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Eye on the prize
The unemployment line is never a place a fighter wants to stand for very long. It's generally a very cold, lonely day when release papers are handed over and someone's career with a particular promotion comes to an end.
Generally speaking, a release is met with a somber attitude and a downtrodden spirit. That's not the case, however, with new UFC bantamweight Jessica Eye who was unemployed for less than 24 hours from her old promotion before a new job came calling.
Eye was released from Bellator MMA like every other women's fighter on the roster when they decided to do away with the division. Before the ink could dry on her release papers, Eye already had received a call from the UFC inquiring about her services.
(Jessica Eye talks to the MMA Hour about her UFC 166 fight)
"Inside scoop, it pretty much went down like that. They just waited until my contract was going to expire, and they were instantly on me within 24 hours," Eye said in an interview with FOX Sports. "World Series of Fighting had seeked me out, and were like 'we'd love to have you on our roster and at least think about it before you go to the UFC' and World Series of Fighting, they're a great organization, but I just felt like I have to test myself against the best and the best are in the UFC right now. I want that for myself. Then I can truly say I'm the champion, I truly fought the best."
Catching the attention of UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby helps fighters get a contract to compete inside the Octagon, but a great many times that doesn't mean that the general public is aware of someone prior to their debut. In Eye's case, she has been a highly ranked competitor in the 125-pound division for sometime, but she's not worried about being well known on day one in the UFC.
She's just happy that Silva and Shelby took note of her previous work, and now she's got the stage to perform on and gain the biggest audience of her career.
"I still to this moment kind of feel like people don't know who I am or what I'm about. The fact that (Joe Silva and Sean Shelby) do, they know who I am, that's all that matters," Eye said. "That they see talent and know who I am matters, I can prove to everybody else. That speaks volumes to me that they already see it."
The roster of the UFC women's bantamweight division is ever growing with new fighters added constantly so Eye knew coming in that she could land any number of opponents for her first bout. When she heard the name Sarah Kaufman, her eyes got wide and her mouth turned into a smile because there was no better opponent to land for her debut in the UFC.
(Jessica Eye faces off against Sarah Kaufman at UFC 166)
Kaufman is a former Strikeforce bantamweight champion who holds wins over several notable names including Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis — two of the top women's fighters currently competing in the UFC today. The Canadian born fighter is a striker with powerful hands, who loves to stand and trade with an opponent.
As soon as she heard the name, Eye signed the contract and immediately began envisioning how she would finish the former Strikeforce champion in her UFC debut.
"If I had to choose the first person I was going to fight out of all of them, it would be her," Eye said. "It would have been her anyways. When we sat down in the office that day and they said 'you're fighting Sarah Kaufman at UFC 166' my exact words were let's f—king do this."
Facing a former title holder like Kaufman in her first fight in the UFC puts Eye on the radar of every women's MMA fan, but a win lands her in the top ten of the division and on the map of top contenders in the division. Eye is aware that beating Kaufman is the perfect way to be introduced to the UFC faithful, but she's not calling out women's champion Ronda Rousey just yet.
Eye is patient and calculating, and she knows that running ahead full steam isn't always the best strategy to get to the top. She prefers to assess a situation, sniff out all the possible outcomes and then strike like a cobra lying in the grass just waiting for her unsuspecting prey to saunter by.
"Right now I'm getting my feet wet and touching the water with my big toe. Then eventually I'm just cannonballing. I'm going all in eventually," Eye said. "When I went to Bellator I was ready to work my way up to Zoila (Gurgel). When I started fighting in general with the NAAFS, I said you know what I will work my way through my amateur rankings and when I work my way through there, I will work my way through my pro rankings and so forth. I have been the kind of woman, I have been raised to work hard and that made everything that you did that much more genuine.
"If I have to work for the next four years to get up to that position, I will work so hard that this world will never see another female fighter like myself. That's my job. I feel like I'm the last one being added to the roster right now and I have no problem walking my way up there."