AJ Cunningham determined to join cousin Bryce Mitchell in UFC, but won’t rush it

AJ Cunningham is interviewed following a win. Credit: Pyramid Fights

Ikon Fighting Federation (IKON FF) is set to hold its debut MMA event on September 24th in Mississippi. Headed by boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. and Island Fights promoter Dean Toole, IKON plans to be a part of UFC Fight Pass streaming platform cache for the foreseeable future.

One of many highly-touted prospects competing on this debut card is Arkansas’ AJ Cunningham (5-1).

Cunningham, 25, had an impressive 15-fight amateur career before turning professional back in 2018. Typically, fighters turn pro after just a few, if any, fights in the amateurs. But for Cunningham, his lengthy amateur career was all part of the plan.

“I said, how nervous I am for every fight, I believe if I didn’t have those 15 [amateur] fights, it would be tremendously worse,” Cunningham told MMA-Prospects.

“The nerves start when I walk out until the ref says ‘Are you ready?’ Then they go away, and I think that’s because of my experience. You’ve seen all of it, the 15 fights help,” Cunningham continued. “I think [the thing about] those guys that have two or three amateur fights is [that] they have a wrestling background or boxing background. I didn’t have any of that, so I had to get that fight experience.”

Cunningham is excited to be a part of the debut IKON event, and that the event is streamed on the wide-reaching platform of UFC Fight Pass is something Cunningham doesn’t take for granted.

“I’ve done this with a couple promotions, but never for a guy like Dean Toole,” Cunningham explained. “Oh, s–t, I know my coaches have been talking about this. This is by far without a doubt my biggest opportunity, my biggest fight to date. I’ve never trained harder or looked better, if we are being honest.”

MMA fans are all too aware of another Arkansasian prospect, UFC featherweight Bryce Mitchell. It turns out, Cunningham is more familiar with Mitchell then most.

“He’s actually my cousin,” Cunningham laughed.

When asked for the advice Mitchell gave him on his career, Cunningham shared the words of wisdom from the UFC fan-favorite.

“He said the same thing as my jiu jitsu coach: ‘Fight a smart fight, don’t go out there flat-footed,’ and that is what I’ve finally changed this camp. I’m always moving, switching stances, I think they’ll all be proud September 24th.”

Although Cunningham feels this is the best he has ever looked, and the strongest he has ever felt, he isn’t in a rush to join his cousin in the UFC.

“A lot of people rush that. They hear the word ‘UFC’ and rush it,” Cunningham explained. “I don’t want to just make it in, I want to make myself a name like Bryce. I can’t go in there with 8 wins and do as efficiently as Bryce, I’ll need 12 or 13 wins and try my luck with that.”

Cunningham steps into the cage September 24 against Jewell Scott (3-3), who has won two of his last three fights by finish. As for what fans can expect, Cunningham says he’ll be the one with his hand raised by stoppage.

“My prediction is a first-round TKO somewhere around the 4-minute mark, set up with a head kick followed by ground and pound,” visualized Cunningham.