After a hot start to her ONE Championship career, Jackie Buntan will step foot inside the ONE Circle once again on Friday, Apr. 22, to face teen phenom Smilla Sundell for the inaugural ONE women’s strawweight Muay Thai world championship.
The Filipina-American star has been honing her skills at Boxing Works for years, under the tutelage of Bryan Popejoy.
The Southern California gym has already produced a world champion in ONE – Jackie’s training partner, Janet Todd – and if Buntan can bring home another gold belt, it will help cement her coach and her gym’s status in the sport.
Buntan appreciates having one of the brightest minds in the sport to help her develop her techniques, and she credits her mentor with leading her to this opportunity.
“Honestly, Bryan’s been my only ever coach since I started up until now for Muay Thai, and I can’t see any other way,” she said. “He’s really like a secret weapon. Not just behind fights, but just myself as a student, learning the sport, learning about martial arts up until now.
“I really believe, as a fighter, I’m able to break down my opponents. And I think I’m able to do that because of him. I know he’s not fighting, but he’s able to study the tape and break down every single detail, and they’re the smallest details. He’ll screen record things, and slow it down. That’s how small these details are, but he has the most careful and watchful eye. And I think that’s what sets him apart from other coaches, and that’s what sets me apart with my training. It’s just having his wealth of knowledge and his eye. He has a careful eye for detail.”
The 24-year-old is excited about the opportunity she has in two weeks and views it as the culmination of all of her tireless work. Buntan has shined since joining ONE, putting in dominant performances against Wondergirl Jaroonsak, Ekaterina Vandaryeva, and Daniela Lopez. Her speed, power, and precision have powered her to this world title shot, and the talented striker is ready to prove she is the best strawweight in the world.
“Oh, wow,” said Buntan. “I think it would mean everything to me and not only obtaining the physical title. Ever since I started Muay Thai as a young girl – I was 11 years old – like it’s 13 years in the making. It will really prove to me that with all the hard work and doubt and self-belief, all the ups and downs, I stay true to what I want and stay true to myself. And this is one little layer to proving to myself that I’m in the right direction, you know? It’s a good start to it.
“It brings so much pride and honor to bring back a second ONE Championship belt to Boxing Works and to Brian. And it’s not just to have the name and title of Boxing Works attached to ONE Championship. It’s just, like, giving it to Bryan and showing him gratitude. Like all the years of belief and work that he’s put into me. Like, this is it, this is why he’s kept going with me. So it’d be a real honor, a real treat to bring this home for him.”
Although Popejoy is her coach, hitting the mitts alongside Todd has been invaluable in her training camps. The reigning ONE atomweight kickboxing champion helps her to push to achieve greatness.
“When we work together, she’s definitely more so on my case,” said the 24-year-old. “When she knows I’m not doing something correctly, as in terms of, like, maybe we both don’t have a fight, and we’re training, you kind of get away with being a little lackadaisical. But it’s funny to say that when she catches me slipping, then she’ll tell me, right? Which is what I want. I want an honest partner. That’s how you get better.”
Buntan is relaxed and prepared. She has put in the work and is ready to claim her first championship on a global stage. And the newly redesigned title is everything she is looking for.
“Oh, I’m very much looking forward to holding it,” she said. “And the design is beautiful. I love gold. Like all my jewelry is gold. So I love that. They have it in all gold. The question is, will I have to pay an overcharge fee when I bring it home? Because I know it’s like 30 pounds.”
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