When Kyle Noke gets in the cage, he has the advantage of training in a zoo.
Scott Smith is one of the world's better mixed martial artists at 185 pounds and scored one of the most spectacular knockouts in the history of the UFC when he stopped close friend Pete Sell at The Ultimate Fighter 4 finale on Nov. 11, 2006.
But nothing Smith has done, or might do, figures to faze Noke, his opponent on Saturday night in a middleweight bout on an Elite XC show in Miami that will be televised on Showtime.
When you've battled massive crocodiles alongside the famed "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin, a punch to the jaw, no matter how powerful, seems a little less frightening.
A lot of trash-talking fighters say they want to take one's head off, but the crocodiles who helped make Irwin a world-wide figure, can actually do it.
Noke, who is 14-3-1, realizes that no matter how much he accomplishes in MMA, he's almost certain to be known best for serving as Irwin's bodyguard. Irwin, who died in a tragic snorkeling accident in 2006, used to train MMA with Noke.
"He loved MMA and he was such a good athlete," Noke said. "He found the sport so fascinating and he was really into it."
The question would arise, of course, of why a guy who could handle himself as well as Irwin would need a bodyguard. Noke laughed at the notion.
"He didn't, really," Noke said. "My being there was just like reassurance for him and for his family. I think he liked the idea that I could be there to look after them."
Noke, who still works on many of Irwin's projects along with Irwin's widow, Terry, does his training at a zoo in Australia until several weeks before his fights. He finishes his preparations in Albuquerque, N.M., working at noted instructor Greg Jackson's gym.
Jackson's gym is one of the elite gyms in the world, which Noke said has helped lift his game. MMA is not as advanced in Australia as it is in the U.S., he said, so he makes it a point to train with the world-class fighters at Jackson's before each match.
"Australian MMA is really getting a lot better, honestly, but I think it's about five years behind where it is in America," he said.
Jackson, though, said Noke is already a world-class fighter who has a varied game. His standup will get tested against Smith, who is 12-5-1 and has scored 10 knockouts.
Smith has been in with the better competition and Noke concedes it will be a measure of the progress he's made.
But Jackson said Smith would be making a mistake were he to overlook Noke.
"Kyle's a really skilled guy who is a lot of different elements going for him," Jackson said. "He's a good fighter and he's also getting better very quickly. He's worked at it, obviously, and he's made a lot of progress."