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From 'sh*t' to contender, Dustin Jacoby in midst of successful transition from MMA to kickboxing

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Dustin Jacoby tried kickboxing on a whim. He was a late replacement for an injured fighter in the Road to GLORY tournament in February 2013.

The winner of the eight-man, one-night tournament in Oklahoma would earn a spot on a future GLORY show. But that seemed to be a long shot for Jacoby, who had never fought in a pro kickboxing match in his life. Plus, his first-round opponent was Randy Blake, the then-ISKA champion.

Then, Jacoby went and knocked out Blake -- and his other two opponents. Suddenly, Jacoby, a good striker in MMA, became a kickboxer overnight. At least that's what he thought.

Before competing under the GLORY banner for the first time, Jacoby went to Holland to train at Hemmers Gym. His coaches and training partners there were happy for him. With a caveat.

"A lot of those guys watched the Road to GLORY and they were like, 'Yeah, that was cool and you did well, but that was sh*t, man,'" Jacoby said. "'That was not good kickboxing.'"

Jacoby, 27, quickly learned that being good at standup in MMA is not the same as being an elite, technical kickboxer.

"I was training with their C- and B-class fighters," Jacoby said. "I know a lot of good MMA guys and these guys [in Holland] are considered amateur kickboxers who when it comes to standup are at a completely different level than these amazing pro MMA fighters."

The learning curve has been steep. Jacoby lost five of his next six pro kickboxing matches after the Road to GLORY tournament. But now, he has won three straight and become an American fixture on GLORY cards.

On Friday, he'll compete in a four-man middleweight contender tournament to decide the next title contender at GLORY 27 in Chicago. Jacoby, a UFC, Bellator and WSOF veteran, will meet Karl Roberson in the semifinals.

"I could see why you would say this is a big opportunity for me, because I could get a title shot," Jacoby said. "But really, every time I've stepped into the ring for GLORY, it's been a big opportunity."

Jacoby won a middleweight qualification tournament in August to earn this spot. Although the Factory X product focused now on kickboxing, Jacoby just considers himself a fighter, not necessarily just a kickboxer or an MMA athlete. He has lost two in a row in MMA, both in Bellator and has not fought in a cage since January 2015.

The kickboxing market just picked up in the states, too. Last week, Scott Coker announced the advent of Bellator Kickboxing, an offshoot of his Bellator MMA product. Jacoby said he has already been contacted by the Viacom-owned promotion and could fight there in the future.

"I'm getting to the point now where I don't want to be fighting forever," Jacoby said. "Whatever makes the most sense. Wherever I can go out and support my family financially."

Jacoby is a go-with-the-flow type of guy. If he wasn't, maybe he wouldn't have even tried kickboxing three years ago. Now, it's a huge part of his life and income. He credits those guys in Holland for helping him put together a career in a second combat sort.

"Instead of them just picking on me, so to speak, they really just helped me," he said. "They took me under their wing and showed me a lot of stuff. But it's funny. I'd be watching fights with them and they'd be like, 'Look at this, man. These guys are sh*t. They're terrible.' It's funny, because now I see what they're saying. I know the difference. I'm glad I got to experience it myself."

There were certainly critics at the time wondering how an MMA fighter could really compete with elite kickboxers. Some still exist. Jacoby chose to ignore them and he's reaping the benefits.

"If I listened to what everybody said, it would be chaos," Jacoby said. "At the same time, you have the opposite people just telling you how good you are and how great you are, you're so awesome. Then you start thinking and you're really not that good.

"Then you have the guys telling you that you suck and you're not as bad as they're saying. You've gotta roll with the punches and find that medium. You can't listen to what other people have to say. ... Hell, if I listened to what other people had to say, I would have been done fighting two or three years ago."