Not everyone gets a second lease on life. However, if a guy gets started young enough in his career, there can always be a second or even third shot at glory.
Dustin Jacoby was only 22 years old when he made his professional MMA debut in Southern Illinois in 2010. After nine months, he was already undefeated through six fights while stopping his opponents with reckless abandon. By age 23, he was already under contract with the biggest promotion in the business.
“By October of 2011, I was in the UFC,” Jacoby told Combat Press. “I feel like it just happened a little too quick. Like, I know I was ready, but, I mean, I had never even been taken down in a fight before. I got there too soon, and I was fighting tough guys. That’s why the UFC signed me. By my sixth fight, I was fighting guys who were 13-5 and 10-3, and I was knocking them out.
“When I first got to the UFC, I was kind of star struck. I’m sitting in a meeting. [UFC President] Dana White is talking in the fighter meeting. I’m sitting next to the Diaz brothers and B.J. Penn, you know, Cheick Kongo, and all these big-name guys. I’m looking around like, ‘Damn, do I really belong here?’”
Jacoby made his Octagon debut against Clifford Starks as the first early prelim at UFC 137, where he lost by unanimous decision. Then, only three months later, he was back in action against now-teammate Chris Camozzi at UFC on Fox 2. He lost to Camozzi by third-round guillotine choke and was eventually cut from the roster. It turned out to be a pretty lackluster start for the once hot prospect. However, he was super young and barely getting started in his career.
Today, Jacoby is 11-5 in MMA. From February 2013 to August 2017, he managed to go 10-8 as a pro kickboxer. The highlight of his kickboxing career was when he became the GLORY Kickboxing middleweight champion at GLORY 27 in 2016 while scoring his fifth knockout in a row.
After his final GLORY fight, Jacoby was looking to get back to his roots in MMA. The Colorado native had been back in his home state for years, training alongside Camozzi and other high-level guys at Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood. The only problem was that he couldn’t find a fight to save his life. His last MMA outing came against John Salter at Bellator 132 in January 2015. He had one fight lined up at Midwest Championship Fighting against a guy who allegedly threw himself down some stairs and broke his arm right before the fight. Other than that, there was nothing but crickets.
Then, in the summer of 2019, the Denver-based Sparta Combat League announced that it was putting on a heavyweight King of Sparta tournament, which consists of boxing in the first bracket, kickboxing in the next round of the bracket, and MMA for the final fight. Jacoby was able to get in on somewhat short notice.
“That was pretty cool,” Jacoby said. “I was just trying to find fights last year, and I was having a hard time getting a regional promoter to pay me what my value is or at least close to. Obviously, it’s the regional scene, and they can’t spend too much. You know, I wasn’t going to decrease my value and fight for peanuts, and not a lot of guys were wanting the fight. I got a call and saw where someone had dropped out, and I hit up Jeff [Cisneros, SCL CEO]. I think Camozzi was the one that told me about it. Jeff said he had a spot and asked me if I wanted in.”
SCL 74 took place on June 29, 2019. Jacoby’s boxing match, which he won in the first round, came against Terrance Hodges.
“It was my first time doing a professional boxing match, and I was excited about that,” Jacoby said.
Next, Jacoby faced Tony Lopez for the kickboxing affair and won in the second round.
“When I go into a kickboxing match, I think my biggest strength is my hands and my boxing,” said Jacoby. “I was super comfortable doing the boxing, and the thing was at heavyweight. I weighed in at 210 pounds, and the other guys were weighing in at 250 pounds. So, I knew I was going to be a lot quicker. I wasn’t too worried about the power of those guys, because I knew I had experience. I loved the boxing match, and then the kickboxing match, that’s my jam. That’s where I feel really comfortable, and that’s where I’m in my own element. I wasn’t too worried about that one.”
Finally, Jacoby faced Cody East in the finals under the MMA rule set.
“The MMA fight is the one I was really worried about, because these guys are bigger, and the guy I was fighting I knew was a wrestler,” he explained. “I knew that I had to do everything in my power to not get stuck underneath this guy. He tried to take me down a couple of times, and I defended his takedowns well. By that time, his gas tank was shot, and I was the quicker guy. I just ate him up with the jab and got out of there with a 50-45 unanimous decision.”
