Less than a year into his professional career and with just six fights under his belt, Dustin Jacoby got the call to fight Clifford Starks for his UFC debut back in 2011. At just 23-years old, he was one of the younger fighters on the roster, but had stopped all six of his opponents to that point (five of them in the very first round). While his physical attributes seemed to be up to the task of fighting experienced pros in the UFC, the results did not pan out. Jacoby went 0-2 and was released from the promotion.
Looking back at that time, Jacoby still feels his physical skills were ready for the task, but it was something else holding him back in his first stint.
“I remember being in the UFC my first time and sitting in the fighter meetings and looking around me and looking at the big names I was sitting next to with Dana White and just thinking to myself, ‘man, do I really belong here?” Jacoby recalled of his 2011 debut. “It was UFC 137. I remember I watched the Diaz brothers walk in, Nick Diaz was fighting BJ Penn. There were guys like Cheick Kongo on that card.”
While he marveled at those names on either side of him that day, nearly a decade away from the company, including nearly a five year hiatus from the sport as a whole, has seen that mindset shift.
“I saw all these guys and I was like, ‘holy crap, man, do I belong?” he said. “This time is way different. I’ve been through the battles. I’ve been through the adversity in my career, and I know I’m ready to be the man.”
That realization did not come with just the battles he was in, which included Bellator, WSOF, and a championship contender run in Glory Kickboxing. It came alongside of a friend and training partner as he rose to the top of the sport.
“A guy that really helped me with that was Anthony Smith. We came up on the regional scene together,” Jacoby shared. “In 2018 he had his opportunity with Jon Jones. It was actually early 2019, but 2018 is when he got a hold of me and was like ‘hey, man, I could use your help getting ready for Jon Jones.”
That time in a championship training camp helped show Jacoby what it takes to rise to that level, and perhaps even more importantly, it put some perspective around where we was with his abilities.
“I just look at him – at us training together, and I look at the run that he went on,” Jacoby said. “And I look at myself and I’m like ‘dude, you could do the same thing’ and that’s what I’m out to do.”
Earlier this year, Dustin Jacoby won his way back to the big stage on the Contender Series. Now, he looks to put a stamp on this new run of his when he faces Justin Ledet on the preliminary portion of UFC Vegas 12 this Saturday on ESPN+.