Next Generation’s Jake McHugh praised the role of Molly McCann in his camp as he prepares to make his professional MMA debut in front of a record breaking crowd of 18,000 in Cologne.

The 22-year-old featherweight, whose teammates include UFC stars McCann and Paddy Pimblett, takes on Ukrainian Ivan Klevets at Oktagon 49 this weekend in the biggest MMA event in German history.

Liverpool’s McHugh amassed a perfect 5-0 record as an amateur before recently losing an exhibition fight to Armand Herczeg on Oktagon Challenge: Team England vs Team Ireland, a reality TV show which pitted fighters from both teams in the same house as they competed in a tournament-style format.

Speaking ahead of his fight this weekend McHugh praised McCann’s impact on improving his striking and vowed to redeem himself after his submission loss.

He said: “This isn’t just my professional debut, it’s a little bit of redemption from the show too. This is my second chance to prove myself and that’s what I’m going to do.

“The prospect of fighting in front of 18,000 is every fighter’s dream and I get to do that on my pro debut, it’s an unbelievable experience. After going to America for Leah McCourt’s fight my skillset has improved levels and levels. The relationship I built with my coaches and Molly there has helped me.

“Since then she’s helped my striking come on so much. She’s one of the best female strikers in the UFC, if not one of the best strikers overall. We think about fighting in the same way so we can bounce off each other, she coaches me with the striking and I help her with her grappling.”

Next Generation MMA has built a reputation as one of Europe’s best gyms in recent years with various champions at regional level alongside their UFC talent, and McHugh believes the benefits of training in such a competitive environment will help his progression as a fighter.

“I’ve got no words to describe how grateful I am to have found myself in Next Gen from the start,” he said.

“It brings my level up every single day having to be in them dark situations in the training room, because if you’re the best in your gym you’re not in the right gym.”

McHugh recently revealed that he went into the Oktagon Challenge show on just one weeks’ notice while dealing with a back injury, and taking opportunities with such a short time to prepare has been a running theme in his recent career. He also took this weekend’s fight with Klevets on two weeks’ notice, but despite the challenges he remains confident ahead of the bout.

“I knew I wanted to fight on the Germany show so I’ve been training for quite a while,” he said.

“I’m fit, I haven’t just taken this fight off the couch. Obviously it’s been a challenge having to prepare myself for an opponent with only two weeks notice but I’ve been working closely with my coaches and we’ve come up with a gameplan.

“When I go into a fight everyone knows what I’m going to do, so he’s going to know what to expect. As a fighter I come out very fast, very strong and I like to get into the grappling scenarios right away. It’s not that I can’t strike, I’m just not going to take needless damage. The game plan doesn’t really change from the other fights, it’s about making tiny adjustments on the fly.”

McHugh is welcoming life in the professional ranks after two years on the amateur circuit, and believes his time on the reality show will help him deal with the transition.

He said: “One of the biggest things I took from the experience was being able to be comfortable in front of a camera. As you rise through the ranks in your MMA career you’ve got to do loads more interviews, you’re in front of the camera for your whole life, so being able to get experience in that so early in my career was boss.

“If I could go back and do it all again in the same circumstances, with the back injury and going in on a weeks’ notice, I would do. I don’t regret it at all, it’s given me the platform to start my career. Obviously the result isn’t what I wanted but that’s life, you’ve got to crack on.”

Providing he comes through the bout against Klevets unscathed McHugh is targeting a quick turnaround as he looks to build momentum, with a contract already signed for Oktagon’s card on January 27th in Newcastle.