Jessica Eye was in the locker room at her gym in Ohio just more than two years ago when she saw a tweet announcing the UFC finally would create a 125-pound division for women.
She ran out to her coaches and training partners and celebrated as she proclaimed she would eventually be the flyweight champion of the world.
It may have seemed delusional to those who knew she was on a four-fight losing streak, but Eye had always said she was fighting an uphill battle as she was miscast as a bantamweight trying to compete against fighters with significantly bigger frames.
“Immediately, I was like, ‘It’s mine, it’s mine,’” Eye said Friday in her adopted home of Las Vegas. “It’s a true lane to succeed in, a true chance at success.”
The 32-year-old winning a belt isn’t such a far-fetched notion anymore. She has won her first three fights at 125 and will fight champion Valentina Shevchenko for the belt at UFC 238 in Chicago on June 8. “I’ve proven it and I will keep proving it. I will retire on top of this division, whether or not people believe me.”
During the time of her losing streak, Eye was dealing with far more adversity than just a few setbacks in the cage. Her family was trying to process the terminal illness of her abusive father and the fractures it caused in their relationships while she endured a series of health issues that affected her career and personality.
“We always get caught up on how bad things are,” she said. “I was four losses in and about to get cut and was given an opportunity because I didn’t give up on me and that goes a long way because when most people start losing they give up on themselves so that wasn’t something I did.”
The big break came with the UFC’s decision to create the flyweight division she was consistently pleading for in interviews, and now she has a chance to prove all of her prognostications correct.
Eye was 10-1 before she came to the UFC and had to choose between fighting at 135 or completely changing her body to try to get down to 115 pounds. All along, she would tell anyone who would listen how much better she would be at her more natural fighting weight.
“It would mean everything (to win the belt),” she said. “It’s everything I ever wanted. I’ve been asking for this weight class for a long time. It’s no discredit on any other fighter, but this is my division. I feel like I’m here for a purpose.”
It will be her first fight as a Las Vegas resident after she spent her entire life in Ohio.
“It happened rather fast,” she said of her move. “It wasn’t something I planned on doing. It was just something that came up and I felt was needed. I was at Strong Style (Training Center) for 13 years and we couldn’t agree to disagree on the way I needed to be trained for future fights so it was time for me to make a decision for myself.
“I’ve enjoyed it, but since I got here 11 weeks ago it was just hit the ground running. I have a title fight. We knew it was coming so it was just time to get here and get to work.”
UFC 239 also features a bantamweight title bout between Henry Cejudo and Marlon Moraes.
Two of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s teammates had their suspensions for their roles in a post-UFC 229 brawl at T-Mobile Arena reduced by the Nevada Athletic Commission this week.
Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Zubaira Tukhugov each had their one-year bans reduced by 35 days as part of a community service agreement.
The adjusted sanctions will allow them to be eligible in time for a return on Sept. 7 when UFC 242 takes place in Abu Dhabi. The organization is trying to book Khabib Nurmagomedov in a title defense against Dustin Poirier on the card. He has stated he will not compete until his teammates were off suspension.
UFC 239 loses bout
Francis Ngannou will now face former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC on ESPN 3 in Minneapolis on June 29.
The clash of contenders had been slated for the UFC 239 card at T-Mobile Arena on July 6, but the switch was necessitated when the earlier card lost its main event last week.
Former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley had been scheduled to return to action in a rematch against Robbie Lawler, another former champ. Woodley suffered a hand injury that now has been diagnosed as chronic arthritis.
Woodley indicated in an interview this week he may need an exemption to fight with a cortisone shot in the future in order to compete with the condition.
June 1: UFC Fight Night 153 (ESPN Plus), Stockholm
June 6: Professional Fighters League 14 (ESPN Plus), Uniondale, New York.
June 7: Invicta FC 35 (Fight Pass), Kansas City, Kansas
June 8: UFC 238 (ESPN/ESPN Plus PPV), Chicago