Being a professional fighter takes many things, not the least of which is an incredible amount of mental strength and self-belief. Those attributes are even more important when you’re losing fights you think you could have won and when you’re fighting opponents much bigger because the weight class you fit best doesn’t exist.
That’s where Jessica Eye found herself in the UFC. She was a flyweight competing at bantamweight, facing the absolute elite of the division, and more often than not, performing superbly.
“No one,” Eye says, defiantly, “has ever dominated me. No one.”
She fights Jessica-Rose Clark on Saturday on the main card of a Fight Pass-streamed show in Singapore. It’s a return to the division she’s most comfortable at and suited for.
She says that for a long time, she was the top-ranked flyweight in the world, and believed her destiny was to become the UFC flyweight champion. The problem was, when she signed with the world’s leading MMA promotion, it was bantamweight or bust.
Eye joined the UFC in 2013, a few months after Ronda Rousey broke down the barrier that had previously prevented women from competing in the UFC altogether.
Matchmakers gave her the best the bantamweight division had to offer. She debuted at UFC 166 on Oct. 19, 2013, with a bout against ex-Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman. She won that but had it changed to a no-contest when she tested positive for marijuana.
The next time out, she dropped a split decision to Alexis Davis at UFC 170. In her next outing, Davis would go on to challenge Rousey for the title.
After a memorable win over Leslie Smith in Mexico City in which she nearly ripped Smith’s ear off her head, Eye dropped four in a row, decisions all, to Miesha Tate, Julianna Pena, Sara McMann and Bethe Correia.
It was as tough a run as any woman has had in the UFC, and though she dropped those four in a row, Eye never lost faith. She also saw what the matchmakers were doing by putting her in tough and took it as a sign that they, too, believed in her.
“I do believe they were trying to set me up for success,” Eye said.
They did it, eventually, but not in the way many expected. When the UFC decided to add the flyweight division, it was like Christmas at Eye’s house. The 125-pound weight class was where she belonged, where she knew in her heart there was no one better.
Though the difference between flyweight (125 pounds) and bantamweight (135-pound limit) is just 10 pounds, it’s more significant than it sounds, she said.
“All of those bantamweight fights I lost, remember something: They were all by decision,” she said. “No one went out there and demolished me and held me down and beat me up. It’s never been that way. Had I been more evenly matched, I think it’s pretty obvious what would have happened.”
Eye returned to flyweight in January, and scored a split decision over Kalindra Faria in St. Louis. And while many look at Valentina Shevchenko as the biggest threat to flyweight champion Nicco Montaño, Eye insists she’ll be the one standing at the end.
Things are much better for her at flyweight. And while the 10-pound difference in class might make for a difficult weight cut, Eye scoffs. She was four pounds over as of Wednesday, and said that was while drinking and with a breakfast.
At this stage of their camps, many fighters are sucking on ice cubes and eating little or nothing, but Eye said it’s not only unhealthy, it doesn’t work.
“I really follow the [Georges St-Pierre] style of cutting weight,” Eye said. “He ate his way down in all of his fights. It’s the same way [boxer Floyd] Mayweather did it. Those really high-level, successful fighters, they all had that same mentality. It’s just very smart.”
Eye is comfortable as fight day approaches, and not stressing over having to shed the final pounds, or having to worry about fighting women who are far bigger.
All but one fight of her 2-5 (1 No Contest) UFC career has come at 135 pounds. This, really, is the beginning she says.
“I always knew I could fight at this level, but I was just begging for that opportunity to fight at flyweight,” Eye said. “I knew that eventually, the flyweight division would eventually come to the UFC, that kind of sustained me. When you have a couple of losses in a row, there are hard moments, no question. The media identifies winners and when you’re losing, they don’t care about you, they don’t promote you and they don’t help you the opportunity to get your word out.
“So there were some trying times when I was [in the middle of the losing streak]. But I had an undeniable self-belief the flyweight division would get here eventually, and I have believed for a long time, it was my destiny to become the flyweight champion. So in a lot of ways, this is really the start of the journey.”
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