After Joanne Calderwood was forced to withdraw November 7th, 2017 from her scheduled UFC Fight Night: Werdum Vs. Tybura bout with Bec Rawlings due to injury – with only 12 days left until the event, many fans were left with a sigh or sadness. A grudge match of sorts, that has carried on for over three years; coupled with Joanne’s aggressive Muay Thai style, and Bec’s walking down; over-extending aggressive style – we sadly missed out on a fight of the night in the making.
It didn’t take the UFC long to call on their scouting network of potential Flyweights. With the criteria check box out, time to tick away! Style: Tick; Skill-Set: Tick; Look: Tick; Nationality: Tick! It looks like Jessica-Rose ‘Jessy Jess’ Clark seemed to be a natural fit.
Many of the MMA community outside of Australia may have witnessed Clark’s two previous outings in Invicta – where she was on the losing side of two decisions, to both: Pannie Kianzad and Pam Sorenson. Sadly, it was Jessica-Rose’s personal life splashed all over every single MMA media outlet worldwide that really brought her to our attention in 2016.
After previously suffering a very serious domestic assault at the hands of her ex partner, Julian Wallace – who later plead guilty to the charges of: one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and one count of intentionally choking with recklessness. This incident would tie her to Bec in a more personal way than sharing the same nationality. Bec Rawlings would unleash a harrowing public lashing of a post to ‘The Jackal’ (Jessica’s former partner) months prior to her fight with Jessy-Jess, after publicly revealing her own domestic violence issues with her former husband. Jessica-Rose would go on to detail her relationship with Bec Rawlings to WHOA TV, along with the rest of the events leading up to UFC Fight Night: Werdum Vs. Tybura, and more.
“Bec and I are friends” Clark said, “We bonded over shared experiences in our personal lives. We were friends right up until fight night, and friends again once it had all settled down. There’s no animosity. Without her, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fight on that card and get signed to the UFC. And vice versa, without me, she wouldn’t have had a fight as her opponent had pulled out.”
Demeanors would seems calm & settled for both Jessy-Jess and Bec Rawlings come the all important last chance to chip away at your opponents confidence – the weigh-ins. There was some laughs, a respectful hug, and a strange handshake!? A handshake that looked to be scripted, that seemed to go potentially miscued and wrong.
“Nothing went wrong! I said to Bec before we walked out, that I wanted to recreate the awkward hand shakes that are in the movie Step Brothers. So that’s exactly what I did!”
On assessment of Jessica’s fight with Bec Rawlings – Clark was able to manage her distance to what she wanted and needed to be successful in the fight, keeping her distance: long range/edge of range and only entering to pick her shots/combinations carefully before exiting. Bec would also at times pick her shots/combinations carefully, but then attack with a flurry once Clark was close to the cage (A tactic Bec has become accustomed to).
Bec traditionally likes to hunt/walk her opponents down towards the cage and over extend to create a brawl in the pocket, or clinch and dirty-box; tie-up; look for the throw, or the trip take-downs. Clark showed astute cage awareness, circling to the inside of Bec Rawlings for the most part of the fight once close to the cage; mixing in a wide array of strikes (high and low), often stepping in and out from various angles while throwing; switching side-to-side to keep hesitation in play – enable and disguising the circle away, eventually bringing the fight back to the centre of the cage, where it stayed for periods. Keeping the point tally high, and cage control in Clark’s favour.
“My intentions are always to strike as much as possible. I like to stay at range and pick shots. I also like to stand in the pocket and brawl. I am very confident in my striking ability and it is the most fun aspect of MMA for me. I knew she would be trying to walk me down, I have had opponents do that to me in the past. My plan is to always use my movement to maintain or regain control of the fight.”
When such close range is achieved/attained by Bec Rawlings (in the pocket/clinch), she normally begins to exceed her opponents. Bec uses the standing clinch position to gain momentum in her fights, and then into a more dominant position for herself. But in the fight against Clark, Bec would not have it all her own way in the standing clinch position. Jessy-Jess would hold her own from that position, at points even prevailing; most notably a 3rd round take-down of Bec Rawlings.
“I believe that I won the fight based on my overall ability in all aspects. I threw more varied strikes and utilised different types of movement. I used my clinch and grappling abilities to reverse positions and maintain control. Overall I believe my abilities everywhere are better.”
Somewhat surprisingly, rumours began swirling that ‘Jessy-Jess’ may indeed be the first selected opponent for Paige VanZant’s highly anticipated Flyweight debut; a rumour that was later confirmed November 29th, 2017.
“I don’t know where this fight came from. My manager just asked me if I wanted it and I said yes straight away. She hadn’t said yes to it yet so I would assume it was one that the matchmakers put together.”
When I referred to this bout as being ‘some what surprising’ it wasn’t intended as a statement of insult. It’s surprising because a fight with Paige VanZant is the ‘golden ticket’ to a potential title shot in a division that has only had its champion recently crowned (TUF 26 Winner: Nicco Montano | December 1st, 2017). With Valentina Shevchenko recently calling for a title eliminator fight with Paige, and Jessica ‘Evil’ Eye finding herself contracted, then not contracted to a fight with Paige the UFC’s Flyweight roster knows where the bulls-eye is when a recent Bantamweight title contender is calling for a fight, and Jessica eye is creating a storm on social media, both with an intent focus of propelling or keeping their careers elevated – it’s Paige VanZant.
So what does Clark bring to the table that the UFC find appealing to pit her against one of their biggest stars in the 125 division, and feature her as a co-main event, then possibly a main event or once again a co-main event in her first two outings for the company? Is it the look; the style; the charisma; the skill-set?
“I believe that my overall look and personality makes this promotionally an amazing fight. I know that my skill-set and my ability is going to make this a terrible fight for her [VanZant] though.”
Tattoo’s often tell us a lot about a persons personality. Tattoos are something that Jessica has in abundance on her body. But there was one that stuck out to me – a very symbolic & eternal symbol, and that is the symbol of the Tree of Life. Jessica explains more.
“The tree of life is a symbol that was used heavily in my upbringing as my mother is a very spiritual person. I believe the symbol represents so many good things and is fairly universal, not just part of any one religion. That’s why I chose it.”
Jessica-Rose Clarke vs. Paige VanZant is set to headline UFC Fight Night: St. Louis January 14th, 2018.