Jack Jenkins’ UFC debut this weekend in Perth is a bit of a reunion of sorts.
The 29-year-old featherweight, who takes on Don Shainis on the preliminary portion of Saturday’s fight card, grew up playing rugby with Josh Della Maddalena, the older brother of surging welterweight Jack Della Maddalena, who takes on Randy Brown in the final non-title fight of the main card.
“We played rugby together in Under 16s, so it was a long time ago now, but it was pretty cool,” said the Australian debutant, who punched his ticket to the UFC with a third-round stoppage win on Dana White’s Contender Series last fall in Las Vegas. “They were from Melbourne and they moved over to Perth, and we kept in touch because I knew he was training, and he knew I was training, and we caught up early in our careers and did a training session together, me and Josh and Jack.
“That was cool and now here we are in the UFC, and we’ll be doing another warm-up in the back together for the big show.”
But the Della Maddalena brothers aren’t the only fellow Australians that will be in the back this weekend that Jenkins has history with, as the Eternal MMA champ was taught a valuable lesson in his early 20s by featherweight champ and UFC 284 headliner Alexander Volkanovski when the two sparred.
He felt good through the first couple minutes of the five-minute sparring frame, but when Volkanovski turned up the pace, things quickly went south.
“That story is from when I was about 21,” explained Jenkins, who carries a 10-2 record and a seven-fight winning streak into his meeting with Shainis this weekend. “Volk came down and it was a real lightbulb moment for me that it doesn’t matter how good you are — if you’re not super, super fit, you’re not gonna hang with the best guys.
"I was so lucky to have that experience early because it made me focus really hard on being disciplined with my conditioning. Now if you look back from my fights early on when I was that 21, 22 to now — my fitness and my cardio is a massive strength for me.
“Now sparring with Volk, he’s still in great shape now, but I don’t have that fade after two or three minutes when he does pick up the pace,” he added. “It was a good experience and a good learn that it takes a long time to build up that sort of engine, so I’m glad I got it early.”
Although Saturday will be Jenkins’ first foray into the Octagon, he carries himself like a tenured veteran.
Maybe it’s because he’s a little older than many of the recent newcomers and first-time starters to make the walk (he turns 30 next month) or maybe it’s that he’s treated each step in his career as equally important. Whatever it is, “Phar Jack” doesn’t seem at all rattled or over-excited by the opportunity ahead of him this weekend.
Best Of The Australians At UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
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Best Of The Australians At UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
“The energy for me is exactly the same as all of my fights,” said Jenkins, whose nickname is cribbed from the great Australian racehorse Phar Lap, who was known for his tremendous heart. “One of the beautiful things is that I’ve always treated every fight as the most important fight — it didn’t matter who I was fighting, what promotion it was on; every fight was important to me. This one is important to me, but so were all the other ones, so I’m not in a different position in that sense.
"Now I get to do it on a big stage, which I’ve always liked the bigger stages. As of right now, I’m feeling like every other fight week.
“If anything, I’ve a little more energy because my weight’s really good and I’m in good shape,” he added. “I’m feeling great and I’m excited to be here and be a part of the whole event.”
Although Shainis officially made his debut last October, filling in on short notice against Sodiq Yusuff and getting submitted in 30 seconds by the Top 15 talent, Jenkins looks at their matchup this weekend as a clash between two debuting fighters entering on winning streaks.
“I don’t count that Sodiq fight — that was his ticket; that’s a wipe for me,” Jenkins said in regards to his opponent, who won five straight before getting the call to the Octagon last year and sports a 12-4 record heading into UFC 284. “We’re two fighters coming in on win streaks, both coming in for our UFC debuts, and we’re gonna find out who is on the upward trajectory from here.”
While he wouldn’t speculate about how he’d react to getting his hand raised this weekend, Jenkins is confident that it will happen.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, hey?” he said with a smirk. "I can sit here and tell you I’m gonna be one way or another, but I don’t know ’til I get out there. All I can say is that, for now, everything feels the same, I’ve done all the prep to walk out there as confident as I’ve ever been, so regardless of the result, I’m happy with the preparation I put in.
“I’m gonna go out there, put as much pace on him, do as much damage as I can inside those three rounds. I know my best is good enough to beat anyone in this division, so Don’s gonna be the first one to fall in a long line.”
Should that come to pass, he has some pretty clear ideas about how he’d like to see things line up for him over the next 12-18 months.
“Fight in Perth, win. Fight in New York, win. Fight in Vegas, win. Come back to Rod Laver and get a Top 15 fight in Melbourne in front of the home crowd,” he said, mapping out a fast-lane approach to ascending the featherweight ranks.
“I said from the start of COVID that (it was a situation where) you could take your foot off the gas because you couldn’t get fights and you couldn’t travel, or you could put your foot on the gas, fix holes and keep working so that when the UFC comes back, you’re ready and you put yourself in that position.”
Jenkins did the latter, logging a couple wins in 2021, and another successful title defense in 2022 before venturing to Las Vegas and claiming a spot on the UFC roster, and now that he’s here, he has no interest in taking things slow.
“I think I’m ready to go foot-to-floor. I don’t need to take my time,” he said. “I’m here, I’m in the UFC, and I’m gonna make the most of it while I can — have as many fights and work my way up as quickly as I can.”
The journey begins this weekend, with friends and family in attendance, and a bunch of familiar faces sharing the card.
UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski took place live from RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia on February 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action on UFC Fight Pass!