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Sara Levin | Knuckle Junkies photo

Collier: Title Time

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

As far as Jake Collier is concerned, neither Gabriel Checco nor the RFA know what they’re in for come Friday night.

Collier is restless. He’s craving to bring his fevered brand of mixed martial arts to the masses. Winning a RFA belt on AXS TV will jettison the notoriety of the fighter from the Missouri hamlet of Cuba.

When dialed in and on point, Collier is a whirling dervish of destruction. Armed with an Inspector Gadget-like reach, he’s a 6-foot-2 tornado of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. In his last two fights he’s submitted Quartus Stitt in the first round and before that he rag dolled Cully Butterfield (13-4) for three rounds to get a unanimous decision victory.

“They don’t know who I am or what I’m capable of,” Collier said ahead of his RFA debut. “He’s never fought someone young, athletic, explosive and decent everywhere. He’s going to get a rude awakening.”

Collier will meet the undefeated Checco for the vacant RFA middleweight championship in Friday’s main event of RFA 19 in Minnesota.

Collier is 7-1, with six finishes, and has won four straight. He hasn't fought since May of 2013. Checco is 7-0 with all wins coming via finish.

“(Checco’s) striking is rudimentary,” Collier said. “He’s a big, strong guy with a BJJ base looking for the knee or ankle lock. I think he’s kinda slow and I’ll have more in the tank. I can’ wait. I’m like a kid on Christmas.”

Collier has been on the shelf due to a hand injury that required surgery. While he couldn't strike or spar, Collier still developed. With his ever upbeat coach Patrick Smith always near by, there wasn't time for sulking. Instead, the focus went toward tinkering.

“I have this new thing called footwork,” Collier said. “Realistically I am 10-times that fighter I was in every way.

Collier is gunning for the same belt that friend and training partner Andrew Sanchez lost trying to get in June. Sanchez, another one of the St. Louis regions finest, was KO’d by Kevin Casey in the first round. After the win, Casey immediately split for the UFC where he lost in his debut and was subsequently suspended for 365 days for a failed drug test.

For Sanchez, there’s nothing awkward about Collier going after what he wanted.

“It would be weird if I didn't like the guy but he’s awesome,” Sanchez said. “I’m so happy for the guy. He deserves it. I think it’s awesome.”

Collier simply looks at it as someone from St. Louis needs to be the RFA’s top 185-pounder.

“He tried now it’s little brother’s turn,” Collier said. “We’re so supportive and we both push each other.”

Sanchez and Collier traveled to the East Coast for a training trip through a handful of top-flight gyms like Renzo Gracie’s, Ricardo Almedia’s, and others. Sanchez then set up camp, literally, in Smith’s fishing cabin in Cuba to work with Collier for a week straight.

“Jake is definitely in shape,” Sanchez said. “He feels strong, his wrestling’s strong, he scrappy. Jake always finds a way.”

A run through Collier’s Twitter stream saw post-training snapshots with BJJ whiz Marcelo Garcia and UFC star Frankie Edgar.

“That trip built me up a little bit,” Collier said. “It really helped my morale. Everybody up there was super cool and laid back and just the nicest. They didn't know me at all but act like they had for years.”

Collier is the product of Smith’s Smith Pit MMA. He was on one of Smith’s Cage Championship’s card fighting one of Smith’s fighters. Collier won the fight and a relationship was started between the two that has lasted for four years.

Collier is nicknamed the “Prototype” as he is the culmination of all the fighting traits that Smith preaches; defensive yet explosive on the feet and sound and opportunistic on the ground. And when there’s blood in the water and an opponents on the ropes, don’t take your foot off the gas. You would be hard to find someone in the St. Louis area not named Tyron Woodley who has a better finishing instinct than Collier.

“The more I hear (Checco) talking this old school stuff like, ‘all fights go to the ground,’ it excites me,” Smith said. “I’m excited for him to run into Jake. Jake is MMA. He’s not a wrestler, he’s not a BJJ guy, we’re looking forward to introducing him to our MMA.”

With his laid back drawl, Smith’s voice is warm and inviting. But behind the laze of the syllables the words are bold and convinced.

“This guy is made for Jake,” Smith said. “With our system and our training, this guy falls right into the pocket. If Jake stays disciplined, he’ll fall into our trap and it could go bad quick for him”

Along with this game-changer of a fight ahead of him, Collier is awaiting a life-changing moment just weeks away,

Collier is expecting his third son in a matter of weeks. He already has a six and a three-year-old at home.

“They’re both ornery but I can’t blame them,” Collier said. “It helps having them at home. It gets you away from that mindset of wanting to kill someone … it’s peaceful.”

However it shakes out in the Land of Lakes, Collier’s cage future is just starting to rev up.

“Jake’s style is perfect for the UFC,” Sanchez said. “When you can fight like he can they eat it up.”

Joining Collier on Friday's card is the promotional debut of Rebecca Ruth. Fighting out of Benny Voyle's 21st Century Self Defense in Pacific, Ruth (2-0) racked up two wins under the Shamrock FC banner before getting scooped up by RFA. Ruth will take on Jocelyn Lybarger (3-1) in a women's strawweight bout.

RFA 19 begins live on AXS TV at 9 p.m. on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Sara Levin Photography