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Julien Leblanc’s Long Journey To Unified MMA 53

French-Canadian Middleweight Looks To Claim Championship Gold After A Turbulent Career Navigating The Ups And Downs Of Life On The Regional Circuit

If you look at Julien Leblanc’s fighter page on Tapology, you’ll see the 31-year-old Canadian middleweight has more than twice as many cancelled fights as he does professional bouts, which is saying a lot given that he turned pro in 2013 following an unbeaten amateur career.

But closer inspection of the reasons behind those cancellations paints an all-too-familiar picture for hopefuls trying to make headway on the regional circuit: a series of last-minute opponent changes and withdrawals or shows that fell apart at the 11th hour combining to produce extended periods of inactivity.

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“If you look at them, there is just one that it was me that got injured, and all the other bouts are for the same date and the opponent changed three times,” said Leblanc, who faces Troy Green for the Unified MMA middleweight title on Saturday night in the main event of the Canadian promotion’s debut in Ottawa. “Basically, I’ve had a lot of unfortunate cancelled bouts because of the opponents.”

In addition to opponents vanishing and promotions going under, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the regional MMA scene before a 2021 injury suffered while training at Kill Cliff FC in South Florida extended Leblanc’s stay on the sidelines. Between the end of 2017 and start of this year, the Gatineau, Quebec native competed just twice, suffering the only two defeats of his career.

Leblanc had surgery for the injury he sustained in the fall of 2021 and spent the next 18 months working his way back into shape and back into the cage, tuning out the concerned voices that suggested maybe it was time for the University of Ottawa graduate to close this chapter of his professional career and shift his focus to something else.

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“A lot of people were like, ‘You should just stop,’” recalled Leblanc, who has continued to supplement his training at home in Quebec with trips to Florida. “I have a degree and they were like, ‘You can do something else.’

“But, for me, I always knew that I wasn’t at the end of the story of my MMA career,” he added. “I love it! I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life to training hard.”

A unanimous decision win in his return to action in May got things moving in the right direction again and, this weekend, Leblanc has the opportunity to take another step forward by stepping into the Unified MMA cage and facing off with Green for the middleweight title.

Widely recognized as one of the premier regional promotions in North America, Unified has been expanding its reach from its base in Alberta into Ontario over the last year, hosting two previous events in Canada’s most populous province. Similar to Battlefield Fight League in British Columbia, the long-standing outfit has seen several regular competitors graduate to the UFC and is one of the top landing places for ascending fighters from “The Great White North” looking to punch their ticket to the biggest stage in the sport.

And Leblanc wants to be the next to make that journey.

“This is an amazing opportunity; it means everything,” he said excitedly. “I think it’s time to show people that I belong (in this position) and I can win this belt, and I will win this belt.

“I know that I’m good, I know that I’m talented, and it’s my time to shine. The ball is in my court. I know what this opportunity, this belt means. It’s an amazing promotion, and their last middleweight champion went to the UFC.

“I don’t think ahead of myself, I don’t think past Troy Green because he’s an amazing fighter, but I know that I can beat him; I know that I’m better,” added Leblanc. “And I know the stakes. I know that I need to win this, I know that I can win this, and I will win this.”

A two-time Ring of Combat middleweight champion as well as the current titleholder in the 185-pound weight class for Urijah Faber’s A1 Combat, Green also enters this weekend’s main event with a 6-2 record, having suffered his initial pro defeat to current UFC welterweight Yohan Lainesse.

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He rebounded from that setback with consecutive split decision victories in five-round championship fights before dropping back down to welterweight and catching a second loss last time out, and Leblanc knows he’s going to turn up in the Canadian capital just as ready and hungry as he will be this weekend.

“I think he has a lot of power in his hands. He looks like he’s strong, durable, and I can’t be sleeping on him,” he said of Green, beginning his personal breakdown of how things could play out on Saturday. “I think it’s going to be a chess match on the feet, but we have five rounds. I want to be patient; I know my striking is high level.”

The first 10 years of Leblanc’s professional career was a constant struggle to build and maintain momentum, with quality matchups against established names on the regional scene falling by the wayside and opportunities to walk away presenting themselves far too frequently.

But he persisted, steadfast in his belief that he had the work ethic, drive, and skill to excel inside the cage, and focused on giving himself every opportunity to reach the highest levels in the sport.

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Now, after making just two appearances in a five-year stretch featuring every hurdle imaginable — and a global pandemic — he finds himself making the walk to the cage for the second time in five months this weekend, challenging for championship gold in the main event of a fight card airing exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS, and he intends to make the most of it.

“Everyone has a path, everyone has a story, everyone goes through different things in life,” began Leblanc. “I’m super-happy for all my fellow Canadians that won a title like this and went to a big promotion, but I know I can, too.

“I believe in myself, I believe I can compete with the best in the world, and I’m going to go out there, be sharp, and win this belt,” he added confidently. “I plan on seizing this opportunity.”