Ep. #124 – AJ Cunningham

AJ Cunningham is a mixed martial artist who competes as a Featherweight for Pyramid Fights. The Arkansas native is 7-1 as a professional with six stoppage victories.


AJ Cunningham: when we’re back 124th edition of the quarantine cast uh crazy man it’s crazy i think i’m gonna take a little bit of a break over the holiday uh the holiday season um i’m actually not even gonna be in my house so i’ll be taking a little bit of a break but i’m really excited for the last two or three that i’m gonna do uh before the end of the year um this one’s really really special um i saw his post on instagram and i felt the need to uh to reach out to him not only to talk about his post and his past and upbringing but also about his fighting career he’s very very successful he’s now seven and one as a professional um and without further ado i’m uh really happy to have him on um it’s aj cunningham

hey man how’s it going how y’all doing not too bad uh how are how are you doing throughout the pandemic and everything uh the world’s going nuts right now i’m in canada and everything’s shut down here so so what are things like there i’m sorry you still kind of breaking up man what was that question what are things like there with the pandemic and the the sorts of regulations they have

but the pandemic hasn’t affected me too much as as far as training i’ve always been able to find a way to train whether i happen to drop the memphis fort smith or you know train at my gym my gym shut down for a month or two but uh they opened up with full swing back and uh yeah i’ve just been grinding it out ever since the pandemic it’s not going to get in my way of my dream you’ve had a you’ve had a hell of a 2020 man i mean outside of the ufc you’ve probably had one of the better years uh i mean you had you went three and it was since the pandemic which is crazy i think that’s been six months not even um so kind of go through the mentality of uh staying busy and why you decided to do that a lot of people took put off the pedal and decided to regroup mentally and take some time off and you did the opposite yes sir uh this is my goal this is my passion um you know a lot of people could call me selfish a lot of people have called me selfish because of it but i’m not going to let anything any man any woman any pandemic get in my way of chasing this you know 10 15 years down the road when my future kids or my family ask what was you doing during the pandemic i want to say i was chasing my dream and i was able to capitalize on my dream because i wasn’t letting anything stop or scare me and these six months have been nothing but hard work and a lot of a lot of sacrifice i mean so much sacrifice but it will all pay off in the end and uh it’s starting to pay off now we still have a lot more work to do and uh i’m excited for it man i really am i uh i mean the last fight that you had against charles bridges was very very impressive um and i thought it was your best performance of the year um obviously your one against aaron was uh was very impressive as well i just thought that because charles has had a little bit more experience i thought that looked very very good and it answered a lot of critics um man so kind of go through that how good does it feel to get your hand raised with a finish uh rather than a decision uh like you did against jewel scott as far as my my last fight um yeah we knew going into it uh dude was five and two

we knew going into it the dude was five and two he ain’t bought in a minute and uh we knew he was gonna be tough uh but we had made the adjustments opposite stances i’ve been able to switch stances well and we knew some keys if you watch the fight opposite stances the body kick is usually open which would eventually open up the head kick we wanted to attack that a lot and we had worked that uppercut that i had knocked him out in a second with a lot both of my striking coach bruce whitehead and matt sellers we really really drilled it a lot and uh it was flawless really uh props to the guy for taking so much damage i hit him with some of the hardest shots some of the cleanest shots i’ve ever thrown in my career um it was the first fight i’ve actually as a professional i haven’t thrown a spinning elbow on and that’s just because of the opposite stance you know you got to win that lead outside foot battle and i was winning it so much so it’s really hard to keep your leaf on the outside and land a solid spinning attack so it was fun when you throw something like that in a fight is is a lot of that just instinct or is it something you drill at the time like i feel like people who do like these spinning elbows and and running off the cage a lot of that is just improvisation is that what it is uh it’s about for me 30 of the time but i drill a lot of spinning eyeballs we got this badass elbow i’ve yet to line in the fight uh where i fake your take down it’s the same elbow yarrier rodriguez knocked out the zombie with in fact you caught the zombie you fake the tape down and you throw that right elbow up at the chin as you uh as you fake the takedown and what happens is one or two things happens that elbow touches them and sleeps them or they cover up after the elbow and then you re-enter on the another on the re-enter on the second shot but it’s something i drill a lot and i plan on being on espn top 10 when it actually lands well that for me is one of the best knockouts if not the best knockout in ufc history so if that does if you can manage to pull that off man uh it’ll be it’ll be on highlight reels for for many many years i’m sorry can you repeat that my man yeah it’s like if you can land something like that i mean for me that’s one of the best knockouts in ufc history so if you can land that in a fight it’ll be in highlight reels for years to come

