Having Overcome Adversity to Defeat Paige VanZant at UFC St. Louis, Jessica-Rose Clark Is Ready to Fight Them All

Jessica-Rose Clark UFC
Jessica-Rose Clark Credit: Facebook

She pulled off the biggest win of her career under incredibly difficult circumstances. Now, UFC flyweight Jessica-Rose Clark is ready for more.

Jessica-Rose Clark picked up the highest profile win of her career at UFC St. Louis just over a week ago. Yet as is well-known by now, she went through hell leading up to the fight. Just days prior to the bout with Paige VanZant, the Las Vegas home she shared with a roommate was robbed. Countless personal items were stolen, including televisions, clothing, shoes, video games, DVDs, guitars — and worse, the pair’s one-year old cat, Dwight, was kicked by the perpetrators. He later had to be put down.

With that cloud hanging over her, it’s a testament to her emotional resilience that Clark, better known as ‘Jessy Jess,’ not only made it to the cage, but pulled out the win. And while she may be her own worst critic (she told Cageside Press she agrees with fans critical of her performance against VanZant), she’s ready to move up, and work her way to a title shot. She spoke to us Wednesday about the fight with VanZant, the subsequent hate she got from certain Paige VanZant fans, and where she sits in the UFC’s fledgling women’s flyweight division.

When it comes to fighting with a distraction like she experienced earlier this month, Clark told us that “honestly, I do this every single day, no matter what’s going on in the background. You have to learn to be able to turn off those emotions and focus on the job at hand.” One of the good things about MMA, she explained, is that “each day that we go to sparring, or each day we go to training, there’s always something going on at home, or there’s something going on with family. That experience makes it a bit easier to deal with it when it comes down to fight night.”

“But at the same time,” she continued, “I had just had almost everything I’d owned stolen from me, so if I didn’t fight, if I didn’t perform, I wasn’t going to get paid. And then I can’t afford to replace any of it. So, I didn’t really have a choice other than to just go in there and do what I needed to do.” Worse than the personal property, of course, was what happened with Dwight. The investigation, meanwhile, is ongoing. Clark told us that the police have retrieved finger prints, as well as descriptions of people and vehicles. Other than that, “we’re still waiting.”

Jessy Jess, however, has a new ray of sunshine in her life — a dog named Blue. “I’ve never had a puppy before, she’s really hard work.” Anyone who has ever raised a puppy knows what teething is like with one. “She’s eating my feet and my hands every day, she’s so naughty!” Clark told us, then corrected herself by saying “not naughty, she’s really high energy, but I knew she was going to be. She chews on everything, she’s ate through all of her toys already, and it’s only been a week!”

The other thing that’s been attacking Clark of late is angry Paige VanZant fans. The FanZants were more than a little upset with their favorite being bested by Clark, and let themselves be heard afterward. The Australian fighter shared some of it on Twitter, but luckily, she has thick skin. Also luckily, it’s not something that happens on the regular.

“I like StarKiller. That name is awesome, I want to start using it more!”

“No, I’ve never experienced that before” she said of the reaction. “The people who support her, they’re an entirely different level to anything I’ve ever seen. It’s cool that people support one person to that extent — good for Paige.” It’s a pretty laid back response, given some of what was said, but Clark pointed out that “the stuff that I posted was pretty much the worst of it.”

“I thought it was pretty funny” she admitted. “There was nothing that was sent that made me go ‘oh that’s horrible’ — I just thought it was all funny. And I felt like other people needed to see how funny these people were being.” In the end, she knows not to let it get to her. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t change people’s opinions or control them, so there’s no point letting it get to me. I just take it all in stride.”

With various websites also posting articles on the fight using the FanZant hashtag, as well as #StarKiller, what did Jessy Jess think of them stirring the pot? “I like StarKiller. That name is awesome, I want to start using it more!”

StarKiller it is then. In the wake of the fight versus VanZant, a lot of attention was given to VanZant’s broken arm, and rightfully so. Any fighter making it through a fight with a broken limb is incredibly tough. Clark has said she wasn’t aware of the injury — but had she been, how would things have been different?

