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
(Jessica Eye talks to the
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
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
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
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.”