The 31-year-old from England – who returns to action against Walter Goncalves at ONE Fight Night 17: Kryklia vs. Roberts on Prime Video on December 8 – was given a choice by his fiancee, Rebekah, that would lead to a drastically different outcome than the direction he was heading.
The pair had welcomed their first child, Isamay, into the world, and Rebekah knew that something had to change for the sake of their growing family. That’s when she told Smith it was them or the streets.
As a lifelong Muay Thai practitioner, she had encouraged her partner to take up the sport, and he’d already trained recreationally. But this was his chance to go all-in – and more importantly, take himself away from negative activities outside of the gym.
Though that life in Birkenhead was all he knew, Smith realized it was time for a new path:
“Maybe two years [after we’d got together], we had my little girl, but during this period, I was still running round the streets, doing this, doing that.
“Once my little girl was born, Bekki said to me, ‘Listen, you’ve got this path you could come down with me in Thai boxing, and let’s see how far you can go with it, or you can stay on the path you’re on now, but you won’t be doing it with me.’
“So, she gave me that ultimatum, Plan A or Plan B. So I said, ‘Ok, that’s it. From this point on, I’m going with you.’”
Although the English striker now sees that it was clearly for the best, he wasn’t so sure at the time, as he was content living day-to-day with cash in his pocket.
Without Rebekah’s intervention and the prospect of losing his family, Smith is certain he would have stayed on the same course. He also knows that all of his subsequent success – both in Muay Thai and as a family man – comes down to that single decision.
“Without the ultimatum, I don’t think I’d have done it myself. I was quite happy, if I’m being 100 percent honest. But I look back now, and I can see I wasn’t even living then. I was living half a life, really. And that was it. I was just drifting along.
“If she didn’t give me that ultimatum, I don’t know where I’d be, but I definitely wouldn’t be here. Like I told you before, I’d be locked up or dead, 100 percent.”
Paying It Back To The Birkenhead Youth
Growing up and still living in the same area, Jacob Smith knows the hardships and pressures the people around him face, and he isn’t one to judge anybody for their choices.
Despite pulling away from the activities that united him with his acquaintances on the streets of Birkenhead, he’s grateful that his real friends were happy to support him rather than try to drag him back in.
However, he’s also witnessed the flipside of the coin and what can be achieved if you focus your energy on something productive – like the route Rebekah helped him travel:
“The lads in our area, they’re all my mates still. I’m still the same lad. I’ve still got the same mates who are doing what they’re doing, it doesn’t mean that I have to be involved in it.
“Once I took a step back away from it, you see people who you thought were in your close circle drift away because they’re not getting things for free from you. Then you’re left with the lads who are loyal, still in the game, but understand that you’ve just grown up, and you’re trying to expand on your own life.
“The ones who want the best for you, whatever that is, they’re the real ones.”
While he won’t pretend to be holier-than-thou and dictate to people what’s right and wrong, he believes he has a responsibility to help steer the next generation away from a life on the streets.
Smith has been in their shoes and knows exactly what it entails, but as the #1-ranked athlete in his weight class from the UK and a global star in ONE, he’s also a shining example of how you can elevate yourself in other ways.
That’s why the 31-year-old is passionate about producing new talent at his Thaifist gym. He uses his experience to cultivate relationships with the young people who walk through his doors and offers them a journey that will lead to a different destination than jail or the grave.
“The people of my era, they’re already too far into the game they’re in to make a different career for themselves. So rather than talk to my mates now, I’ve got a lot of young teenagers in my gym where – because of the way I am and who I am in my area – I’m the person that they look up to.
“They come to me for advice. I’m the one that tries to guide them down the right path and gives them my gym as an outlet. It’s the next generation that I’m helping. I’ve been there in their shoes. I can tell them there’s more to life than going around robbing people or doing whatever, and I’m a prime example of it.
“There are kids in my gym now who’ve got way more potential than I did when I was their age, and it’s the things out of the gym that might be a bit [bad for them], so I’m trying to get them in the gym and help them as much as I can.”