um where do i plan on being in a year no no i’m just saying that if you can land that elbow um it’ll be in highlight reels for many years man uh i’m just gonna take everything slow i’m gonna see what happens uh in the next few fights we’ve had offers as far as like you know short like short uh what’s the word i’m looking for uh damn why did i go blank uh short notice uh short answer calls short notice calls um the thing is i’ve just seen so many fighters rushing to the ufc and uh you know not every opportunity is the right opportunity and i just really want to take my time and get seasoned in this with no wrestling background no boxing background the best way for me to do that is just take as many fights outside the ufc so when i get in there i’m not cut after two losses you know what i mean uh so who knows when i enter uh it may be next year maybe when i turn 28. you know i just want to slowplay it really well you uh you mentioned the name a couple weeks ago if not last week um what was it about cole farrell that you thought was a good matchup yeah so he’s 10-0 uh i’ve heard a lot of hype about him it’s no disrespect he ended up blocking me on facebook and instagram after i politely called him out i just said hey let’s fight you know you’re tending oh i’m 7-1 i think it’s a good matchup for both of us you know he likes to put his face in people’s crotch and lay on them and uh i like this i like the starch [ __ ] like i like to touch them and take their soul and so i just thought it’d be a good matchup be fun you know if i lose to him i lost a 10-0 guy if he lost to me lost to one of the hottest prospects so it is it’s just a test and it’s not going to happen sadly so i want to talk a bit about um about your mentality because one of the things i noticed about you not just now but when i’m talking to you whether it be through dms or face-to-face is how is how nice you are and and you know you’ve got this great great aura great great attitude but that wasn’t always the case um and i want to i want to dive into that a little bit because you did make a post that i think a lot of us fans really focused on and if we didn’t relate to it we kind of felt uh your pain so i want to talk a little bit about how did you decide you know what i’m gonna put all of that behind me and and make the right steps and going uh i’m gonna go do something um and become a professional athlete i think it takes it says a lot about your character but how did you go about doing that and what were some of the challenges you faced oh so uh as you mentioned you know my story and if you don’t uh my father was like like crazy like everyone says their dad you know well some people say their dad’s crazy other dad’s abusive like mom my biological father not my father uh like had injected me with steroids at the age of six like we never got a bed i was adopted at eight so i lived through this through eight years never had a bed uh was injected with testosterone and steroids because like my my my my father was like uh all about having like true specimens like true athletes like killers you know and uh just would make us fight you know come from that there’s a lot more to it we won’t go too much into that but i never let it dictate who i am so for every bad year i had in my childhood i was blessed with adoption and great friends and a great supporting cast after i was eight years old and i feel like people dwell on the past too much people dwell on negativity too much and that was never going to be me my m my mentality going into fighting was like

