Sijara Eubanks overcame some significant hurdles to make it to the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 26.
As one of the lowest-seeded fighters on the show, Eubanks had to get past more highly regarded opponents like one-time Invicta FC flyweight title challenger DeAnna Bennett and the No. 1 seed Roxanne Modafferi for a chance to become the UFC’s first women’s champion at 125 pounds at the TUF 26 Finale. But there was one nemesis that almost tripped Eubanks up on multiple occasions.
Thrice Eubanks was able to make the flyweight limit on the show, but ahead of her title bout with eventual champion Nicco Montano at the finale this past weekend, the 32-year-old fighter’s body finally broke down and simply refused to shed any more pounds. That left Eubanks in the hospital and out of the Montano fight just two days before what was to be her official UFC debut.
The weight cut attempt caused Eubanks’ kidneys to fail last week, but despite that scare, she remains confident that the 125-pound division is where she’s meant to be.
“Everyone says I’m bigger as a flyweight, but if you look at my reach and my height, I’m actually smaller than most other flyweights,” Eubanks said during an appearance on The MMA Hour on Monday. “I’m 5’4”, 67”, 68” (reach). Most of the girls I’ve fought, when I was fighting at bantamweight, these girls were cutting from ‘55, ‘60, they’re 5’8”, 5’9”, their stature is just bigger. I believe I can fight at bantamweight because I think I have the size to do it, but I don’t have the height and the reach, and I think I’m more structurally successful at flyweight. So I think it’s just a matter of getting my walk-around (weight) down. So yeah, I’m a flyweight for sure.”
Having competed just once at 125 pounds, Eubanks’s goal was always to compete in the Octagon someday, so she bulked up to 135 pounds with the idea of joining the bantamweight roster. The UFC only had 115 and 135-pound divisions for female fighters until this year. When the casting call came for a spot on TUF, Eubanks jumped at the chance to be on the show before being told it was a women’s flyweight season — a fact that didn’t bother her at all.
With help from Clint Wattenberg, the Director of Sports Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute, Eubanks was able to hit 125 on the dot in her last fight in the TUF house, and she’s confident that with some adjustments she will make championship weight again when the time comes.
“It takes time to re-frame your body and I’m probably going to have to cut back on a little muscle mass and do what I have to do to walk at 145,” Eubanks said. “But I have a lot of professionals in my corner that look at my stature and my body and say that, ‘Yes, you do have the frame to walk in the low ‘40s in a healthy way. And you can cut to 125 in a healthy way. We just have to get you to that walk-around weight,’ and the cut from there will be just like everyone else’s cut, it’s not going to be as dramatic as it’s been. So if my body can physically walk at flyweight without doing damage to my health, then I’m a flyweight. I’m not going to get chased out of the division because I made some miscalculations in this last cut.”
As for where she stands in the UFC’s newest division, Eubanks isn’t sure. She was seeded 12th in the TUF 26 tournament, a distinction that only motivated her to prove the evaluators “terribly wrong,” and she was considered to be one of the season’s unknown properties despite the success she’s had competing in jiu-jitsu for the better part of the last ten years.
Eubanks acknowledged that her modest record of 2-2 (not counting the TUF victories, which are considered to be “exhibitions”) may have caused her to be overlooked, but those two losses came to current UFC fighters Katlyn Chookagian and Aspen Ladd, and other fighters on the show had similarly unassuming resumes.
Though she doesn’t know exactly what’s next, Eubanks is focused on whatever path gets her closer to that lost title opportunity.
“I would like a tough opponent. Dream scenario, get my walk-around down as soon as possible, get back in the cage as soon as possible at my weight, at flyweight, and I would like a fight that’s going to keep me in the heat for a title,” Eubanks said. “Even though technically I’m still 2-2, I had really good performances in the house. I think I beat Roxanne pretty handily and she had a nice, tight fight with Nicco. So in a perfect scenario, I want to fight whoever is gonna keep me in the heat, whether it’s someone from the house or someone from outside of the house. But I want to stay in the heat. I want to stay close because I’m going to get that strap.”