With three wins in his four ONE FC fights, Jake Butler is still a frontrunner for the inaugural light heavyweight title, but his momentum was rudely interrupted by a second-round TKO loss to Sylvain Potard late last year.
It was a painful lesson for Butler, who dominated his three previous opponents, but the former NCAA Division One level wrestler knows exactly where he went wrong.
“I was too relaxed in my last fight, and I didn’t respect my opponent enough. I should have fought with a greater sense of urgency and stuck to the strategy that my coaches had planned for me,” Butler said
He has the opportunity to make amends at ONE FC: War of Dragons on Friday, but despite coming off a defeat matchmakers have handed him an opponent who is even more dangerous than his last one, a point proven by the fact that Egyptian Mohamed Ali holds a TKO win over Potard.
Ali also has nearly four times as many fights as Butler and has competed all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but the American knows what he needs to do to defeat the experienced Egyptian.
“I think Ali can be dangerous with his striking. He is a big, strong guy with a lot of power, and I’ll need to fight smart and force the fight to the positions where I feel I have an advantage.”
It remains a high-risk match-up for Butler, who was posed plenty of problems by the punching power of Potard and believes Ali is even more dangerous with his hands than the Frenchman.
“I haven’t seen a lot of footage, but from what I have seen I think it’s pretty obvious that his strength is in boxing and his weakness is on the ground,” he said.
After starting his MMA career with four fights in nine months, there was some suggestion that perhaps things had moved too fast for Butler and that the loss to Potard was a sign he should have taken a more patient approach.
However, having captained the wrestling team at Princeton University and wrestled at an elite level since childhood, he believes he was ready for such a steep learning curve in MMA.
“Each time you win, you move up the ladder. Fights are not supposed to get easier and I think it has been a natural progression. I have been competing on a high level my whole life and I have a great team at Evolve MMA and some of the very best coaches in the world.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Butler’s last performance was how slick his Muay Thai looked as he threw low kicks like a seasoned striking veteran. He ultimately paid the price for staying on his feet too long, getting caught with a straight right hand, but the American believes the non-wrestling aspects of his game are improving rapidly.
“At Evolve MMA, I am really lucky in that I get to work every day with trainers like Heath Sims, who is my head coach, and Muay Thai World Champion Chaowalith Jocky Gym; while other days I’ll get to work with legends like Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Orono Wor Petchpun, and Attachai Fairtex; and Leandro Ataides is my primary training partner and, as everyone in ONE FC now knows, he is a complete beast, plus I work with all of the BJJ black belts,” he said.
Ataides is in line for a 185-pound title shot with ONE FC, while Gokhan Saki was also at Evolve MMA recently, and Emmanuel Newton is training there at the moment, meaning that Butler, who competes in the light heavyweight division, does not have to look too far to find suitable sparring partners of his own size.
After blasting his way through three opponents in quick succession at the start of his MMA career, Butler’s confidence must have been sky high and it would be understandable if he came crashing down to earth with a bang after suffering that first loss.
However, he still believes in both his own ability and his coaching team and says the necessary adjustments have already been made.
“It hasn’t affected my confidence. I just made some mistakes and I got caught, but I spoke with my coaches and teammates after the fight and we have fixed the mistakes.”
As Butler takes on increasingly more experienced opponents there is much less margin for error and he knows Ali has the ability to punish a mistake ruthlessly. He will need to be at his best to beat the Egyptian and this fight should tell us a lot about whether the loss to Potard was a mere aberration or a worrying sign of things to come.
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