“I for sure would have tried to arm-bar her when I had that triangle, if I knew that her arm was injured. I definitely would have. I was going to anyway” she told us. However, she heard the voice of her coach in her head, telling her not to do it. Just in her head mind you. “He wasn’t saying that, he wanted me to, but like, days and days of training, and him telling me not to do things when I get in those positions, or I can hear a teammate saying either yes or no… so I was going to switch to the armbar anyway, and I wish I had of known she was hurt, because I for sure would have got the finish then.” She added that she was “not saying that I wanted to cause her more damage, but that would have been an opportune moment, for real.” What she really wanted was the finish.

The lack of a finish certainly bummed her out, and she was critical of her own performance following the fight. With a little more time to reflect, “I still think it sucked” she said. “Especially the fact that other people think that it sucked, because I grappled so much. I agree with that. That was terrible. Obviously I did what I needed to do to win, based on how I was feeling  physically and mentally at the time.” Yet as anyone familiar with her past fights knows, “I prefer to stand and trade and use my striking and be technical.”

That night, however, she just wasn’t capable of it. “So I grappled and I wrestled, which I’m also very confident in, but that’s not an entertaining fight. No one wants to see someone just lay on their opponent. And I agree, I agree with the disappointed fans. I think it’s terrible.”

She still got the win, mind you, and insists she’ll put on a better performance next time out. Yet it’s hard to blame her for the performance, given the circumstances. “Everything that I had gone through that week just hit me all at once when I got in the cage. All of a sudden, I felt heavy, and just the emotions and everything were weighing on me.”

The whole thing felt weird to her, she explained, telling us that “I haven’t had a fight like that since my very first fight.” Her camp was good, her prep was good, but “it was just those last couple of days just got to me more than I thought they would and more than I thought they had.”

“I’ll take out every single one of the girls ahead of me until I get there. I hope Shevchenko comes in, I’ll fight her too.”

With the win, Clark has shot up the rankings to 7th in the flyweight division. There’s some tough names ahead: a pair of former bantamweight title challengers in Alexis Davis and Liz Carmouch. Barb Honchak, Roxanne Modafferi, Lauren Murphy. Not that Jessy-Jess is concerned with who she gets next. Or more accurately, “I want to fight all of them.”

“I’ll take whoever they give me,” she said, but added that “I feel like I’ve earned a top five opponent now, with things that I’ve done and the performances that I have put on. There’s only a couple of them coming off wins, give me one of them coming off a win. I feel like that’s warranted.”

In a wide open division, Jessica-Rose Clark has two wins, and it feels like a third could put her on the cusp of a title shot. Unless, of course, Valentina Shevchenko arrives on the scene and cuts the line. Clark is banking on that idea of the division being wide open. “I’ll get this next fight, and I’ll win that one, and hopefully I’ll fight for the title after that” she told Cageside. And if it doesn’t pan out that way, “I’ll take out every single one of the girls ahead of me until I get there. I hope Shevchenko comes in, I’ll fight her too. It doesn’t matter, I’ll get there eventually, I’ll get there when they let me. I’ll just keep knocking them down.”

She’s felt strong since dropping to flyweight, having fought at 135lbs previously. “I just have to diet a bit longer, because 35, I walk around pretty light for 35” she said of the difference. “I don’t really have to cut weight for [bantamweight].”

At flyweight, “I actually have to make an effort to diet now, and run a bit more,” she explained, “but I like it. I enjoy it. My clothes fit me better, I look better, I feel healthier.”

“I actually feel like I perform a lot better in training and everyday.”

“I feel like a monster at 125, it’s the best” Clark added. “I’ve never been the big one in my fights, I’ve always been really little. It’s nice having that physical advantage as well.”

Like many of the girls fighting in the UFC, Jessica-Rose Clark spent some time in Shannon Knapp’s all-female promotion Invicta FC. One of the biggest attractions on UFC Fight Pass, we asked Clark what sort of impact she feels Invicta has had on the women’s side of the sport.

“Just the platform that they give the women has been amazing. And the fact that they make such a big effort to promote the girls” she answered. “Whereas a lot of the co-ed events, the girls are almost an after thought. Just the fact that Invicta is all about the women is bigger than anything else. Shannon always treats her athletes really well. She was amazing with us, when we booked a fight with [Vanessa] Porto and then got signed [by the UFC] right after. She never once complained or was upset, she was happy for me. That says a lot about her as a person. I think you can see that good nature and that good will trickle down through the whole Invicta promotion.”

There’s no question about it. And now that Jessy Jess has broken into the top ten in the UFC, when can we expect to see her in the octagon again? “As soon as they’ll let me. April would be good. Anytime after April, I’ll be happy.”