Jacob Smith is facing an extraordinarily tough ONE Championship debut, but those who know him best won't write off his chance to score a massive victory.
This Friday, the English upstart will battle Thai megastar Rodtang Jitmuangnon in the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix quarterfinals at "ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot," and teammate Liam Harrison expects a hard-fought contest from start to finish.
Harrison and Smith train together at the famous Bad Company gym in Leeds, and the multiple-time muay Thai world champion is beyond impressed by the 29-year-old's progress.
"Jacob has improved tenfold since he moved to us a couple of years ago. I've never seen anyone improve so fast," Harrison said. "That's down to the fact that he's obsessed with getting better, and he's obsessed with learning.
"Before, he was always very tough, very strong, very durable, but now we've added a better skill set to that. He's been sparring with me, Jordan Watson, Joe Craven, and them guys regularly, and he's been training on the pads with Richard (Smith – Bad Company Head Coach) and Andy (Howson)."
Smith had become a well-known name on the U.K. circuit before he began training at Bad Company on a regular basis, earning his reputation as a fearless combatant who relied on heart and aggression to win fights.
However, Harrison believes there's so much more to his teammate's game these days, which has allowed Smith to become the nation's top-ranked flyweight muay Thai fighter.
"Now, not only has still got all the toughness and the durability, but he's got a good skill set alongside it," Harrison said. "His movement is better, his defense is better, his eyes are better. Everything's just a lot better about him.
"We have some really good spars. He's always pushing forward. He's always in my face and wants to turn it into a bit of a war to be honest, but now that we've taught him all the new skills, the movement and all that stuff, he's really, really dangerous."
Harrison says Smith has tools to shock Rodtang
Smith will need to bring his best when he squares off with dominant ONE flyweight muay Thai world champion Rodtang at ONE 157, and that's exactly what Harrison expects to witness.
The muay Thai superstar thinks his teammate is well-equipped to make things difficult for the reigning divisional king – both from a physical and a mental standpoint.
"(Smith's) got a very good low kick, it's a snappy one," Harrison said. "It's very similar to mine. He's modeled himself on my style of low kicking, so it's very similar to that.
"His self-belief, as well. He honestly believes that he's going to go in there and beat Rodtang, and that's a powerful weapon to have. He's going to be a very difficult man to beat.
"So they're his main weapons: the good low kick, the pressure, the toughness, and alongside that the movement and defensive stuff. And he's quite heavy-handed, so it's going to be a really good fight. I'm really looking forward to watching it."
Another crucial factor is that Smith has fought to turn his life around and desperately wants to secure a better future for his young family.
Success in ONE Championship can play a big part in that future, and Harrison knows his hungry stablemate won't take a backward step in Friday's debut – no matter what "The Iron Man" throws at him.
"He's been waiting to get into these top-level fights for a while now. His fight with (fellow grand prix participant) Superlek (Kiatmoo9) fell through because of COVID, and his first fight with Rodtang fell through, so he's just itching to prove himself here," Harrison said.
This story first published at ONEFC.com.