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Kenny Booker is Back and Ready for War at Stateline Rumble 1

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Stateline Rumble 1: Booker vs. Garcia

by Matt Lo Cascio

The last time I wrote about Kenny Booker — not going to lie — it wasn’t my favorite piece. It was almost eight years ago. We talked about his decision to step away from professional MMA and call it a career before he had even turned 30. Tired of all the uncertainties that come with the fight game, Booker decided he had enough.

“At this point, I only watch (MMA) if I have friends or teammates fighting,” Booker told us. “I’ve lost all the love I had years ago. I’ve been forcing it.”

I just talked to Kenny the other day. Much different vibe. He was excited to tell me he’s making a comeback. You read that right — Kenny Booker is returning to the cage to fight and he will be in the main event at Stateline Rumble 1 this Saturday at the Eclipse Center in Beloit.

Back Again

It’s not unusual for fighters to retire and then have a change of heart shortly after the decision. We’ve all seen it. But it is a bit unique for someone who last did battle in a professional MMA fight eight years ago to come back and reenter the fray. So my first question was the obvious one: Why?

“Truthfully Bro…It’s always been the one thing that has consistently made me happy,” Booker said. “Been a rough couple of years and I’m finally back to myself 100%. So why not?”

I didn’t pry about his admission of going through a rough couple of years. Clearly, that’s behind him now. But speaking for myself, downtimes often lead me to ponder what’s real, what’s worth it, and who and what I want to spend time on. One of Booker’s goals in returning to fight is to revitalize the Rockford fight scene.

“The goal is to bring consistency back to what it used to be in MMA in Rockford.”

Rockford Fight Fans FTW

I used to work with the XFO and we’d do several events a year in Rockford. I absolutely loved calling fights there. Simply put, the fans are amazing. They pack venues to the hilt. They understand the fight game. And they are LOUD. I can’t wait to hear those crazy bastards (said in love) pop my eardrums this Saturday. Rockford deserves quality MMA events.

Stateline Rumble 1 will take place in Wisconsin at the Eclipse Center in Beloit, but Rockford fight fans will gladly make the short drive over the border to take in all the action and represent. And they will show up to get loud for Booker and many of the other local fighters on the card.

Evan Robison, Bradley Cooper, Jordan Henthorn, Shad Walters, Jesus Perea, Mike Anthony, Dontrell Johnson, Seth Swinehart, Jordan Baxter, Jacob Heavlin, and Rob Fenicle are all from the Rockford area. This is what Booker is talking about when he says it’s time to make the fight scene in Rockford vibrant again.

Jesus Perea, Kenny Booker, and Jacob Heavlin after a recent practice. (Photo Credit: Jacob Heavlin/Facebook)

“It’s My Way”

Eight years is a long time between fights. I asked Kenny what will be different when he enters the cage on Saturday. He simplified it for me. “I’m still me man. I’m just a few years older,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always brought it and I always will. It’s my way.”

Right now Booker is focused on his upcoming opponent, but he wouldn’t rule out a full-fledged comeback. “One fight at a time but I’d love to fight more after this if I’m able,” Booker said.

He isn’t exactly dipping his toe in the water with this fight. He’s jumping off the high dive into some potentially deep water. There is no tomato can lined up. Standing across the cage from him Saturday night will be Alexis Garcia, a 22-year-old from Kansas who recently turned pro after winning amateur titles at lightweight and welterweight. He also won his first two professional fights, finishing both of his opponents within the first round.

Hold up — This is who you line up for a fight after eight years away from the game? I understand wanting a test but this kid seems like a killer.

“My reputation wouldn’t allow me to take a ‘look good’ fight and no way was I going to. Plus, the general public wouldn’t have taken anything less from me at this point. So here we are with the young, hungry lion Alexis.

“I probably had about 6 or 7 opponents available but this kid is tough and gets better every fight. Plus he kept calling for it so it made perfect sense to jump right back into the deep end. I love testing myself.”

All of the Lights

I was thinking about how intense it will be for Booker come fight night. So many years away from the game. So many people in the audience screaming and cheering him on. That is going to be one furious spike of adrenaline.

So I asked him to envision it. The ring announcer calls your name. Your music hits. You start the walkout. That’s going to be super-intense. How excited are you to do work again in front of all your fans and people?

“Under the bright lights is where I flourish. I’m not a gym fighter that looks good in the gym but crumbles under the lights. I live for the moment. It’s the best high in the world to me. It has always hit different. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at that moment.”

Neither Booker nor Garcia would make any predictions on how this fight will end. They both kept it short but meaningful. “Beautiful violence, baby,” Booker said.

“I’m expecting a war,” Garcia said.

Getting Ready for the Return

Booker is getting ready for the fight with some young bucks and some of his “Day One” peeps.

“Jeremy (Cuttill) and Toon (Singmouangthong) are my OGs in this thing so I’m happy to be back where it all started. J has been there for me since day one, so when I decided to come back he was adamant I come back home. So here I am at DSW (DeLaRosa Submission Wrestling) and loving every minute of it.

“I’m also back with my longtime strength and conditioning coach Shane Lawson, and Mike Anthony, who is also on the card, with the Bootcamp Academy. I also want to shout out to my teammates Lawrence Phillips, Damarkus Griffin, and my nephew Dontrell Johnson, who’s also fighting on the card, for helping me get to this point. I appreciate the whole team for the work but I trained with these three extensively to prepare for this one. They are the future of this sport in our city.”

And the city is ready. The fighters are ready. Saturday night in Beloit, the Rockford fight scene is back.

How to Watch Stateline Rumble 1

Tickets went quickly once they went on sale, but promoter Jon Moore tells me there will be tickets available at the door on fight night. You can also watch Stateline Rumble 1 on PPV on FITE TV. I’m pleased to be calling the action for this PPV, and I’m excited to be joined by Tim “Zurk” Mazurkiewicz who will handle the fight analysis. Tim has been around the fight game for a long time. He’s competed and trained fighters, and he’s currently the head official for WAKO Team USA Kickboxing.

Follow Chicago’s MMA on Twitter for live results throughout the evening.

About Matt Lo Cascio

Matt Lo Cascio is the co-founder and editor of Chicago's MMA. He is the former play-by-play announcer for the XFO and other organizations, and he has been published by ESPN.com, DraftKings, The Comeback, FanSided, and more.

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