MARTIAL ARTS: Ultimate Fighting Championship star Kyle Noke admits he's feeling the weight of expectation ahead of his welterweight fight on Australian soil on Sunday.
But the Sunshine Coaster is thriving under the pressure.
The 36-year-old ex-bodyguard of late wildlife warrior Steve Irwin will collide with unpredictable Russian Omari Akhmedov at UFC Fight Night 101 in Melbourne.
There are high hopes he will return to the winners circle after losing his previous two fights on the big stage, overseas.
"I feel that pressure to put on a good show for everyone in Australia but I think that pressure is a privilege," he said.
"It makes you pick up your game and fight to your best.
"(And) to have that home crowd cheering for you is unreal. You really do feel that energy the crowd gives you.
"I'm definitely feeling it (the strain) but I'm enjoying it."
Noke fought in Australia twice last year, claiming successive wins.
But he's since suffered consecutive defeats, including a last-start submission to Keita Nakamura at UFC Fight Night 91 in the United States in July.
Noke has 22 wins, nine losses and a draw in mixed martial arts while Akhmedov has a 15-4-0 record.
The 29-year-old, nicknamed The Wolverine, has also lost his last two bouts, the most recent a technical knock-out to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos at UFC on Fox 19 in Florida in April.
They will meet at Rod Laver Arena.
"We were actually training partners for the last four years (at Jackson-Wink MMA, which is based in New Mexico)," Noke said.
"He just left our team six months ago so we know each other quite well.
"He is a wild card. He'll come out swinging. It could go to the ground. It could go anywhere so we'll have to wait and see.
"The hardest thing...is getting in there and fighting a friend, trying to hurt him, so that makes it a bit more difficult.
"But come fight time it won't make a difference."
Noke is the underdog but has enjoyed a thorough preparation and is more determined than ever.
With six-month-old daughter Isla, he says "life is great."
"Things have changed a bit but if anything it's given me more focus and dedication," he said.
"I have a little girl to provide for now so she drives me and motivates me to be at my best."
The ageing fighter is in great shape. He's done an altitude camp in Albuquerque and has been working hard on the Sunshine Coast with strength and conditioning coach Matthew Bousson.
"He's been a key factor in my fight camp," he said.
"Just injury wise, I don't feel the pains of training camps like I used to. My body is holding up.
" In my late 20s I had the most injuries...but now I'm training smarter and better. I'm stronger than I've ever been and I think the results will show in the fight."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.