On Saturday at UFC Vegas 48, Jessica-Rose Clark will take on Stephanie Egger in a women’s bantamweight bout. It will be Clark’s seventh fight in the UFC and fourth in the organization’s bantamweight division, but there’s a world where that never happens for Clark, because not that long ago, the 34-year old Australian was contemplating retirement.
“I considered retiring after [losing to Pannie Kianzad in 2019] because I was just so unhappy,” Clark told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “Like, ‘Why am I doing this if I can’t even win a fight? I keep losing.’ I’d lost two in a row before, but everything is super dramatic when you’re in the middle of it.
“But now, looking back, that was two and a half years ago, I’m very grateful that everything happened the way it did, because it made me realize that I needed to refocus and I needed to reconfigure my personal life and how I was handling external stress. I was just trying to sweep it under the rug and outwork the way I was feeling, and it wasn’t the case. It all came out when it came down to fight time and I had the extra stress and the pressure.”
Before losing to Kianzad, Clark also dropped a unanimous decision to Jessica Eye, and says that ongoing issues in her personal life — injuries, switching fight camps, and moving among them — negatively affected her performances and stripped her of her love for fighting. But then when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Clark says that the unique circumstances she faced early on helped remind her of why she loved MMA in the fitrst place.
“When COVID happened and all the gyms shut down, we were running online classes, and me and one other fighter were allowed in the gym and I would demonstrate all the online classes,” Clark said. “And so I think just being able to have that time by myself, working out, being in the gym, that really helped me realize that if I walked away, I would miss this.
“Then when I signed to fight Sarah Alpar, that was kind of my make-or-break fight. I made the decision when I signed that fight, if I don’t enjoy this camp and I don’t enjoy fighting again, that will be it for me. And I think that in its own right was very freeing, because when I fought Sarah, that was one of the best nights of my life because I took that pressure off myself about winning or losing, it was purely just about enjoying what I’m doing again.
“That fight was my make-or-break and it made me realize how much I really love doing this. I think if I hadn’t fought when I did, the story my have been a little bit different.”
It wasn’t just the training that Clark credits for rejuvenating her love for MMA. Clark says that her coach Kirian Fitzgibbons and friend Hans Molenkamp were also instrumental in helping her get to a better head space, and after losing to Kianzad, Clark began seeing a therapist who she says has been integral in changing her perspective about fighting.
“After I lost to Pannie Kianzad, Hans Molenkamp from Monster was in my corner for that fight. So he was with me all week and saw what a mess I was, so after that fight he gifted me for Christmas a couple of sessions with his therapist, and she has changed my life,” Clark said. “She really helped me recognize — she helped me stop focusing on wins and losses, because we as fighters, we put so much stock in whether we win or lose.
“That’s our sole identity — are we winners or are we losers? It’s hard to be in a competitive sport like this, where it’s one-on-one, and not feel like you’re a loser if you lose a fight. It’s very hard to separate yourself from the decision. So my therapist really, really helped me peel back all the layers and remember why I started doing this in the first place, remember all the things that I love about the sport, that I love about competing, and stop focusing so much on the outcome.”
All of Clark’s work seems to have paid off, as the Australian fighter has won two in a row since the loss to Kianzad, most recently defeating Joselyne Edwards by showing her evolution as a fighter, scoring five takedowns to control the dangerous striker en route to a unanimous decision. It was a performance that some fans were critical of, given her low output of strikes, but one that Clark does not foresee being replicated this weekend.
“The thing that’s tripped me up the most since the last fight is I get so many hate messages and comments going, ‘Are you even gonna throw a strike this time?’” Clark said. “I’ve had 22 fights and I wrestled one time. Literally one time I wrestled! The other 21 were all striking. Now I’m put in this box because people only remember your last fight.
“That last fight was the right plan for that opponent. We knew that Joselyn Edwards was a wild striker. We knew she had power. Our goal is always to win by someone’s B-game. Her B-game was her wrestling so that was the smartest thing I could do for that particular opponent. Plus she hit me so hard at the beginning and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that again.’ [Laughs]. This next opponent, her A-game is her grappling, which means I’m almost forced to be a striker again.
“So I think this fight is going to be a lot more entertaining than what the last one was.”
UFC Vegas 48 takes place this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.