If you are a kickboxing fan, you know who Tyrone Spong is. You know that he's a protégée of the legendary Ernesto Hoost and you definitely know that he's widely considered one of the best young fighters in the world.
If you've never seen a kickboxing bout, you'll probably only recognize Spong as a friend of Rashad Evans. That friendship has slowly morphed into almost a brotherhood as Spong became a cornerstone member of the Blackzilians.
His move to the Florida-based camp coincided with rumors that he was ready to test his mettle in MMA. Over a year later and Spong is set to make his MMA debut at the inaugural World Series of Fighting event on November 3 in Las Vegas.
Spong isn't the first kickboxer to attempt to make the jump into MMA, but he's likely the best prepared.
"Everything that I've been doing is just theory. It's just been in training. Now you'll see the real thing and that's in a fight. In training everything comes naturally and I'm picking up everything really fast," Spong told Bleacher Report.
"It's going really well. Now for me, it's just making the transition in the fight and just seeing what will happen."
The 27-year-old Spong has been fighting his entire life. After amassing a 68-6-1 (1 NC) record in kickboxing, he felt the time was right to try his hand at MMA. Despite the pressures of his MMA debut, he's not feeling any anxiety heading into his upcoming bout with Travis Bartlett.
"Maybe before the fight but that's just the healthy nerves, you know? It's just to feel on the edge. It makes you sharp. Every fighter needs that. You got to have some type of fear. And not a fear of your opponent or a fear of the fight, but the fear of losing," said Spong.
"I always have the fear of losing. I don't want to lose. So that being said, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that doesn't happen."
His support system to get him through any jitters may be one of the best in the sport. Between Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem, Spong has surrounded himself with friends who have fought at the pinnacle of the sport and can help relieve some stress.
However, he doesn't anticipate there being any difference between the fear he feels before a kickboxing bout and a cage fight.
"Every fighter in combat sports, whether it's boxing, MMA, or kickboxing, I think it's normal for every fighter to have that type of fear. It's not something bad. If you're a winner, you never want to lose. For me, nobody has to teach me how to deal with nerves."
"This being a MMA fight makes no difference. At the end of the day, you've got to make sure that you win."
He has noticed big changes in how he trains and prepares for fights since leaving the Amsterdam gym scene and working out full-time at the Jaco Training Center in Florida. While he trained with legends such as Ernesto Hoost in the Netherlands, it wasn't until he moved to the United States that he truly realized the benefits of a real fight team.
"The difference between the Netherlands and here, this is a real team. Back home my team was just a few coaches, myself, and I had to get my own sparring partners by myself. It wasn't really a fight team." He added, "this is a hell of a fight team. The best fighters together helping each other."
"We all benefit from it. It's real professional and it's something that I've always wanted. Now I have it and I feel blessed to be with such a great team."
In fact, the gym has been so successful that they have been nominated for one of the best gyms in Florida (Florida MMA awards).
Though he is about to kick-start his MMA career, Spong hasn't turned his back on the sport where he built his name. A contracted kickboxer with Glory International, he plans to split time between both combat sports.
Fortunately, neither his WSoF contract nor his Glory contract are entirely exclusive, and he's able to compete for either promotion without causing issue with the other. In fact, Spong recently stated that he expects to fight Remy Bonjasky, one of the legends of kickboxing at an upcoming Glory card.
"It's still in negotiations and it will probably be a non tournament bout. I'm not sure if I'm in the heavyweight tournament. First things first and that's November 3rd. I'm just focusing on November 3rd and then after that we can see what's going to happen."
No matter the outcome of his MMA debut, Spong wants fans to recognize him for what he is: one of the best fighters in the world. He's not closing the book on his kickboxing career, but he is ready to start a new chapter as a MMA fighter.
"I want to be remembered as a hell of a fighter. That's the thing. When people think of me, I want them to think of a warrior, a real fighter. That's my goal."