This is number sixty-eight in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature Bellator women’s flyweight, Jessica Eye. Jessica is 10-1 as a pro, and she honed her skills as an amateur fighting for NAAFS in Ohio. She is undefeated in her three fights in Bellator and she is considered by many to be one of the top-ten, pound-for-pound, WMMA fighters in the world. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Jessica Eye: My first experience with martial arts was probably back in 1999 or 2000. A boyfriend of mine, a high school boyfriend, we went to a Blockbuster and rented a UFC, and it was Shamrock and somebody else. He was on the front of it, and that was when Blockbusters were real big. You know, you went to Blockbusters on the weekends and rented movies and kept them all week? That was the only way that you could see the UFC fights. So that was actually the first time I had seen it, but I didn't become familiar with it until 2006, when I had met the people from my camp and met people that were involved in MMA. I had met people that were fighting in a local promotion. There was a promotion called FightFest, and then at that point, the NAAFS was just starting up in Ohio.
JB: You had an undefeated, championship-winning run as an amateur before turning pro. What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a TKO win in June 2010, and how did those amateur fights prepare you for fighting at the professional level?
JE: My amateur record, I did it a lot differently than most females in this sport or even most males. A lot of the people on my team, like Stipe Miocic, have also done this too. We spend a lot of time as an amateur, perfecting ourselves. My very first fight that I ever had was down in Cleveland, at the Nautica Pavilion, which is in The Flats, which is one of the biggest venues that Ohio holds for a local promotion. It's very well-known. The place seats over 5,000 people. It's an outdoor venue. It's huge. I've already fought there five times now over the course of my years as a fighter. So as an amateur getting to fight on that level, and getting to fight in a big venue, and also main-eventing as an amateur on three NAAFS events in their amateur series, I think as a professional I wasn't nervous. I kind of felt emotionally that I had already been there.
JB: As a professional, you were 3-0 before your first and only defeat, a submission loss to the veteran, Aisling Daly, in the NAAFS women's flyweight title fight in 2011. How did you react to the loss at the time, and what did you take from it that has helped you to be so successful since then?
JE: The loss was probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Most people might look at it differently and might look at it objectively, but this is how I personally look at it. I think that it opened up a completely different person in me. I'm the kind of person that I only need to stick my hand in the fire one time to realize that it's hot. If I want my hand to be warm, I just got to stick my hand outside the fire and I can still benefit from it. I never take from Aisling that she beat me. For me to sit there and be like, "Oh, I want a rematch," and stuff like that, discredits her and also discredits myself.
It was very hard at first obviously. It was my first very big fight. I had just signed my contract with Bellator, literally probably two or three weeks before that. Bjorn was there. It was my first real opportunity to show people that I could fight an international opponent, fight someone at a top level, even still being a young pro. Obviously it just didn't work out for me the way that I needed it to. I was winning the fight up until that very moment, but fights are won and lost in a matter of a second. I didn't do what I was supposed to do, and I really grew from it. Considering that when I lost, everybody else felt it so much that I didn't get a chance to feel it until maybe two or three days after the fight. I think it was that Monday that I sat in my house and I shed a couple tears. It was when I was finally alone that I realized I had lost. Before I was so worried about how my family, my friends, and my teammates would feel that it was almost like I shelled myself off from feeling the loss. When I finally got a chance to feel that, I absorbed it. I went back in the gym that Tuesday and told myself that I wasn't going to lose again, and if I did, it wouldn't be my fault. It would be because someone was better than me, not because I made a mistake like I did with Aisling.
JB: In addition to your NAAFS fights in Ohio, you've also fought for Ring of Combat once and Bellator three times. How do the promotions compare?
JE: I have to give props really to both the NAAFS and Ring of Combat. They’re very, very, very, great local and regional promotions and companies that have a national recognition. So because of that I feel like when I went into the Bellator cage that I had already been there. When I fought for my first Bellator fight, there weren’t even 1,000 people at the Civic Center because of the way the tickets were sold. They were not able to fit too many people. But even before my first pro fight, when I fought Amy Kurrelmeyer as an amateur, there were 5,000 people in the Nautica Pavilion. So when I fought for Bellator, it didn’t bother me.
