Canadian Jeremy Kennedy looks to beat Pedro Carvalho and earn Bellator title shot

Jeremy (JBC) Kennedy has been chasing Pedro (The Game) Carvalho for a while. On Saturday the Canadian featherweight finally gets his crack at him.

The 30-year-old from Surrey, B.C., who is now based out of Las Vegas, faces the Ireland-based Portuguese fighter in the co-main event of Bellator 291 in Dublin.

Carvalho is ranked third among Bellator 145-pound contenders while Kennedy, a veteran of both the UFC and PFL, is No. 5. Both Kennedy and Carvalho see their fight as a title eliminator with the No. 1 contender ranking on the line — and champion Patricio (Pitbull) Freire of Brazil waiting in the wings.

Hungary's Adam (The Kid) Borics, the current No. 1 contender, lost a decision to Freire at Bellator 286 in October. And No. 2 A.J McKee, a former featherweight title-holder, is taking part in Bellator's eight man, US$1-million lightweight Grand Prix this year.

Saturday's main event at the 3Arena is a title unification bout with champion Yaroslav (Dynamo) Amosov of Ukraine defending his welterweight crown against interim title-holder Logan (Storm) Storley of the U.S.

Amosov (26-0-0), who won a split decision over Storley (14-1-0) when they met at Bellator 252 in November 2020, put MMA on hold to enlist in the Ukraine military after the Russian invasion. He plans to return to the war after the bout.

Kennedy (18-3-0 with one no-contest) initially called out Carvalho (13-6-0) because the Portuguese was ranked ahead of him and he thought the matchup suited him. Kennedy didn't like the reaction that got.

"He almost got offended … His route was I was obsessed with him and that I didn't deserve to be in the rankings in the first place and I didn't deserve to fight him," Kennedy said in his pre-fight availability Thursday. "I had more wins that he had fights. So it didn't make sense. I felt disrespected. So that kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.

"The fight was offered to both of us a few different times. He didn't take it for whatever reason."

Kennedy stuck to his task.

"The fight that's on my mind is Pedro Carvalho," he said in December 2021 after winning a decision over Emmanuel (El Matador) Sanchez at Bellator 272. "We’ve been talking back and forth and he's just trying to big-time me."

After beating No. 4 Aaron Pico last time out in October at Bellator 286, Kennedy raised Carvalho's name again.

"I've had a lot of history with Pedro so that's the one I'm gunning for," he said.

Carvalho added spice to the conversation before the Pico fight when he sent a tweet congratulating the other featherweights on the card, adding Kennedy is "nothing more than free money for Pico."

It didn't work out that way. Pico dislocated his shoulder and the bout was stopped after the first round by the ringside physician, despite the best efforts by Pico's corner to put the shoulder back in.

The 27-year-old Carvalho stuck to his story this week when asked about Kennedy.

"He's been calling me out but I think he's just a bit of a fan of me," he said with a laugh. "I don't know. I don't know what's the story, if he called me out because he thinks I'm an easy target for him. Or whatever the reason he has. But this is not about him. This is only about me and going out there and win."

Kennedy says the time for talking is done.

"It's a matter of just getting in there now," he said,

Kennedy has won three of his four Bellator fights and lost just one of his last seven fights (5-1-0 with one no-contest) via decision to Borics at Bellator 256 in April 2021.

Carvalho defeated No. 6 Mads Burnell of Denmark at Bellator 285 in September but has lost three of his last five, including a first-round KO at the hands of Freire at Bellator 252 in November 2020.

Carvalho, who makes his home in Dublin and trains at Conor McGregor's SBG Gym, offered faint praise for Kennedy this week.

"He's not flashy, he doesn't have like highlight stuff, But he's a consistent fighter. You never see him fighting bad. He's always fights good … But on the other hand I don't see anything I've never see before. He doesn't bring anything I haven't been through before."

The Canadian is battle-tested.

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 in Perth, Australia. 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.

In 2019, Kennedy 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 knocking out Brazil's Luis Rafael Laurentino 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.

Tired of being on the wrong end of wrestling tussles with his older brother, Kennedy started in combat sports. At 13, he took a liking 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.

Kennedy knows he will not be the crowd favourite Saturday. But he doesn't seem to mind.

"I'm sure it will be a bit hostile," he said. "I'm definitely expecting the energy … It doesn't matter once we're both in the cage. It's just all noise. It's literally just noise. And it's just me and him. They're not in there with him. And I don't think the Irish crowd will be quite as hostile as Brazil."


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press