For Jessica Eye to take the final step towards becoming a UFC champion, she needed to make the jump cross-country from Ohio to Nevada.
A longtime member of the Strong Style Fight Team and a proud Clevelander, Eye—who has been name-dropped in songs by Machine Gun Kelly and threw out the ceremonial opening pitch at an Indians game back in 2016—has spent the last few months under the desert sun working with the Xtreme Couture team in preparation to challenge Valentina Shevchenko for the flyweight title this Saturday at UFC 238.
Eye has also been putting in work at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas and she is relishing the change in atmosphere, which was less about anything being wrong with her old gym and more about Eye having to do right by herself.
“Me leaving Strong Style was a matter of agreeing to disagree on what I felt was best for me and what I wanted to do for my future, so it was just a matter of me looking out for me and doing what I needed,” Eye recently told MMA Fighting. “I needed a little bit more one-on-one time that I felt that I wasn’t getting as much as I needed.
“Being at Xtreme, Eric Nicksick and Gray Maynard, as well as my brother and my jiu-jitsu coach that moved out here too with me, has been absolutely incredible on just being there for my needs. It’s really awesome that I finally get to have that kind of life.”
Even before changing teams, 2018 was a bounce-back year for Eye, especially considering how her UFC career had gone up until that point. She joined the promotion six years ago as one of the top flyweights in the world, but with that division not existing in the UFC at the time, Eye moved up to try her hand at bantamweight. The results were disastrous.
A split decision win in her UFC debut against Sarah Kaufman was overturned to a no contest after Eye tested positive for marijuana. She would then go on to lose five of her next six fights. It was starting to look like Eye was a future journeywoman, not a potential world champion.
Returning to 125 pounds last January, Eye rattled off wins over Bethe Correia, Jessica-Rose Clark, and Katlyn Chookagian to get her shot at Shevchenko. With much of her reputation restored, Eye is content with how her UFC story has unfolded. She’s not looking back.
“Who knows if I would have learned what I learned now or did some of the things that I needed to do if I wouldn’t have went through some of those things?” Eye said. “I’m glad that it’s happened the way that it happened. I can’t go back and change it now.”
If there’s one thing that Eye would like to fix, it’s her penchant for shredding mouthpieces. The 32-year-old’s powerful jaws have done more than just upped her monthly equipment expenses, it also led to her biting through her lip and causing serious issues with her teeth.
Eye couldn’t explain exactly why she keeps biting through her mouthpieces, but after seeing a doctor and simply taking some much-needed time off, she expects to be at 100 percent on fight night.
“My teeth are fine,” Eye said. “You realize people forget how great our bodies are. My teeth, from me biting through [my mouthpiece] they were going loose, so basically what was going to happen when your teeth are loose and your gums are loose that infection gets inside. It’s no different than having a hangnail, getting dirt inside the hangnail and causing an infection. So my teeth were so loose that they were going to either splint them or I had to leave them be, don’t touch them, don’t get hit in the mouth.
“My job is getting hit on a regular basis, accidentally on grappling, or if I’m doing squats and I clench my jaw. My mouth needed a break. I took three fights in less than 11 months, there was no reason for me to jump back into anything and my body needed a break. Again, I have to look out for me. I’m the one who lives between these two ears, so if I’m not feeling it, then I’m not feeling it.”