The relationship between an athlete and their coach is crucial for success, and Jackie Buntan feels blessed to have Bryan Popejoy on her side.
The American rising star will battle teen phenom Smilla Sundell for the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight Muay Thai World Title in the co-main event of ONE Championship’s 22 April show, and she’s been supported by the Boxing Works head trainer for every step of her incredible journey.
Having spent more than half her life alongside Popejoy, their relationship is not something the 24-year-old takes for granted as she prepares for the biggest night of her career at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
“Bryan is like a second dad to me. I’ve known him for over 13 years now.
“I’ve always been with Bryan and Boxing Works. That’s the only gym I’ve ever been with, starting when I was 11 years old. I am extremely, extremely grateful and lucky to have stumbled across these people and have them ride with me until now.”
However, it’s not a blind loyalty from athlete to coach that’s kept them together this long.
The World Title contender feels like Popejoy is one of the most progressive minds out there when it comes to evolving and trying out new ideas.
Buntan credits her mentor’s constant quest for knowledge as a reason that the California-based Boxing Works team – which includes ONE Women’s Atomweight Kickboxing World Champion Janet Todd – has gone from strength to strength.
The young striker said:
“I think the best thing about him is he’s always learning. And he’s always watching tape. That’s not only Muay Thai tape – that’s also boxing, that’s kickboxing. Other footwork drills in different sports. I think the fact that he never stops learning himself really kind of sets him apart from the other coaches.”
How Is Brian Popejoy Preparing Jackie Buntan For Her World Title Challenge?
Jackie Buntan earned her ONE Women’s Strawweight Muay Thai World Title fight with a perfect 3-0 start in the organization, and coach Brian Popejoy has played a major role in that ascent.
According to Buntan, the Boxing Works trainer doesn’t ask athletes to conform to a mold that he sets out.
Rather, he wants to polish and refine their respective styles and attributes so they can perform at their best.
“Part of his personality is he doesn’t want to change you as a fighter. He wants to work with what your strengths are and make those strengths even better and unbeatable.”
Moreover, some competitors spend a lot of time researching their upcoming opponents, but the young Californian says her coach does the heavy lifting on that front.
Rather than be dictatorial, though, Popejoy prefers to collaborate with his students to help them focus on elements of their training that will lead to success inside the Circle.
With that said, Buntan trusts her teacher’s research and game planning – especially because they always end up on the same page.
“He’ll watch [footage of my opponents] on his own, and he’ll send me a clip and just say, ‘What do you see?’ And it’s my job to watch and look out for something. Or he’ll send me a shortened clip and say, ‘Hey, this is something I want you to work on,’ or, ‘This is what we were working on. Does it look familiar?’
“He definitely gives me advice. And I take it, and I run with it to the end for sure. I never really have any disagreements with the guy.”