Then with the cameras and stuff like that, I’m a performer 100%. I’m an athlete. I enjoy what I do. So when you turn those cameras on, it’s like you put the light on me and I shine even more. It’s like I absorb it and I keep pushing forward. I don’t feel like I’ve taken any crazy steps. Being with Bellator, and being with Spike in much more homes and stuff, I don’t feel any extra pressure. I really don’t. I’m not one of those people who are like, “Oh man, the cameras,” or “Oh man, the interviews.” I embrace it. That’s part of my job. It’s like being a truck driver and saying that you hate driving. You know what I mean? It’s a part of the job. Why would you ever do it? All that comes with my job, and I embrace it and I enjoy it.
JB: You are on a very impressive seven-fight winning streak, and your last two wins were against especially tough competition in Zoila Frausto Gurgel and Carina Damm. Who and what has helped you develop as a fighter, and into one of the top-ranked female flyweights, over these last couple years?
JE: I have to give huge credit to my team. You can see that with a guy like Stipe Miocic who is really breaking out onto the scene. Our team has been kind of flying under the radar. I like to give my team the utmost credit first.
I also would like to credit a couple females, like Tecia Torres. It’s very hard in this sport to find females that you can trust and that are very, very cool. One of which that I’ve become very, very good friends with, and I’m proud to say that she is a friend of mine, is Sara McMann. She’s an amazing person. I brought her in back before I fought my first Bellator fight to get better with my wrestling. Obviously, with my loss, there was a reason I acted the way that I did, so I wanted to make myself better. Why not work with an Olympian, or another female that is outside of my weight class, that I can develop a friendship with? Another girl I got a chance to work with was Tecia Torres, right before my Zoila fight. It was great because Tecia is small like Zoila was. Also, there was Kelly Warren, who I fought about a year and a half ago. It’s very hard to make friends with girls, especially after you fight them and you beat them. It goes one of two ways. Either you’re really cool or it’s just like, “I hate you. I don’t like you. Bottom line, we’re just never going to be cool with one another.” So those females have helped me a lot, but my team has been really, really, really amazing about bringing in people to help me and teach me all the skills that they can.
JB: Your last fight, the victory over Carina Damm, was earlier in June. What's next for you in your fighting career?
JE: The Carina fight kind of went back and forth. We had some issues with getting the fight scheduled. But we did end up getting it scheduled. It was a great fight. I’m glad I got to fight her. I was actually supposed to fight her when I fought Anita Rodriguez, back in Bellator. I had asked for a test to be done before I fought Carina, and they refused it. So we can obviously see where that went now because there wasn’t a passing test result.
Right now I’ve been asking Bellator what’s going on. They’re in their summer series. I wasn’t part of their summer series because I was supposed to fight in April and things got screwed up with my back. I’m guessing this next season you’ll see me against Munah or another well-known female within their league.
I’ve said this publicly before, I don’t call girls out. I feel like all of us have classes and it’s that way with the guys too. It’s almost like there is an imaginary line. I’m standing in an imaginary line with one person out in front of me saying, “You fight this person, and you fight this person.” Whoever you put me up against, and whoever that person is out there that’s pulling us from this imaginary line, I’m fine with.
I was supposed to fight Munah back in April, before my injury, and it makes sense to have me fight her now. I mean, like, why not? Her fight with the Ring of Combat got cancelled. I had my fight with Carina. I’m going to have a couple months off. I’m sure she’s training hard. It’s a process of elimination. Let’s both of us fight. We’ve never fought before. We’re both 125. Let’s do it!
JB: Of the other WMMA fighters out there, who are some that you most admire or respect and who are some that you would most like to fight?
JE: I admire Sara McMann. She’s a great person. Sometimes people forget, and they just look at people for their fight styles and not who they are. She’s a really great person. I have to say that I'm very hard-nosed. I have a lot of life experience so it's very hard for me to look up to people. So I have to say that she's one of them. I also love Rosi Sexton. I think that she's an amazing ambassador for the sport.
