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From near-retirement to the verge of UFC title contention, Dustin Jacoby continues to defy expectations

It wasn’t long ago that Dustin Jacoby thought his MMA career was over.

The 34-year-old veteran is one of the fastest rising names in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, having extended his nine-fight unbeaten run with a walk-off first-round knockout of Da Un Jung at UFC Long Island. But if you would’ve asked Jacoby a few years ago whether his time in MMA had passed, his answer would’ve been yes. By that point, Jacoby had already made a successful transition to professional kickboxing and established himself as a top contender in GLORY. He thought he’d never lace up his four-ounce gloves again.

“I told my coach when I made that decision, I said, ‘Look, if I picture myself being a future champion, I don’t see myself being a champion in MMA.’ This is what I said at the time,” Jacoby admitted on The MMA Hour after his latest UFC win. “I was like, ‘But in kickboxing, I could see myself being a champion. I really can.’ And I proved that to myself. I rose through the ranks, I took my beatings in GLORY and then I went on a five-fight win streak, six-fight win streak, whatever it was, and I was able to fight Simon Marcus for the world title.

“When I was in GLORY, I thought I was done with MMA. And then my time with GLORY came to an end, I had a couple of injuries. There’s a time in 2018, I thought I was done fighting. It was a really rough patch in my life, because deep down I knew I was good enough to be there. It wasn’t a skill thing. If you saw Mark Montoya, my coach, if you saw his post, it had nothing to do with the skill set. It was just about the injuries and is it really worth it. And hindsight being 20/20 and everything coming in full circle, it has been worth it, and I’m glad that I picked myself back up and got back in there, and here we are on an incredible streak.”

Jacoby’s remarkable second UFC life has been one of the most surprising stories in recent memory for the promotion’s light heavyweight division.

When Jacoby left MMA in early 2015, he did so spurned. He’d fought for the three biggest organizations of the time — UFC, Bellator, and WSOF — and had a combined 0-5 record to show for it. Things hadn’t worked out how he’d hoped. But he found instant success in kickboxing, winning three fights in one night as a last-minute replacement in the Road to GLORY USA Light Heavyweight Tournament and earning a grand prize check for $20,000 as well as a one-year contract with the kickboxing promotion. Against the odds, by the time he left GLORY in 2017, Jacoby had blossomed into a legitimate kickboxing contender.

But the injuries he’d suffered still left him wondering whether his career in combat sports was over. It wasn’t until he helped teammate Anthony Smith prepare for a 2019 UFC fight against then-champion Jon Jones that Jacoby felt his love of MMA being rekindled.

“That’s what got me back into it,” Jacoby explained. “And I just fell in love with it again, and I was like, ‘You know what? Give me a fight. Let’s go try this MMA thing again.’ And it was really hard to get a regional fight. That was another thing that was so frustrating is on the regional level, nobody wanted to fight me, but on the bigger stage, nobody wanted to sign me. So I was stuck in that little gap there that was just really frustrating.

“I think it was one of those things that, if you look at my record, I just didn’t win the big fights. I would get signed by the big promotion and I wouldn’t win. But with that being said, man, look at my record, look at guys I’ve lost to. I’ve never lost to a scrub. I’ve never lost to a no-name person. Every single loss I have has been a former champion, has been a former title contender, has been a big name. So again, that was the belief that I had in myself because of facing those guys. I knew I was right there,” he continued.

“I just had to overcome that first big win. And I think that the Contender Series, I wasn’t too happy I had to fight on the Contender Series because I thought I was good enough to just be in the UFC — but looking back, everything happens for a reason, and I’m glad. It gave me a fight to kind of get my feet wet and give me that confidence that I can compete.”

Jacoby has since taken that confidence and run with it. He’s undefeated over his last seven octagon bouts and ranked as one of the UFC’s top-15 light heavyweights.

That last fact, in particular, was a source of stress ahead of his latest date with Jung.

“Just because I had finally gotten to the top 15, I had finally gotten a ranking next to my name, and it’s kind of been the story of my whole career,” Jacoby explained. “Like, it’s another big fight and it’s like, ‘Oh man, is he going to win the big fight? Is he going to lose this big fight?’ And I was like, ‘Man, I just got here. How s***** would that be to get the number next my name and then let this guy come take it from me?’ So I really put it in my mind that, ‘You know what? I’m here to defend my spot. And I’m here to prove that I am a top-15 fighter and I’m not going to give up my spot. I’m going to keep my spot in the rankings. I’m going to keep catapulting and going forward.’ And that’s what I did, man.

“Also, Da Un Jung, I knew how good he was. He’s a big guy. He’s a quick guy for 205. He had the huge 15-fight unbeaten streak. And I just knew he was a very up-and-coming tough competitor, and I had to go out there make a statement. And I was so happy when I did.”

Jacoby did indeed make a statement.

The American scored a vicious walk-off knockout over his previously red-hot foe, firmly establishing himself as one of the most dangerous up-and-comers in the 205-pound division. Now he hopes to land a fight against a top-10 foe next, and his eyes are particularly set on the winner of UFC London’s contest between Volkan Oezdemir and Paul Craig.

It’s remarkable story, and as he finds himself perched on the precipice of title contention, Jacoby knows his career turnaround can be ascribed to one thing.

“Experience,” Jacoby said. “When I say that I truly made it, when I say I’ve been through it to get to it, man — it’s a lot of time stepping through the ropes, stepping into the ring, going through it, man. Just going through the battles. My time in GLORY really taught me how to be a true fighter, a true warrior.

“I’ve fought some of the best stand-up fighters in the world and guys that — casual fans or even hardcore fans in the United States don’t know who these guys are, they don’t know their name. If I said their name, they wouldn’t stick out them. But I’m the one who went toe-to-toe with those guys. I know how good they were. I know what it’s like to lock horns with them. And that’s why I’m at where I’m at.”

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