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Jim Range | Knuckle Junkies

Buckley's Big Test

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

Being the up-and-coming, crackerjack welterweight in St. Louis isn't the glamorous life.

For 22-year-old Joaquin-Buckley, there's the gym and then there's back home. With Grandma.

"When you're waiting for a fight and there's no income, it's a struggle," Buckley said. "When there's no day job, you feel like a bum."

Buckley had worked as a personal trainer for a few years but just recently set that aside to focus on the task at hand.

Buckley, a native St. Louisan, made his first trip out of the country last weekend. It was even his first-ever ride in an airplane and it was no puddle jumper either. Buckley took the 13+ hour flight and landed in Tel Aviv, Israel.

On Thursday he will meet fellow unbeaten Jackie Gosh (6-0) on the Bellator 164 undercard. Gosh is a bit of mystery. Of his six wins, five have been from submission and he is considered one of the top welterweights in Romania. The main card of the event airs on Spike Friday night.

To ease the nerves and temper the anxiety, Buckley made the trip with the ideal cohort in Finney's MMA teammate and coach Adam Cella. Cella has seen all aspects of the game and is a former The Ultimate Fighter contestant. He fought for the UFC in Sweden and has traveled extensively both as a fighter and a coach. Most Cella cornered Finney's MMA coach Luigi Fioravanti for his M1 Global fight in Russia.

It could be argued that Buckley is the brightest bulb to come from Finney's MMA. He has been at the gym from the onset of his career and has fought for Finney's Shamrock FC throughout his pro career. Through six pro fights and eight as an amateur, Buckley has yet to taste defeat. A splendid blend of fast twitch muscle and a coachable mind, he has made the necessary and calculated steps along the way.

Buckley came into Finney's with a decent high school wrestling background but Ryan Sutton has tinkered and developed Buckley's takedowns and takedown defense. On the feet, where his ability to close the gap is eye-blink-quick, Eric Steinberg has pushed his skill set the further. When it comes to his submission game there's Ezra Lenon. Lenon has significantly established himself at the very high end of the elite competitive BJJ circuit throughout the globe over the past four years.

"The only reason I am able to do anything submission-wise is because of him," Buckley said. "I did not know one thing, not one sweep before him. He's really helped with keeping good top pressure and getting back up on my feet. I'm really looking forward to working more one-on-one with him after this fight.

After easing out to a 4-0 start, three of which by decision, Buckley discarded two of the region's top 170-pounders. He freight-trained Kyle Kurtz in September of 2015 with first-round TKO. This summer, in his Bellator debut, he picked apart UFC-vet Chris Heatherly before scoring a TKO late in the second round.

"They were all stepping stones and I didn't need to skip any steps," Buckley said. "Early on they may not have been top tier guys but each one was better than the next."

Buckley won't turn 23 until April and is fighting for the second time this year. He recently signed a multi-fight contract with Bellator.

Thursday is the next chapter in his career, which to Buckley should be titled, "pursue, pursue, pursue."

"I don't see (Thursday) going any other way," he said. "It's not going to be easy. I'm not just going to run him over but it's a winnable fight. There are more pros than cons."

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Range photgraphy