There are four Canadians fighting at Bellator 293 in Temecula, Calif., on Friday night. Aaron Jeffery may be the easiest one to spot — he’s the only one on the main card and the one with a mullet.
Jeffery (13-3-0) takes on American middleweight John Salter (18-6-0), looking to move closer to a title shot. Jeffery is ranked seventh among Bellator's 185-pound contenders while Salter is No. 3.
The 30-year-old from Tillsonburg, Ont., turned heads in August when, fighting on eight days notice, he stopped Austin (The Gentleman) Vanderford in short order at Bellator 284 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jeffery felled the American with a right to the head less than 30 seconds into the bout.
Vanderford, then ranked No. 2, got back up and looked to take Jeffery down, clinching at the fence. But when they separated, Jeffery dropped Vanderford with another right and delivered five more blows from above before the referee stepped in to end the punishment after just 85 seconds.
The upset win earned Jeffery plenty of attention.
"I got a lot more Instagram followers. I got a blue check-mark beside my name. I got a nice contract with Bellator but I don't do anything different," he said in an interview. "I still go to the gym twice a day and eat and sleep and train and hang out with my friends and family.
"So yeah in a way things have changed. In a way they haven't changed at all."
His signature hair remains the same.
Jeffery says he opted for the mullet during the pandemic despite having options, given his girlfriend is a hair stylist.
His hair continues to draw attention
"I'll say probably 90 per cent of my interviews, somebody asks me about my mullet," he said.
Bellator ran a clip of Jeffery's finish of Vanderford with the headline "Fear the Mullet."
"I like it. It's a good way to see myself, market myself," he said.
And it's "very Canadian."
The victory moved Jeffery into the Bellator rankings, initially above Vanderford who was coming off a February 2022 loss to then-Bellator middleweight champion Gegard (The Dreamcatcher) Mousasi. But the Canadian now finds himself one rung below Vanderford, who is ranked sixth.
"Somehow he jumped me," said Jeffery, who trains at Niagara Top Team in St. Catharines, Ont., and Aegis MMA in Oakville, Ont.
He believes a win Friday should merit a title shot.
"I just beat No. 2 and now I'm going to fight No. 3. So yeah, I think this puts me into the top five. There's a short list of guys there that are available for title shots. I think I'm right there."
The main event at the Pechanga Resort and Casino pits Brazilian heavyweight Marcelo Golm against American Daniel (The Predator) James. Golm (10-3-0) is ranked fifth among Bellator heavyweight contenders while James (14-6-1) is No. 7.
On the preliminary card, Lance (Fearless) Gibson Jr. (7-0-0) of Port Moody, B.C., faces Russian Vladimir (Vova) Tokov (7-2-0), Randi (Rose City Phoenix) Fields of Windsor, Ont., (3-1-0) takes on American Ashley (Smashley) Cummins (3-3-0) at a catchweight of 120 pounds and Vancouver lightweight Mandel (Rat Garbage) Nallo (9-2-1) fights American Adam (The Bomb) Piccolotti (12-5-0).
Jeffery has had plenty of time to prepare for the 38-year-old Salter, who fought in the UFC and Strikeforce before compiling an 8-3-0 record in Bellator. Salter has lost his last two outings, against elite opposition in Mousasi and current middleweight champion Johnny (Diamond Hands) Eblen
"He's a veteran. He's got a lot of fights, a lot of big names on his resume," said Jeffery. "He's good, obviously. … He's definitely a lot more comfortable in the grappling than on the feet."
"I expect him to come out hard but I think I can implement my game plan and negate what he wants to do."
Jeffery, who made his pro debut in October 2014, is 2-0-0 in Bellator. He won his debut in the promotion in June, stopping Brazil's Fabio Aguiar in the second round at Bellator 282.
The six-foot-two Jeffery has won 11 of his last 13 fights with the two losses coming in Dana White's Contender Series. He was submitted in the first round by Brendan (All In) Allen in July 2019 and lost a decision to Brazil's Caio (The Natural) Borralho in September 2021.
Allen has since gone 9-2-0 in the UFC while Borralho reeled off four straight wins, including three in the UFC.
Jeffery, who did a medical sciences degree at Brock and has nutrition certification, runs a nutrition consulting business when not fighting.
Given he normally walks around at 200 pounds, the nutrition knowledge helps the weight cut to the non-title middleweight limit of 186 pounds. He celebrated after his last few fights with his coaches and girlfriend with pizza and beer.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press