The Duke boys were “cousins closer than brothers” back in the late 70s and early 80s. Fast forward forty years and we have MMA’s answer to Bo and Luke, Southern accents and all, in the form of Bryce Mitchell and AJ Cunningham.
Before his LFA and iKON MMA bouts on UFC FIGHT PASS, Cunningham is introduced by the commentary team as an up and coming, well-rounded Arkansas fighter, cousins with Bryce Mitchell.
Mitchell’s athleticism, warrior spirit and ground game of the likes we’ve seen from few before must be in the genes, so it should come as no surprise that Cunningham and Mitchell were “cousins closer than brothers.” However, Cunningham clears the air that while the two are thick as thieves and at one point apparently indistinguishable, they’re not related at all.
“So we claim cousins, right? But really that came from the gym,” Cunningham laughed. “People came up behind us and say, ‘Hey Bryce’ or ‘Hey AJ’ and it’d be the other guy. We resembled each other at a certain point in our lives so people would say, ‘Damn, are you brothers?’ and we just kind of turned it on them like, ‘No, we’re cousins.’”
The LFA featherweight explains that while they’ve spent plenty of time training, hunting and fishing together, it’s gotten a little more complicated the more famous Mitchell gets. Not because “Thug Nasty” has changed in any way, shape or form, but Cunningham’s goal is to avoid feeling like he’s riding coattails.
“I try not to bring it up as much because of that,” Cunningham said.
Oddly enough, the two don’t only share the “kind of cousins” bond, as Mitchell is also Cunningham’s grappling coach. One look at Mitchell’s UFC run and it’s not hard to see why. In all honesty, just watch his twister submission over Matt Sayles and how he nearly landed ten more on Charles Rosa alone.
And as far as Cunningham is concerned, Mitchell isn’t the only featherweight with one hell of a twister, and somebody might just learn that the hard way.
“I’ve hit the twister because of him I don’t know how many times. Especially these last few weeks it has kind of just been clicking,” Cunningham said. “It’s been real fluid for me the last few weeks.”
Can Cunningham land an early contender for Submission of the Year? Find out at LFA 122 LIVE on Friday, January 21, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!