After winning the heavyweight King of Sparta tournament, Jacoby needed to recover.
“After that MMA fight, I actually fractured my fibula in my leg,” Jacoby said. “So, I had to take a little bit of time off. That was June, July and August. Again, we were trying to find fights, and I was ready. I was really hoping for a short-notice call from the UFC after the performance I put on. Nothing ever came, so it was kind of difficult training. It’s one thing to train when you have a fight. You’re more excited when you train for something and can keep your eyes on the prize. That made it a little tough. Finally, when February and March rolled around, I found out about the Contender Series, and I was all for it.”
Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the UFC was already working on lineups for this season’s Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. The events usually start in June, but the pandemic put the Contender Series in limbo, along with just about everything else. While many fighters were worried about what the future would hold, Jacoby kept a positive outlook.
“I knew the UFC was up and running,” said the former kickboxing champ. “My manager, Jason House, has done a good job, and he’s got a lot of guys in the UFC, because he has a real good connection with them. So, I knew I was going to get in one way or the other. I didn’t know if it was going to be short notice or what was going to go on. I had a pretty good feeling I was going to be fighting this year.”
On Tuesday night, on the first episode of the fourth season of the Contender Series, Jacoby will serve as one half of the headliner opposite Ty Flores, who holds a 7-2 pro mark. The goal is to impress the boss with a big win and get a UFC contract.
“He’s a tough Midwest kid,” said Jacoby. “He’s going to be strong. He’s going to bring it. I was talking with a buddy of mine, and he said [Flores] was the best in St. Louis, and I feel like I’m one of the best in the world. It’s time for me to show that. This is my time to get back in the UFC after all of the struggles and adversity I’ve faced in my career. It’s my time to show I’m ready for this moment.
“I’m ready to put this kid away. I have a lot more experience than him. I’ve traveled the world fighting. He’s been fighting local shows, and he’s just not on my level. I’m dead set in my mind to prove that.”
Jacoby is in a unique position. Most Contender Series competitors aren’t former UFC guys who have also spent time in Bellator MMA, the World Series of Fighting, and GLORY Kickboxing. Instead, most of the competitors are guys like Flores. They are tough guys off the regional scene who are trying to make a move to the next level. The opponents Flores has faced have nowhere near the experience level as Jacoby’s opponents have had, either.
Flores trains five minutes up the road from Jacoby with the Elevation Fight Team, so there will also be a bit of a cross-town rivalry in Tuesday’s main event. Things will be a lot different than in Jacoby’s first crack at the big show, too.
“I bring a lot more experience to the cage with me this time,” Jacoby said. “Now, with the experience of GLORY and growing with such a big promotion and being in the room and becoming the man, like the star of GLORY, it’s something I think has helped me tremendously. I’m ready for this shot at the UFC. I’m looking to be the man.”
Jacoby has spent most of his career fighting as a middleweight, but he will now compete in the light-heavyweight division. More and more fighters, including Jacoby’s teammates Camozzi and Anthony Smith, have chosen to take this route. It’s a lot easier on the body and tends to make for a more efficient fighter.
“If the right fight presents itself at 185 [pounds], I would go,” Jacoby admitted. “The weight cut is not an issue. I just feel the guys are a little bit quicker than me at 185. I feel like I’m that quicker guy at 205. The power is definitely not an issue. Look at my resume — I knock people out. I think I’m going to be quicker to the punch than these guys at 205, and I like the weight class. I walk around at about 210 pounds, so I’m not worried about the weight cut. It’s not draining any of my energy or any of my focus. I get to just show up, be myself, and do what I do.”
Through 15 MMA fights, Jacoby has eight knockout wins and one submission. In his 18 kickboxing matches, he has nine knockouts. On Tuesday night, he will be focused and ready to show off all he has learned in the last decade. He believes he is meant to be in the UFC, and now he’s ready to take advantage of his second lease on life.