HOUSTON, TX – For those of us in the media that cover combat sports, networks and relationships are of critical importance. We interact with a lot of folks in all spaces of the fight business. Promoters, coaches, fighters, agents, management, you name it. After all, this is a relationship-based business and if you want the latest scoop, you are going to have a hard time getting ahead without a trusted network of people you can rely upon.
But for as good as leveraging a network can be, there can be some pitfalls. Sometimes there is definitely a hidden agenda being put out there by a promoter, coach, or sponsor that deliberately hypes up a fighter because they have something to gain. Any time I’ve heard a phrase such as, “You know, you should really look into…” or “This fighter is going to be a UFC champion in a few years…” I usually smile and nod politely on the outside but on the inside, I’m full of skepticism and take everything with a grain of salt.
This was definitely the case for me late last year when I first heard about an up-and-coming bantamweight contender from Houston, Texas, Keron Reed. When I would ask around about him, there was no shortage of statements on how talented and gifted a fighter he was. Initially, I thought there had to be some embellishment. There is no way this man with zero professional experience could be as good as everyone had been telling me.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but something in my gut told me to set cast aside my skepticism and doubts and see if I could get to the bottom of this for myself. So I took the plunge. In December 2021, I watched every second of film I could get my hands on of Keron Reed. I spent countless hours picking apart everything I could on him leaving no stone unturned. I spoke to a lot of people on and off the record about him. I even reached out to his coach.
Keron Reed defeated Jonathan Walker via unanimous decision in their bantamweight preliminary bout at #furyfc32 — and was awarded his BJJ blue belt in the cage afterwards. pic.twitter.com/fJEx3wRfiP
— Sherdog (@sherdogdotcom) May 25, 2019
The Coach’s Verdict
Adam Copely is a retired mixed martial artist and coaches Reed at War Training Center in Houston, Texas. If there are two things you need to know about Coach Copely, the first would be he’s brutally honest about anything and anyone. Secondly, he’s very difficult to impress. If there is noise out there about one of his fighters that he didn’t think was true, he’d be the first to dismiss it.
In speaking with MMA Sucka about Reed, Coplely said, “I think he’s the top bantamweight not in the UFC. I think he’d beat up most of the bantamweights in the UFC…I’m blessed to see him day in and day out and see him spar against bantamweights already in the UFC and beat the [expletive] out of those guys. I’m so impressed with him. He’s really skilled and works harder than anyone I know.”
The Anticipated Pro Debut
What makes matters even more incredulous, is Reed has no martial arts background. He didn’t grow up in a dojo or wrestling like others. Rather, he’s had to learn all the intricacies of MMA on the fly, and while he’s technically been an active fighter for four years, in reality, he’s only been active for half that time as he missed a significant amount of time due to injuries.
By the time Reed was finally set to make his highly anticipated professional debut at CFFC 112 in August against Kelvin Sterling, it was more than fair to have tempered expectations on him. After all, it had been nearly three years since his last fight.
Yet from the opening bell to the conclusion of his first pro bout, Keron Reed dominated every aspect of the fight against Sterling. He commanded the center of the cage at all times, and once he found his range and rhythm, threw numerous flurries that his opponent didn’t have an answer for. While Reed would go on to get his hand raised at the end of the night, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance. In fact, before the gloves could even get taken off his hands he would look into the camera and say, “It’s been 2 years and 8 months [since my last fight] …I could’ve got the finish, but I was overswinging and [expletive]. Next time I’m good. I’ll finish it.”
In speaking to Reed for this story, he further elaborated on what he meant by his initial remarks on his pro debut.
“Of course, I would’ve liked to have gotten a finish but it was a great performance. I took zero damage, only one shot I got hit with grazed me, but it didn’t land flush. It took me a little while to get going; I’ll blame that on the layoff…but I got a 10-8 round in the 3rd. If you look at my opponent at the end of the fight it’s the closest thing you can get to a finish. I left a lot on the table…but it’s my first pro fight. I’m not supposed to have it all dialed in yet. Being a fighter is about growing and learning from everything. That’s why it is a journey…I still have a long way to go…”
On the Praise and Criticism
In all my interactions with Reed to date, I’ve found him to be confident, self-aware, and grounded. A rarity for someone with his talent level and for only being a few years removed from high school. But as excited as people are about his future in MMA, it hasn’t always been that way. Just a few short years ago when he was still a high school student, he had teachers tell him that he’d never amount to anything beyond a fast-food worker. He’s also seen firsthand promising athletes at his high school get scholarship offers to D-1 schools that now find themselves battling homelessness or drug addictions. So whether it’s praise or criticism that comes his way as a professional fighter, Reed manages to deflect all of it.
“I’ve head it all. But at the end of the day words are just words…. It is just a person’s opinion. I respect the game too much to let the good or bad opinions get into my head. When I make millions off [MMA] that’s when I’ll know that I’m really good as some people believe. Until then? I’m a nobody. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t be considered one of the best MMA fighters ever so that means I just have to keep working.”
Going for 2-0 & Beyond
Content to let the media and fans debate amongst themselves as to how far he can really go in this sport; Reed is focused on his next opponent Jonathan Eiland with whom he’ll share the cage at the Fury Challenger Series later this month. In sizing up the opposition Reed explained, “I feel out of all the guys I’ve fought Eiland is the second best. From what I see he will be the toughest person I [will have] fought, and I feel he will bring the fight out of me more than anybody else has. He’s bigger, stronger, and maybe more athletic than me but I’m smarter. I’m more skillful with better technique and I’m a dog. I’ll take what I have over what he has any day!”
Not only does Reed expect to get the job done against Eiland but he expects to compete again before the end of 2022 and at some point, in 2023, expects to be competing in the UFC.
“The more experience I get the worse it’ll get for everybody who fights at 135. I work like crazy. I do all the right things for this life. Experience is the only thing holding me from reaching my full potential. Once I get enough experience I promise you, it’s over for everybody.”
So at the end of the day what is the real verdict on Reed? Only time will tell, but what I can confidently state is Reed is without question the most naturally gifted MMA prospect I’ve seen since I began covering this sport. If that statement makes me a part of the Keron Reed bandwagon well then hopefully there is a halfway decent seat left on it for me.
Keron Reed will look to improve his professional record to 2-0 when he takes on veteran mixed martial artist Jonathan Eiland, who is 4-5. The action will take place on October 23, 2022, at 4 PM ET at Fury Fighting Championship: Challenger Series 1. The event is available to stream live worldwide via UFC Fight Pass.