It appears it pays to have friends in high places, much to the chagrin of Jessica Eye.
“Evil” Eye is scheduled fight at 125 pounds inside the Octagon for the first time when she meets Kalindra Faria at UFC St. Louis on Jan. 14, ending a 16-month layoff. But the Faria booking only came about after a pair of aborted attempts to face the popular Paige VanZant.
The two were supposed to fight one another in a flyweight bout at UFC 216, but VanZant was forced to withdraw from that encounter with a back injury. According to Eye, that’s one of two occasions where she had signed a contract to fight VanZant, only for the fight to be canceled.
VanZant appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to announce that she will also be competing on Jan. 14 against an opponent to be determined (reportedly Jessica Rose-Clark) and to explain why her and Eye seem to have their signals crossed.
“I know that originally me and her were supposed to fight and that I ended up getting hurt, then they tried to get that fight matched up again, but at that point the UFC had moved on and they were trying to get me on the Australia card,” VanZant said. “They asked me when Anderson Silva ended up not being on the Shanghai card, they asked if I would take a last-minute fight. They asked me ten days or maybe two weeks before the fight if I would take a short-notice fight in Shanghai, so this whole time I thought I was going to be jumping in for a short-notice fight because I got ready really quickly and after my back healed I had this itch to get back in the cage right away.”
Eye issued a response on Twitter, posting an image (that has since been deleted) of a contract written up for a bout between her and VanZant. She later called in to The MMA (After) Hour herself to elaborate on how she believes that VanZant went as far as to involve UFC president Dana White to get out of the deal.
“Because Paige called Dana and asked to get out of the fight,” Eye said. “They were not gonna let her out of this fight and she - whatever bitch fit she threw, I signed that contract, I signed that one October 18 I think… I got the contract signed and returned it that day for that one. I have the other signed contract that we sent back for the other fight and for the other time. Listen, I’m not here saying that maybe two different things weren’t being said, but we all know that the UFC does not send contracts to people unless both parties agreed upon wanting the fight and said yes to everything.
“That went out and then it was like New York weekend (UFC 217) happened and all of a sudden she came home and realized, ‘Oh, wait a minute, Jessica is one of the best 125ers and she can kick my ass. So now I don’t want this fight, I would much rather go fight a girl that Bec (Rawlings) lost to,’ because she beat Bec. Which is fine. It’s totally fine but we’ve been trying to get myself a fight. I haven’t been in the cage, I’ve been begging for 125 and we revolved all of our decision making because Paige was being cooperative. And then one day I think I have a fight coming up, the next day I don’t. It’s not fair for her to do that.”
Despite just turning 23 this year, VanZant has been a favorite of UFC officials since joining the promotion in 2014 and has already headlined a Fight Night and a UFC on FOX card. She has also parlayed her marketability into commercials, appearances on reality show competitions, and a book deal.
Eye understands that VanZant is going to get a lot of exposure, but doesn’t feel like it should make her account of events any more valid than those of of her peers.
“There’s so many things that are going on and I think that sometimes with the media you guys pick up on the things Paige says because you’re right, she’s got other things to talk about, she’s doing some outside-of-the-cage stuff so everybody always seems to believe that person and not the other side,” Eye said. “It’s like me and Valentina (Shevchenko), who are the best ‘25ers in the world, and that was before we even came to the UFC, so I feel like we’re both kind of getting shunted aside and not getting a chance and Paige is just getting all this time to talk.”
Whether there’s any truth to Eye’s accusation that VanZant pulled some strings to avoid her, the 31-year-old believes that “12 Gauge” would have found a way out of the situation by hook or by crook.
“She would have faked some kind of injury or found some other way to get out of that fight or whatever, who knows what would have happened?” Eye said. “It’s not the UFC’s fault, I think it’s bulls**t that she’s trying to act like it’s the UFC’s fault. It was her thing. She was the one who went back and said that she didn’t want the fight, out of nowhere. … In my world, like in most people’s world, if you make a fight, that fight should happen. You don’t get to just choose that, you don’t get to just be the dictator of that.”
“It’s not that I’m pissed off, it’s that if you’re going to tell - listen, I told a lie about my career once and it really screwed things up, I learned from it,” Eye continued. “It’s not fair that she gets to go and play this little innocent role that people are bullying her, that people are saying things that are untrue. I never said anything that was untrue. Paige reached out to me and texted me in July originally about the fight and said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s kick off this division.’ And we agreed, because we’re fighters and we’re professionals and that’s what we do and then she gets injured. I even messaged her when she gets injured, saying sorry that she was hurt and doing the right thing.”
Oddly, both women are scheduled to fight in St. Louis, which Eye sees as further confirmation of her suspicion that something screwy is happening over on VanZant’s side. She admitted that it didn’t make much sense to her, but also provided an explanation of her own for why people might be having trouble piecing together this puzzle.
“It’s because it’s one side trying to cover up and anytime you try to cover up a lie it sounds really awkward when someone comes out and says the truth,” Eye said.
Eye doesn’t expect there to be any further beef between her and VanZant, at least not outside of the Octagon. She plans to be professional should the two bump into each other on Jan. 14, and knows that as long as she takes care of business at flyweight then her business with VanZant will eventually find its way to a resolution.
“There’s no reason to talk now,” Eye said. “I’ll get my chance and set myself straight back in the 125 division, a division that I should have been in years ago that I ruled for multiple years before I even came to the UFC, and I’ll see her on the other side of the cage. And it’ll be a bad day for her in that case.”