Jessica-Rose Clark on UFC Debut: “It Was Always Going to Happen That Way”

Jessica-Rose Clark
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 19: Jessica-Rose Clark of Austrlia celebrates her victory over Bec Rawlings of Australia in their women's flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena on November 19, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4-0-1) stood across the Octagon from fellow Aussie Bec Rawlings in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 19, the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Tybura. She wasn’t supposed to be there. She should have been back in Las Vegas training with her coach John Wood at Syndicate MMA for her upcoming fight with Vanessa Porto at Invicta FC 26 and looking forward to her 30th birthday celebrations.

But here she was.

Fate, and an injury to Rawlings’ original opponent Joanne Calderwood, had given Clark a UFC contract only eleven days before the scheduled flyweight bout. Was she able to replace Calderwood? A resounding “Yes,” was the answer. Clark quickly prepared herself for the fight, and was soon flying across the globe back to her home country. It was a huge break for the multi-colored hair fighter fans affectionately call “Jessy Jess.” And it was a journey a young Jessica-Rose Clark couldn’t have dreamed she would make.

Clark’s upbringing was unconventional, and set the tone for her path to adulthood and the UFC. As writer Emma Challands said, “Jessica Rose-Clark grew up on the road. The eldest child of nine; a daughter to a mother who was fraught with sickness and a father that wasn’t around unless it was to serve his own purpose. They moved around from place to place, her life akin to that of a gypsy, keeping her out of school until the fifth grade when they finally settled in Northern Queensland. Due to her mother being so unwell much of the time, Clark was responsible for raising her siblings – it forced her to grow up quick and smart.”

Clark considers this “vagabond” upbringing a strength, not a weakness.

”I don’t feel like there is anything that has come out of my upbringing that wasn’t positive,” Clark said. “I was taught by my mama and grandma to always be strong and believe in my own value and I believe that being surrounded by strong independent women provided me with the greatest gifts I could have dreamed of.”

A gifted student, Clark excelled in school. She attended university for a semester before deciding that higher education wasn’t for her, but the cage was. She tried her hand at kickboxing, then found herself at Integrated MMA in Brisbane under the eye of Adrian Pang. Clark quickly won several regional fights starting in December 2012, including collecting a few straps, as well as a win over now-Bellator featherweight Arlene Blencowe.

Clark’s Journey to the UFC

Then the path to the UFC’s Octagon took a wrong turn. Clark had a loss to Pannie Kianzad in her Invicta debut and then issues with weight cutting. But the real derailing happened when she left Integrated MMA in Brisbane and moved to Australia’s Gold Coast to be with her boyfriend, fighter Julian Wallace. Clark ignored Pang’s warnings about Wallace, a decision she now regrets.

Much has been written about Clark’s relationship with Wallace. The abuse, the escape thanks to the kindness of literal strangers. When asked what she wants to say about Wallace and his abuse, her reply is short and to the point. “Absolutely nothing. I don’t want my accomplishments associated with anyone but me.”

Clark, like most serious Aussie WMMA fighters before her, knew she had to leave Australia to not only get more fights, but to be able to fight women who were serious fighters. So Clark became a vagabond once again, and made her way to Las Vegas, landing at Syndicate MMA, home of Roxanne Modafferi, Khalil Rountree, Tom Lawlor, and John Wood.

Clark’s fighting has moved to another level under Wood’s tutelage. Wood is an underrated coach who is skilled at taking fighters with a decent base and bringing out their best. Clark agrees she has blossomed at Syndicate.

“I absolutely have developed into a whole different fighter since being at Syndicate,” Clark said. “This is largely due to the attention to detail that John Wood has, and the effort that he has put into me. Obviously, I have put in effort too, because you only get out what you put in. However, without his guidance I don’t think I would have progressed as an athlete as quickly as I have. He spent many, many months figuring out the best way to teach me so that I can take in his guidance, and finally we have developed a very deep relationship where I trust him implicitly, because I truly believe that he only wants what is best for me. It’s a powerful thing, that security and love.”

Clark Discusses Last Fight

And that brings us back to that night in Sydney, and that career-making main card UFC debut against Bec Rawlings. The fight was much closer than many expected despite Rawlings being a moderate favorite. Clark won the split decision, and fans weren’t surprised.

How did Clark feel winning her UFC debut on a main card, in her home country, against a fellow Aussie? “It was incredible. Everything I had ever hoped for. It definitely set a super high standard for future fights. It felt like it was always going to happen that way.”

Clark’s next fight is a flyweight bout against former UFC strawweight Paige VanZant at UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi, in St. Louis on Jan. 14. VanZant will be an interesting test for Clark. VanZant is a better fighter than her detractors claim, but not quite as good as her most ardent fans think. She is also moving up a division to face Clark.

Clark’s Next Fight

You would think Clark would want to catch her breath a bit and fight someone a bit further down the roster for her next fight, instead of tackling another main card matchup, this time against the UFC’s Golden Girl. Clark, however, not only isn’t afraid to meet VanZant, but stated after her fight with Rawlings that she wanted to face VanZant next. And she sees this fight adding another W to her record.

“I see this fight going the same way my last one did, with me being better in all areas. I don’t feel much about her as an opponent, as I don’t know a whole lot about her. However, she is at this level for a reason, and that is something not to be taken lightly.”

Jessica-Rose Clark sees herself staying happily slotted in the UFC’s nascent women’s flyweight division after this fight with VanZant. Fans and fighters clamored for the UFC to add this division for a long time. The roster is fast filling with UFC fighters who were forced to fight either above or under their natural weight in the bantamweight and strawweight divisions. Add in established flyweights like Andrea “KGB” Lee and Barb Honchak and the hunt to dethrone the UFC’s first and current women’s flyweight champ Nicco Montaño should be vicious. But Clark isn’t worried.

“Each fight is the same [for me], whether it’s for a national title, it’s international or it’s for the UFC. I believe that I have done this often enough that I am prepared naturally. Each experience is a fight, and my approach to each one is exactly the same, no matter who or where it is. The division is wide open right now, and there are some killers. I believe it will be the strongest and toughest division in the UFC.”

When asked who her dream opponent at 125 in the UFC is, her answer is vintage Jessy Jess: “Whoever the best is, until I beat them.”

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