Fight Path: Jessy Jess found MMA after childhood wanderlust, living in a van


jessy-jess.jpgAs usual, the conversation about a fighter’s life and background begins with a question about the beginning.

Where had Jessy Jess grown up?

“I grew up going around in a van with my mom and brothers and sisters,” she told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com), almost in passing.

“I’m sorry,” I said, thinking that the 14-hour time difference between where I was sitting and Brisbane, Australia, was causing problems with the phone connection. “It sounded like you said van.”

She laughed. She had indeed said van, which showed in the first moments that this interview was going to be a unique one.

Jess, meanwhile, is trying to build her own unique resume as a professional women’s MMA fighter in Australia. She continued that this past weekend when she earned a unanimous-decision victory over muay Thai world champion Eileen Forrest at Combat 8:03.

Even though that fight might not technically fall under the MMA category – it was more like a mix between kickboxing and chute boxing specific to that promotion – she is 1-0 as an MMA professional after competing in kickboxing as well.

The 25-year-old Jess – she adopted Jessy Jess as her fighting name to replace Jessy Rose – was raised with an appreciation for alternative lifestyles gained from her mother, who was passionate about learning from different communities. She then followed a boyfriend into combat sports, which became her own passion.

It was a natural fit for the former soccer, softball and basketball player who was also a gifted student. And now, instead of working for her carpenter father as she did when she finished school, she’s a full-time fighter hoping her next steps can help raise her image.

“I felt like (Saturday’s victory) was a massive win for me,” she said. “She’s a muay Thai champion, and she’s been competing for longer than I’ve been training. So that was an important win for me. I needed something like that.”

Alternative lifestyle

Back to the van.

Jess described her childhood as a continuous travel between alternative communities, driven by her mother’s passion for learning and experiencing new things.

She is the oldest of five children, so she, her mother, two brothers and two sisters traveled in the van and learned about different parts of life.

“We would go to organic farms, nudist farms, all kinds of places,” she said.

Much of those early years were spent in wide-open areas, often sleeping under the stars. That created a love for such places that she still keeps. She often feels the need to get away to rural areas or to the ocean.

When she was 10, though, her mother felt it would be good for her to have more structure. She moved in with her grandmother and started formal schooling (she had been homeschooled until then).

It was an experience in learning how others’ expectations can affect a person. She was put in a grade behind where she should have been, and the school administrators tried to make it even two grades behind.

“They thought I would be stupid,” Jess said with a laugh. “They saw where I came from and thought I couldn’t keep up. Then I would come out on top (in class).”

She also found organized sports, and she was good. Nothing at the time compared to what her future would hold in combat sports, but she gained a taste for competing. When she finished her school at age 17, she starting working full-time, and she eventually moved to work for her father in administrative and delivery positions.

She didn’t necessarily gain the carpentry skills, though.

“I could build some things,” she said. “But you might not want to trust me with the big stuff.”

But bigger stuff was coming.

Taste of combat

When Jess was 20, a guy she was dating was into kickboxing. She was interested, so she tagged along to see what it was about and got interested.

“I never looked back,” she said.

That started a series of moves in combat sports that would eventually make her a professional fighter. Not long after her training began, she knew she wanted to fight, but she ended up practicing for close to three years before she entered competition.

Her first fight of any kind was an amateur kickboxing bout, which ended a period of frustration with some potential opponents backing out of fights. Around that time, she took her first jiu-jitsu classes as well, which opened her up to the possibilities of MMA.

She became part of Australia’s growing MMA culture, which is still a little light on female fighting, especially in the amateur ranks. That’s why, in MMA, she became a professional immediately with her debut this past December in a victory.

In the past year, she has both become a professional and earned the ability to train and fight full-time with a sponsorship from Australian company Unrivaled. The commitment from both her and the company increased leading into her fight this past weekend, which provided a boost of confidence.

The next step, she said, is lining up fights with some of her country’s other top women, which is a growing group because of the sport’s popularity.

“It’s getting to be bigger, with a lot of promotions and a lot of ways to fight,” she said. “Female fighters are more rare, but (MMA) is my goal. That’s where I want my future to be.”

Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.

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