MEXICO CITY — A big part of Jessica Eye’s narrative as a professional athlete has involved her father.
When Randy Eye was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, Jessica was crushed. The UFC women’s bantamweight fighter worked incredibly hard to try and raise money through a GoFundMe website and spent hours on the phone with reporters talking about his situation. Randy Eye’s story was becoming Jessica Eye’s story. Everyone always wanted to talk about what was going on with her father.
There was a dark side to that. No, it wasn’t logical. But Eye put the fault on herself for her father’s illness.
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"When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I took the responsibility for it," Eye said. "Every day I went and I felt like it was something I could have helped prevent. And I took the blame for it. And I couldn’t. It took a toll on me — physically, emotionally, mentally."
Eye and Randy have a complicated relationship. She prefers not to go into details (though she has alluded to abuse) and knows those on the outside would never understand anyway.
In May, Eye made the decision to stop talking to her father altogether. He would no longer be in her life. And she credits that change with revitalizing her attitude and UFC career. Eye said she is heading into her fight with Leslie Smith at UFC 180 on Saturday night here at Arena Ciudad de Mexico in the best mental state she has ever experienced.
I feel like I’m a woman now. I feel like I spent a long time as a young girl and I know it sounds crazy and no one might understand it, but I feel like I suffered a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome.
"I feel like I’m a woman now," Eye said. "I feel like I spent a long time as a young girl and I know it sounds crazy and no one might understand it, but I feel like I suffered a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, that I hung onto things and I continue to go back to this bad energy and this bad energy was taking my good energy."
Added Eye: "At this point it wouldn’t matter if he did say I’m sorry. It wouldn’t matter if it was like, ‘I want to work on things.’ Old habits die hard with him. You guys, you’ll never understand my true story, you’ll never understand where I really come from. You’ll never understand the stuff I went through as a young girl."
Eye (10-2, 1 NC) still loves her father. She just believes that it is best the two go their separate ways for the time being.
"I’m a fighter," Eye said. "Do you think fighting just came naturally to me? There’s obviously a reason why I feel the way that I feel and there’s a reason why getting hit in the face felt normal to me. There’s a reason why abuse to my body felt normal. I’ll leave it at that."
Jessica Eye (left) meets Leslie Smith on the FOX Sports 1 prelims of UFC 180 on Saturday night.
Eye, 28, still has family around her. She lives with her brothers and has a good support system of friends, many of which made the trip down to Mexico City to cheer her on. Her Strong Style gym in Cleveland, where she trains with UFC heavyweight contender Stipe Miocic, is a safe haven.
"Honestly, mentally this is probably the best state she’s ever been in," her younger brother Casey Smith said. "She is more focused than ever before. … She’s so mentally focused and so ready to just tear through somebody."
Eye has discovered a new nutrition system called Isagenix and has committed to a healthier lifestyle. She admits to having been depressed after losing to Alexis Davis by split decision in February and gaining a bunch of bad weight. You wouldn’t know if you looked at her on the scale Friday afternoon. Eye said she’s in the best shape of her life. And most importantly, she is happy with the person she has become.
"I look at myself in the mirror and I like who I see," Eye said. "I like that person I see in the mirror. And I know that person in the mirror, there’s no one else in the world who can stand as tall as she does."
The goal remains the same: win the UFC women’s bantamweight title. But suddenly that road looks a lot clearer for Eye now than it did just a few months ago.
"I’m like a powerhouse," Eye said. "I’m like a nuclear plant and I’m just vibing it to everybody. You know, making the people fall in love with me and getting back to what my task was and what my purpose was and that’s to be a champion. I didn’t get in this sport to be just somebody. I want to be the No. 1."