Candles are glowing with soft, warm light. The hotel room is full of luxurious pillows. The “Ambassadors of Comfort” were here and missed no pertinent detail.
Fight week is extraordinarily intense and draining mentally, emotionally and physically. After months of training, days in the gym and more lean protein than any human should have to consume, a tiny bit of indulgence is all any man or woman would want. After all, the end game is to mentally morph your mindset to beat the living shit out of someone with absolutely no remorse or regard for their well-being.
After weigh-in, the real preparation begins, the mental prep, the “rituals” that get you into your game. This is where you will observe a scene straight out of a slumber party every chick has ever been to: one girl is sitting on the couch, pounding a jumbo size bag of M&M’s while her bestie braids her hair. The monumental difference between these two events? These are not your typical, bullshit Kim Kardashian pig-tails, these are badass, trademark war braids. These intricate braids are part of a mental preparation that sets everything into motion for the next day. It is time to tighten up everything. It is time to transform mentally and physically from a hometown Cleveland hottie to a warrior renegade. It is time to convert from Jessica Eye to Jessica “Evil” Eye.
The Woman Behind the Evil.
“Never judge a book by its cover” they say. Fuck that! I judge everything by its damn cover, and you’re lying if you say you don’t as well. Eye could make the toughest badass guy piss his pants and quiver in fear–she literally knocked a bitch’s ear off before–all while enigmatically attracting him. But Eye completely fits the saying, she is not the type of person who wants to be a pull-quote or meaningless headline about muscles, this incredibly tough (physically, mentally and emotionally), but poised woman has something to say. Refreshingly, her message is about Cleveland and why everyone needs to pay attention to this burgeoning city we all live in (were born in and never left) amongst other empowering adages.
When you are from a small town in the Midwest, you do not often hear success stories motivating you to change your entire path and direction. That lack of a clear set role model did not stop Eye from charging down her own path, as she always knew she had more in her. No part of her less than picturesque upbringing and life was going to stand in her way from turning herself into the role model that the city was lacking. Careful though, she refuses to assign that type of moniker to herself. “I am able to give people the ability to find strength in me. There is not male/female diversity anymore. For me to be called a role model, that is something that someone else has to give to me. It is important. I hope they can accept me in my mistakes and my successes and show you that no matter who you are, you can succeed.”
To achieve the high-level notoriety and success that Eye has realized quickly and furiously, she has not only had to clear her own path, but pioneer it. She focused solely on her hometown of Cleveland support and was determined to make sure people not only knew her name in fighting, but knew about women fighting. As Eye prepared for her first fight, the organizers handed her a stack of tickets. Most people would look at this as a daunting, meaningless task, but instead she “sold them hand and foot.” Not only did she want to prove herself as a legitimate force to be reckoned with, she also wanted to prove that there was a space for women’s fighting, and it mattered. Her sales pitch was direct and fierce, just like she is: “I’m going to sell you a story that you are never going to hear again. I am Jessica Eye. I want to be a mixed martial artist, you might not have heard of me yet, but maybe if you buy this ticket you will be onto something before anyone else.”
Ultimate (Fighting) Squad Goals.
Keeping good company and surrounding yourself with a supportive net is important for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together. Beyond the “Ambassadors of Comfort,” Eye’s inner circle has been with her from the beginning. Eye noted that among them there is an immense “sense of togetherness” that “is so heartwarming and you can feel every inch of that.” She has everyone she needs from “Murse,” a friend who literally holds her purse when needed; Marcus Marinelli, her coach; Shannon, her personal braider; and Greg Kalikas, her manager.
Eye says that Marinelli is the father she never emotionally had. He took a leap of faith on her. “I earned his respect. It was probably the first time I ever felt I earned a man’s respect. It was one of the more addicting things in my life.” When Eye executes in training and sees how happy it makes her coach it motivates her and pushes her to go harder.
The same goes for Kalikas, who has been by her side before she was even a fighter. He stuck by her and gave her a chance. Eye explains, “Stepped onto the mat, he was there. Stepped onto the octagon, he was there.” Eye continued about Kalikas, “We are going to ride this ship to the end. We will do it with gold around our waist. We’re going to do it here in Northeast, Ohio.”
Female Tough, Male Tough. You would expect people (read: bros) to be a bunch of assholes and dismissive about taking a female seriously in such a physically tough sport, but Eye has never truly come up against gender diversity boundaries. Men and women are treated as equals and train right along one another in the gym. You will see men and women fighting and kicking one another’s ass on any given occasion during those long hours training. The media picking up on female driven athletics has helped close any, no matter how small, gender gap that once separated the sexes in athletics. Eye explains, “You are really seeing women outshine men in sports.”
