Two of Alberta’s top heavyweights will run it back with championship gold on the line this time.
Edmonton’s Christian Larsen (4-1) is looking for redemption when he steps into the cage with Medicine Hat’s Jared Kilkenny (13-11) at Unified 38 on Saturday night at the River Cree Resort and Casino. The last time these two met was in Nov. 2017 when Kilkenny was able to get a first round stoppage. But they were different fighters then, and a lot can change in two years.
“I think I’ve improved a lot,” Larsen said in an interview.
“I fought Jared pretty early on in my career. I’d only been fighting for a year, it was my third fight and my first fight against anyone of note. It was a big jump up in competition; I made some stupid mistakes and I think my lack of experience got the better of me. I’ve had a few good showings since then and even just training with the guys for another two years has made a big difference. I’m a lot more confident in what I’m bringing to the cage.”
Larsen, 32, is constantly improving and with all four career wins by stoppage he’s the definition of a heavy-hitter.
Meanwhile, Kilkenny, 37, is a veteran of over 20 fights and will be ready wherever the contest goes.
“I know he’s going to have heavy hands until the day he dies, but I imagine that since we’ve fought he’s not the same fighter,” Kilkenny said in an interview.
“I’ve made some changes in my training, particularly with strength and conditioning. I know I’m more active than I used to be, I’m more mobile and I use my footwork a lot more, so I’m different in that sense. I’ve also progressed quite a bit on the ground. I prefer to go for the finish with my hands, but sometimes the job calls for a takedown or a submission and I’m not afraid to do that this time around.”
This will be Kilkenny’s second opportunity at the Unified MMA heavyweight championship. Back in May, he came up short against recently-signed UFC heavyweight Tanner Boser at Unified 37, who just so happens to be a close training partner of Larsen’s.
It was a performance that gained him even more respect from his peers, and Larsen, in particular, was impressed.
“Jared is a guy I wish I could hate given the loss to him, but he’s a hard guy not to like.” said Larsen
“I think it was an impressive showing against Tanner, going four rounds with him, he kept his composure. Regardless of the outcome, it was an impressive performance.”
Boser and Larsen, however, couldn’t be more different when it comes to fighting styles and Larsen doesn’t expect much will translate over from Kilkenny’s last title shot.
“It’s going to be an entirely different game-plan I’m sure when he comes up against me,” Larsen said.
“Cardio and everything else is going to be much less of a deciding factor. Especially coming off two losses, I expect he’s going to be coming out to prove a point and I’m ready for that.”
Kilkenny’s loss to Boser was a great learning experience for the veteran, especially for a heavyweight who looks to finish fights early and often.
“The only thing I know for sure is that I’m getting the win. I don’t care where it goes or how it happens,” Kilkenny said.
“I see myself staying on the outside and choosing when to engage, using my footwork and hand speed to attack when I want and be gone. I’m actually going to try and implement a little bit of Tanner Boser. When I lose, I learn, and I learned that footwork and movement on the outside can be an effective strategy.”
Although he mentioned he never wants to look too far ahead, Kilkenny said a particular Canadian heavyweight got the attention of both he and Larsen in the buildup to their title fight.
“It’s kind of funny, the last time Chris and I chatted a couple days ago, it was because this douche bag Dustin Joynson decided to chime in on our fight,” Kilkenny said.
“He said ‘I’ll take the winner.’ And the fact of the matter is Chris and I both tried to fight Dustin probably half a dozen times previous to this. He acts like a pussy, goes out and fights like a pussy and then decides to call us out. We both had a good laugh about it. I would love to fight Dustin Joynson. He’s never defended any of his belts, so after I win this one I’d be happy to put it on the line against him.”
Larsen, meanwhile, would love to take his talents overseas if he had the opportunity.
“Obviously I have to defend the belt first, but if all goes well, I think I’d be looking to go somewhere else. ONE FC and stuff like that are places we’ve been looking at,” Larsen said.
“I think it’d be cool to punch people in the head and check out some cool places in the meantime.”
But at this moment, Sept. 27 is all that occupies the minds of each fighter. Months of training has led them to this weekend and years of training has led them to this moment.
Only one man leaves the cage Unified MMA heavyweight champion, and Larsen is confident he will be the one to fill the shoes of his long-time training partner.
“It would be huge, even just the fact that it’s Tanner Boser’s belt is kind of poetic,” Larsen said.
“He’s the guy that got me started in the sport, so this fight has a lot of meaning for me in that regard as well. Also, just to be able to showcase my talent at this level and get that strap is huge. It’s a vacant title, but I’m looking at this as a title defense. I have to keep the belt at our gym, Shaved Bears MMA, and an early round knockout is what I’m expecting.”
“My grandfather passed away last Monday. He never had the opportunity to see me fight live, so this one is going out to him. I’m bringing the belt home for grandpa.” Follow Kilkenny on social media: INSTAGRAM