the few thing good things that had came out of my rough childhood was the fact that i always wanted to like do something right i always was like eager to [ _ ] like go out and make something of myself right um i don’t know i don’t know what it’s really from i just knew that uh after i couldn’t make college football i wanted to do something and fighting seemed like a great way to to really put my hands on people and be active you know i want to talk about maybe your uh your first introduction to martial arts because i i mean i didn’t have anything near that but i was an angry child i did have some so i was i was always mad and uh how did you manage to drown out that rage that you had and turn it into positive because i could imagine you just wanting to go in there and just start hammering things and punching people in the face so everyone thinks that right everyone thinks that maybe i have rage and or had some rage but the truth was the rage kind of disappeared when uh i was adopted around nine or ten my mom would beat my ass when i would get in fights with my brothers or go in fights at school so like i had never had no street fight nothing like the first fight i ever had was my first amateur fight in 2015 as a o and o amateur and uh going into there my first mma experience was [ _ ] man it was awful right like you think you’re this big bad kid and you’re tough and just like everyone who ever everyone thinks they can fight until they actually got a fight just like everyone thinks they’re a good swimmer to they go against the good swimmer like there’s so much behind it people don’t understand the breathing the head movement the way you land your knuckles clear on the chin you never hit with the back to your knuckles you always hit with a tooth front and it’s just little things like that yeah my first experience uh had very little rage and a whole lot of uh heavy breathing and uh uh good uh good uh placement i would say it showed me where i was at i wanna and i mean your brothers are also very successful in their own right one is a marine and the other is a football player right yeah yeah he had played at a state in jonesboro for two years before he got married yes sir wow so it says a lot about about the three of you um and i as someone who has two brothers myself how how important was it for for you to have those two guys there and vice versa how important was it for you to be there for them huge man like let me tell you something oh i do i care for people i care for a lot of people i care for my friends i care for my family but my brother’s like that’s a whole different level like when you see your four-year-old brother bleeding out of his head and your biological father throwing him in there and telling himself to clean him up with a towel and when you see your other brother get punched in the back of the head and glass going all over his face and he has scars on his lips from it um when you sleep outside together on a cold arizona night like it’s a bond like it’s not this oh that’s my best friend no it’s a bond like i’d kill for them and i know they do the same for me and uh like i said i’ve heard i’ve heard a lot of people for a lot of people but i’d kill for my brothers and they do the same for me it’s a it’s an unexplainable bond you either have it with someone or you don’t you know it me they mean the world to me yeah i love that uh i mean as someone with two brothers myself i i feel the exact same thing and uh man it’s great to see and it’s great to see you have that support system behind you i want to kind of close it off with this in terms of of this i guess topic is if you could go back and give one message to to your six-year-old self what would that be bro this is just a step in life and that uh that you’re gonna accomplish a lot more than you will ever know and uh let’s not focus so much on football let’s get an mma a little bit earlier that’s what i tell myself i love it man i love that um so we have a massive fight coming up next month and i couldn’t go without asking a prediction the return of the notorious conor mcgregor quite quite the transition here but um what’s your prediction for that fight he’s had some time off um do you think he gets it done oh man i’m not like it’s gonna sound like i’m a mcgregor nut hugger i’m not a mcgregor nut hugger but with habib of the uh out of the division i just don’t see a lot of opposition right um dustin’s great dustin’s gonna always be a top 2-3 guy now but he’s at where he’s at you know um i think dustin takes too much damage i think that left hand you can’t stand in front of that left hand no matter who you are habib didn’t it um i think if anyone poses a challenge to mcgregor at this point it’s going to be someone like gaichi when geichi moves right in those vicious leg kicks but even then you’re on one leg throwing those vicious leg kicks it just takes one left i think mcgregor gets it done in within three rounds honestly yeah it’s it’s it’s such an interesting fight because it is a rematch and they’re both grown so much right everyone’s like well connor’s already done connor’s already beat him i’m like yeah it’s a different orientation different white division yeah it’s a whole bunch of different factors yeah it’s completely different fight it’s almost like they’re two completely different fighters uh and i love it i love it um you’re right there as well i mean seven and one you could be knocking on the doorstep of a ufc call or a bellator call what is the ultimate ultimate goal there is it to to raise raise awareness of what you went through is it to to reach the become a champion what is