But hey, I think that I'm going to have to say this. And I don't think this is really necessarily for me, but it's for my fans and everybody else that wants to see the fight happen again. It's me vs. Barb Honchak. I think that everybody wants to see that. She's arguably ranked one of the top and I'm arguably ranked one of the top. Everybody seems to think that it was a controversial loss or that it was a split decision. And if anybody had seen that fight, it looked like I had submitted her in the second round and that they stopped the fight and then re-put the fight back on, which was very odd. Anybody can watch it on YouTube to see it themselves. But that was my second amateur fight ever, and I'm up to almost twenty fights now. I guess if there's going to have to be someone, I think for the fans, and for her, and for me, let's do it one day. Let's fight again.
JB: Let me ask something totally out of ignorance. Now I know that Bellator allows their fighters to fight in other organizations, and that's how you've continued to fight in NAAFS, but does Bellator have a relationship where you could be fighting in Invicta?
JE: I'm not really sure whether or not they do have any kind of relationship. I don't think it's a bad one considering that I know that Jag has bounced back and forth. I'm not really sure. I've been lucky to have Bellator release me now to the NAAFS, and I really don't try to push the subject too much with them. I want to fight with whoever makes me the best and keeps me going, keeps my name out there. And you know what? Bottom line, if we're at 125 pounds, we're probably going to eventually fight each other. So be it in a Bellator cage, in NAAFS, or Invicta, let's do it. What are we all waiting for?
JB: There are many issues in the sport of MMA that fighters and fans feel strongly about right now. What are the issues in the sport that are most important to you?
JE: To say it politically correct, I would love to see the women's 125 pound division promoted just like the women's 135 division because I think that the women's 125 has more depth than the 135. I think that females right now are being forced up to 135 for an opportunity. I'm not saying it's a bad one, but I want to see diversity. I want everybody to see the difference between a 115lb female, a 125, and a 135. And yet again people are seeing that when they are looking at the size difference between us. The size difference between me and Zoila was huge. She should be a 115-pounder. She shouldn't be a 125er. Carina should be a 125er and she could possibly go up to 135. I don't think she's ever even made 125 once. So you can see what girls can go up and down. Really I would love to see the 115, the 125, and the 135. I think that those are the three best women's weight classes, and I would love to see them each given their own identity.
JB: So I take it that means that you are pretty firmly entrenched at 125 as well then?
JE: Yes. For right now, I do.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most?
JE: Outside of my life is actually funny because my life is so much about fighting. This is my full-time gig. It has been my full-time gig for about five years now. I have not held a "normal" 9-5 job. I make all my money based upon my fights, promotions, and personal training, consulting. So really everything I do is based around it. I like to go canoeing. Everything I do on weekends I'm like, "Ooh, what can I do that will be fun and fitnessy?" Just most recently I bought a road bike. I've been road biking everywhere. I love doing athletic stuff. I like doing competitive stuff. I like going to the beach. I like shopping. I'm a very open person so I like just doing things that keep me happy and keep my career going forward. Any of my hobbies that I do don't conflict with what my main objective is, and that's to be a successful MMA fighter.
Most supportive have been my friends and my team and I have got a great group of sponsors that have been with me since the beginning. I feel like people recognize that too with me. They see the same consecutive sponsors and people that have been doing things with me. John P. Lennon is just a gentleman that sponsors our team. He's just a well-off gentleman who just likes to help. My other sponsor, Dawgs Forever’ Paul Hejduk, is actually working with a lot of females in MMA right now and really trying to help all of us. Yet again, he's another wealthy man that put a company together to help the females in MMA and help other fighters by boosting their name, selling T-shirts so that they can fund us. There is also Intimidation Clothing, Haasz Automall, and Chick-O-Stick, who has been with me since my very first fight sponsoring me on a very high level and really taking care of me. They have financially made it possible for me to focus strictly on just training.
JB: Last question, Jessica, and thank you so much for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
JE: It means the world to me to be a fighter. I feel like before fighting I took a lot of different paths and a lot of them were very short-lived. This is the longest-lived thing and I feel it's been my true purpose. Fighting means everything to me, and I couldn't imagine my life without it. I love the effect that I'm able to have on people. I feel very blessed to be given the opportunity to have a voice in this world that people want to hear and are willing to listen to and show faith in. I'm very, very happy, very blessed. If I could give anybody advice, I'd say that, "If this is what you think you're supposed to do, stick with it. Don't let anybody ever tell you that you can't."
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