Kate Jackson was just looking for the real thing when she fought professionally for the first time.
Born in Wales, but raised in Cornwall, Jackson is an Englishwoman through and through. She speaks softly, with confidence, and provides little flourish when asked about the path that led her to becoming an MMA fighter; the path that has her poised to break through in the flyweight co-main event of Bellator 191 this Friday, when she fights one-time UFC title challenger Valerie Letourneau at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, England.
Becoming a contender in a major promotion wasn’t Jackson’s first priority when she began to make the transition from traditional martial arts to mixed. All she wanted to know was if the stuff actually worked.
“I think growing up I had a really normal family, really normal childhood, no trauma or anything there on those lines,” Jackson told MMA Fighting. “On some level, there was a desire to fight or find out — I was doing karate as a teenager and judo, but I wanted to find out if it really worked. It grew from there. I sort of found jiu-jitsu, submission grappling, and I wanted to know what happened if I punch someone in the face, and they’re trying to hit me.
“And I know nowadays that’s a really easy thing to find out, you can walk into gyms all over the country and do MMA and find that out pretty quickly, but when I started there was pretty much nothing for women, even internationally, so it was initially answering those questions. Once I’d answered them, it was, ‘What happens if I keep going?’ And I have.”
Jackson laughs when she talks about her first fight, which came about when it was suggested she make her pro debut on a card that was close to home. Skipping the amateur route entirely, Jackson found herself fighting for the first time back in May 2009. She won by TKO in 48 seconds.
It didn’t exactly provide a clear answer to her questions.
But Jackson did keep on, compiling a 9-2-1 record and also finding time to take part in the 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter as a strawweight. Being on the UFC’s long-running reality show was an eye-opening experience for Jackson, and not one she cared to repeat, even if she had been able to try out for the most recent season that featured 16 women competing to become the first women’s flyweight champion in the UFC.
While the exposure benefited Jackson’s career, the constant documentation wore on her.
“I don’t have any real problem with interviews or anything like that. The Ultimate Fighter, it was unrelenting,” said Jackson. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I don’t even think you can know what you’re getting yourself into until it happens. Just the pressure and the constant having a microphone all the time, having cameras in your face the whole time, knowing people listening in on conversations even when they’re not filming you, I don’t think I dealt with that very well at all.
“I dealt with that by not talking, which for something like The Ultimate Fighter isn’t great. That was really just a step too far, which is a shame because I would have loved to have been able to relax and be myself, but that didn’t happen very well.”
Neither Jackson nor fellow British fighters Lanchana Green and Helen Harper were signed after the show’s conclusion, which may have turned out to be a positive for Jackson, who is happy to be competing at 125 pounds. At the time, the UFC had no plans to implement a women’s flyweight division.
Since finishing TUF, Jackson has fought twice, defeating Bryony Tyrell by third-round TKO then following that up with a successful Bellator debut against one-time Invicta FC bantamweight title challenger Colleen Schneider.
The win over Schneider was an unsatisfying one for Jackson, as she was declared the victor after Schneider suffered a leg injury and the bout was waved off at the end of round one. Though attacking Schneider’s leg was part of the gameplan, and it occurred after Jackson knocked Schneider down with a teep, seeing Schneider limp to her corner gave Jackson no satisfaction and she regrets that the win was not more decisive.
Still, it was a successful mark on Jackson’s record and against a fighter with some name recognition in North America. Her upcoming fight against Letourneau also sees Jackson entering as the presumed underdog, despite the fact that Letourneau is winless in her last three contests. The 34-year-old French-Canadian faced world-class competition as a strawweight inside the Octagon, and now that she’s moving up to a more natural weight class, it’s expected that Letourneau could become a title contender again.
Jackson is looking forward to the challenge of another fighter with a strong reputation, and she hopes to one day fight Bellator champion Ilima Macfarlane, whether it’s for a title or just to see who has the better jiu-jitsu.
“I think the fact that I’m fighting people with name recognition, that’s obviously a good thing,” said Jackson. “I doubt many people outside of Europe, maybe some in the States because of The Ultimate Fighter — there aren’t a large number of people who know who I am. Before TUF I was ranked in the top-10 for flyweights, but even so I didn’t get on any big promotions besides the one in Cage Warriors. Invicta have, for whatever reason, never shown interest. So finally getting to fight on Bellator and fight well-known fighters is definitely a good thing.”