suitela takes a moment as the fights near an end to discuss an issue familiar to MMA fans: sanctioning the sport.
“We’re having trouble getting MMA sanctioned,” he says, adding that the night was a good opportunity to promote it in a positive light.
“There was no booze and everybody kept their cool.“
Fighter John Agnew seemed unnerved by the calm crowd.
“It’s like a library in here, let’s go!” he shouted while taking the stage for the final match.
But most were relieved to see everyone behaving.
Dennis Taruc, a 32-year-old Surrey resident, says he “found it kind of odd no one’s cussing in here.“
Pastor Burns didn’t. Free from rowdy fans, he says the night allowed MMA to speak for itself.
“It’s about strength under control.“
JUST WHAT IS MMA?
Mixed Martial Arts or MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in North America.
The sport really arrived in the early 1990s in the form of no-holds-barred competitions between fighters of different skill sets. Bouts featuring fighters trained in grappling techniques – wrestling, jujitsu, etc. – would take on opponents with combat skills based on striking ability – boxing, karate, muay thai kick boxing, etc. With no holds barred and even fewer rules, these confrontations were often bloody and poorly officiated, leading to the disparaging label of “Human Cockfighting.“
To counter negative publicity, organizers – in particular the high profile Ultimate Fighting Championship – introduced new rules and weight classes, moves that removed much of the blood and savagery.
The result has been a pop culture phenomenon with record-breaking receipts for UFC’s pay-per-view events.
Among young fight fans – especially men between the ages of 18 and 30, MMA is now more popular than boxing.