your ultimate goal and does it have to be ufc no see that’s a beautiful thing i want it to be ufc because the ufc has it’s it has the best platform like uh like there’s a couple things i want to do right um i could say it could be funny and do this whole marketing thing well that really if i’m not doing fighting i want to be a porn star and market my only fans that’s kind of what i want to do and truth be told if i wasn’t fighting that’s probably what i go for honestly but uh i really want to really help my community and help where i come from help kids like me right like i remember the dhs lady to tell my mom like when she adopted all four of us like i’ll adopt these three he’s too far gone he’s too old he’s seen too much you know and there’s kids out there that has that’s been past that label too and it’s [ _ ] sad so i would like to help with uh foster kids around this batesville area um as far as fighting as far as that goal goes i’ll fight for anybody ufc bellator 1 fc it doesn’t matter to me i just want to be able to compete at the highest level and i want to show people that it doesn’t matter where you come from it matters where you end and i plan on ending on a really good note i i love that message and uh i’m sure you’ve thought about this and it may not be a question that anyone’s asked you but uh i’m gonna be brave enough to do it if you had the uh the opportunity to speak to your father one last time what would your message be to him uh i wouldn’t i don’t know if i have a message for that guy you know i don’t i don’t hate him like it’s not like i hate him but at the same time like i’d probably punch him in his mouth you know like it wouldn’t be i don’t really have anything for him no hates no love but uh i don’t know maybe i [ _ ] him up i don’t know it’s uh i think it’s kind of ironic and kind of beautiful that that you know he was doing this he wanted a purebred fighter he wanted and you went off and you were like you know what screw that i’m gonna go and do it my own way and uh i think it’s a lot about you and uh and what you’ve been through man so really really touching to even have the opportunity to speak to you so i i appreciate the time man any time man it was a pleasure i’m sorry it took so long to get good internet connection and [ _ ] been on the go man i understand completely um is there anybody you want to thank any sponsors you want to uh you want to thank or any uh there’s your uh one second here boom there’s his uh all of his social media but uh is there anything you want to plug or anyone you want to thank uh yes of course my main sponsor someone that’s been here for a minute is bad boy mowers i work for him as a purchasing agent or a buyer cnc with johnny klaus i want to thank abc bolt i want to thank my local walmart here in batesville they’ve been on there for a minute my management i got the best management in the world first round management matt wiebel uh he uh also manages my cousin bryce mitchell so uh yeah those those guys i really uh i really appreciate all them and all they do for me speaking of bryce man what’s your man he’s he’s he’s looking unbelievable and better and better by the minute um man what’s it like uh working with a guy like that his mentality is just so different bro like nothing can break me like a [ _ ] bryce mitchell wrestling clinic oh my god man like you stop running it doesn’t matter if you stop one or two there’s four five six more takedowns coming and i you want to talk about a mentality that guy’s got a different mentality i’m telling you right now uh he’s a top five guy by the end of next year he really is that cersei jose arkansas cersei arkansas it’s crazy man yeah i mean i one of the things i like about him so much too is it’s like if he wants something he’s gonna go get it whether it’s a win or camo shorts it doesn’t matter and uh i love that i love that and uh man thanks again for being so open thanks again for your time and uh we’ll do this again um shortly absolutely absolutely man you take it easy okay yeah you too man stay safe you too bye-bye there we go um that was aj cunningham i’ve been a fan of his for for quite some time and uh i mean if you can’t relate to that story it’s really really hard and one of the one of the things i like so much is not only that he’s open about it but how uh you know he’s kind of turned it into a positive you know and and he didn’t let it get to him and he’s really made something special uh of his career um both him and his brothers and if you haven’t looked at looked at him uh looked at his stuff look it up go on his uh instagram he’s got he’s got he goes into a bit more detail of what exactly happened and uh i mean it’s it’s sad but i mean looking at him now and what he’s been able to accomplish given all that is is really inspirational and uh you know uh i’m i’m happy i had the opportunity to speak to a guy like him and uh man i can’t wait to see what the future holds for him so that is aj cunningham and if you haven’t yet make sure you like comment and subscribe to my channel also be sure to fight or follow and go online and check out fighterpath.com i’ve got all my stuff on there interviews articles and i’m looking to do a whole lot more with it in the new year until next time i’ll see you guys later

Sergio Pineiro

Sergio Pineiro is the Founder of FighterPath.com and host of the Quarantinecast podcast. Based in Canada he is both a sports journalist and MMA enthusiast. He practices the sport but has a passion for the individual stories of training, fighting and living the fighting lifestyle.

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