It’s been 18 years since Jesse Arnett was crowned Mission Secondary’s first-ever National Wrestling Champion, and now, he’s among the top bantamweight MMA fighters in the country.
At 36-years old, “Big Cat” is seeking to join the ranks of “The Big Show” – the UFC – the highest tier of combat sports in the world.
“I know that I’ve still got a few years left in me, and I know I can still fight at the highest level,” Arnett said. “I’ve trained with guys in the UFC, I’ve beat guys from the UFC.
“I’m not going to give up.”
As the former TKO bantamweight champion, Arnett’s record stands at 17 wins and six losses, with 14 finishes.
For four years, from 2014 to 2018, he went on a 12-fight win streak – including wins over UFC veterans Johnny Bedford and Roland Delorme – before his streak was snapped and he lost the belt.
In his next fight, he suffered another heartbreaking loss in a much-anticipated clash against Josh Hill.
At the time, Arnett and Hill were ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 135-pound fighters in the country, respectively. One outlet dubbed the fight the most important in Canadian bantamweight history.
“I lost again – back-to-back losses,” Arnett said. “I got caught … It was tough, it really was. But I [came back], and I’m in a great position right now.”
Arnett has rebounded with two dominant victories over tough competition, the latest being on Oct. 30 in Florida.
He now feels on the verge of breaking out of the regional circuits.
It’s been a long road for Arnett, who didn’t start his professional career until he was 27. He remembers his first fight at a casino in 2011 – he was paid $250 to show, and $250 to win.
At that time, he said he wasn’t really taking it that seriously, he wasn’t training properly and didn’t have much of a base in jiu-jitsu (one of the most relevant martial-art foundations in the sport).
He started off his career with a 3-3 record, and as he put it, just went “down to the casino to fight on Friday nights because I thought it was fun.”
But as Arnett’s confidence and abilities grew after finding good boxing and jiu-jitsu gyms in Calgary, he knew he would have a future in the sport.
He knew, because he had experienced the highest level of wrestling competition in the world.
He spent four years on Simon Fraser University’s national team, and was an Olympic alternate one year.
His wrestling career would carry him as far away as Mongolia, Iran and Cuba. In fact, many of his former training partners were already in the UFC, and had even become champions.
Arnett trained with the 2008 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team, a roster which includes Daniel Cormier, a former holder of both the UFC’s light heavyweight and heavyweight titles; Henry Cejudo, who currently holds the bantamweight title; and Ben Askren.
“That was the group that I travelled the world with. When I retired from wrestling, so to speak, I see my wrestling buddies doing MMA,” he said. “And I was competitive with them, so I knew I’d have a shot.”
At one point, at the height of his 12-fight-win streak, he had an offer to go to the UFC on short notice, but was locked into his contract, Arnett said.
He said he’s now under a new management company, MTK Global, which has better contacts with the larger promotions, and he’s expecting to see more options on the horizon.
“It’s a very interesting sport, because you’re only as good as your last fight. People forget about losses pretty easily,” Arnett said. “I’m just doing what I can to get ready for the next one, I’m not giving up on the Big Show.”
Arnett said he owes a big thank you to all of his wrestling coaches at Mission Secondary for his success, particularly his former head coach, Linda Miller.