Eye is no stranger from channeling inner-strength into creating momentum. “Self-belief is a hard thing to have,” she says. In today’s current climate, self-value, worth and belief have plummeted. It is an epidemic of a bunch of people who feel like shit about themselves, mainly because they are told they should.
This self-rooted confidence is what moved Eye to create her own clothing line. “I wanted to sell a lifestyle, wanted to sell a belief. It is about more than me. E.Y.E is about self-assurance,” Eye describes. She whipped up a few shirts and they immediately sold out in one night. Her hope was that when people were wearing the motto across their chest, it would help them believe in themselves, help them find their own self-assurance, help them find their own voice and help them move towards their passion the way her self-reliance did for her. “The world needs more of believing in something happy and good out there. It is so easy to get caught up in something negative. We all need to refocus and find that one thing,” Eye elaborates.
Eye wants people to feel strong when they wear her shirts, feel proud of themselves and their roots. That is why she continued her foray into fashionable monikers with “Straight Outta Cleveland.” Yes, that does predate “Straight Outta Compton,” but you can’t blame them for wanting to jack a little of the Cleveland magic. Eye owns the rights to the slogan, so I would think twice before trying to use it, beyond the obvious that you are legally not able, she could obliterate any of us…more than likely with one hand tied behind her back.
When it comes to the entertainment aspect of fighting, throwing shade and calling out your opponent has become part of the game. A lot of competitors will play up the banter to try and sell the fight. Eye’s fans don’t care if she talks shit about the other fighter or not, they want to see her fists. They want to see her destroy someone “Street Fighter” style.
Eye is more of a ball buster than anything else and she doesn’t really play into the Twitter bullshit, “I’m good for a ‘fuck you.’ I’m basic. Who has time for character chasing?” On the other end of the spectrum is fellow fighter Bethe Correia (pronounced Betch), who tends to partake in the social media ribbing.
Eye and Correia were once set to fight on the same bill in Pittsburgh, but Eye had to pull out of the fight. Correia took the opportunity to tell her Twitter followers that Eye pulled out of the fight so she could pursue acting and Hollywood. There was a reason Eye did not move forward with the fight: her team had her back, as they always do, and asked her to pull out of the fight.
Big Girl Panties.
Eye is coming off a losing streak, but not just any losing streak: decision losses. Decision losses might be the worst for a fighter to handle since it basically means the referee decides one fighter lost and it is all up to his/her opinion. Eye said she would have rather a KO than have to have the fight left to opinion. She calls those years the hardest years of her life, she has always been a winner and been at the top. If she was not riding high on the top, she wondered if she was doing the right thing with her life by fighting. She begged to get onto the Pittsburgh card to pull herself out of the slump, but her team asked her to trust them and turn it down. OK, Bethe?
Eye had to sack up and swallow her pride to get past this part of her career. She needed to fall back in love with her training and dieting. She needed to transform back into the gladiator, until finally she was ready to take on another fight. When she fell back in love with her training and discipline, “the heart she created on the inside started showing on the outside.” This is what makes her dangerous.
This is Home. There is finally hype around our city and Eye wants to bring the UFC home. When the UFC is in town you can feel the energy from the fans, it swarms the city, its builds up the city. “That is what I want to do. I want to build it up when I am back in a contender spot,” Eye says. Eye has no plans of leaving Cleveland, no matter the circumstance and options that come her way. “Cleveland is always with you. You’re home. Your roots always come back to Cleveland. Cleveland is here, Cleveland is home, I won’t leave..ever.”
The Battle for Queen: Eye vs. McMann
Once upon a time, Eye (UFC ranked #7) trained with friend and Olympic Medalist turned MMA fighter, Sara McMann (ranked #6). They thought it was a great opportunity for the two, in different weight classes, in different divisions, with different strengths and weaknesses, to elevate their games. Eye asked McMann to train with her prior to her 2013 Bellator debut. “I beat the crap out of her every day she was out here training. I blew her knee out. I put her down the one time,” Eye reminisced.
A few years later, as McMann prepared for her UFC debut, she asked Eye to join her to return the favor as she was facing Sarah Kaufman. Eye obliged and all was well in the MMA world, until two weeks later when Bellator cut Eye, getting rid of their women’s division. The UFC wasted no time and immediately picked her up and Eye was moved up a weight class, putting her directly in competition with McMann. The once seemingly pleasant rapport quickly turned icy when many of Eye’s calls and messages lobbed at McMann went unreturned. Eye tried everything to reach McMann, but when she didn’t hear back, a feud was born. When McMann ending up dropping the fight against Kauffman, Eye picked it up, making a serious entrance onto the UFC stage by kicking ass.
These two will meet again soon when Eye and McMann reunite in the octagon. “So here we are three years later and it looks like we will get to settle it mano y mano in the cage. I guess the way two women should settle it,” Eye said.