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Dustin Jacoby - Waiting for His Saturday Gameday

“I’ve been a competitor since I was a little kid and I’ve never not showed up on gameday." - Dustin Jacoby

A week before his professional MMA debut on November 27, 2010, Dustin Jacoby wasn’t taking things easy in his Illinois home, keeping his conditioning on point before he faced Dan McGlasson in St. Louis. Instead, he was in Auburn Hills, Michigan, in front of an arena full of screaming fans, taking everything in before his teammate, Brian Foster, stepped into the Octagon against Matt Brown at UFC 123.

But this wasn’t a trip to the UFC as a fan. This was a scouting trip, one prompted by his coach, Marc Fiore.

“He said ‘I want you to come along because you’re gonna be in this position before you know it,’” said Jacoby, recalling his coach’s words. “And this is a week before my pro debut.”

The Fort Morgan, Colorado native saw Foster submit Brown that night, and a week later he got his own win, stopping McGlasson via strikes at 2:09 of the first round. And less than a year later, Fiore’s words proved prophetic, as the unbeaten (6-0) Jacoby will make his UFC debut this weekend against Clifford Starks.

So don’t expect him to be rattled by the bright lights of Las Vegas.

“It (being around at UFC 123) makes it a lot easier and reminds me that this is just another day at the office, another opportunity to go out, perform, and do my job,” said the 23-year old middleweight. “Coach (Fiore) tells me all the time, people get into the UFC and they think that everything has to change. But as professional athletes, we should already be doing all the right things anyway. So nothing else changes. All it is is just another fight.”

It’s a phrase you hear all the time from debuting UFC fighters, but many do get caught up in the first time jitters. Yet despite his age, Jacoby appears to have a mature approach not just to MMA, but to sports in general, and that may come down to his past athletic life as a high school and college quarterback, playing for four years at Culver-Stockton College and Quincy University. So he’s heard the roar of the crowd, and the boos as well.

“I think it (playing quarterback) helps out tremendously,” said Jacoby. “It’s kind of a gift I was blessed with, and I think one of my biggest strengths going into a fight is just being able to stay poised and to keep my composure and to not let the excitement and the pressure take over my emotions and make me do things that I ordinarily wouldn’t do. I think it’s something that’s been instilled in me since Day One.”

“Thrilled to death” about being brought into the UFC less than a year into his career, Jacoby has had a chance to see that poise tested even before arriving in Las Vegas this week. Originally scheduled to take on former Ultimate Fighter competitor Brad Tavares, Jacoby saw his fight with the Hawaiian elevated to the main card when UFC 137’s main event between Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit got removed due to an injury suffered by the champion. The turn of events stunned Jacoby – in a good way.

“I broke out in a sweat, I was hopping up and down,” he laughs.

But days later, Jacoby was back on the preliminary portion of the card, and with a new opponent, as a Tavares injury took him out of commission and opened the door for the unbeaten Starks (7-0) to step in. The Illinois product took everything in stride though, and he expects to be on top of things on Saturday night.

“I’ve always showed up on gameday my entire life,” he said. “I’ve been a competitor since I was a little kid and I’ve never not showed up on gameday. I’ve always been a guy my team’s looked up to, I’ve always been considered the team leader, and everybody else around me, I make them rise to my level. I know I’m gonna go out there and rock that moment, win or lose. The reality of the sport is that two guys get in the cage and one person’s gonna come out with their hand raised. So win or lose, I have no doubt in my mind that I’m gonna put on a performance, and I’m capable of doing that each and every time I step into the Octagon. I think I’m gonna impress some people.”

It’s a confident approach, one that grew from hours in the gym, not only with Fiore, but with former training partners such as Matt Hughes and Robbie Lawler. And if you survive running through that gauntlet, you’ll pretty much be ready for anything.

“I’ve rolled with those guys, I’ve learned a lot from them, and Hughes was very big on the mental game,” said Jacoby. “He says mental weakness, and just weakness overall, is a disease. And he would really push us in practice. He wanted to see the guys who were weak and who wanted to give up and who were slacking and he’d make us go even harder just to get those guys off the mat. Working with those guys made me realize that I can be on this level, I can do this, and I can compete.”

And if there’s anyone who knows about competing on Saturday, it’s Dustin Jacoby.