Today’s special guest is MMA fighter Jessamyn “The Gun” Duke. She currently fights with Invicta FC. She was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about her career and offer some inspiration.
F2F: What got you started in MMA? As a girl it couldn’t’ have been the first thing on your mind
Jessamyn: From when I got started to actually persuing it as a career was a long time. When I started when I was like 19, at the gym where I started to train, it was purely for fitness/hobby reasons. I’ve always been an athlete and always worked out, been in shape and played sports. I had just graduated high school and had just moved to Richmond with my mom, and I was in college. I wasn’t really doing anything. She was like, you need to see what’s going on around here, and it’s a new town, so go find a hobby. Make some friends, go get into something. And I wanted to do something you know, because I have like a really bad habit of picking up a hobby for 2 or 3 months then getting bored with it. So I got a pretty short attention span when it comes to stuff like that. So I wanted to do something different. So I thought it would be cool to take a kickboxing class or something like that. You know, up till then I had never done any kind of martial arts or combat sports. I’d never done any of it. I thought it would be kind of neat.
So when I started it was just for something to do, but when I started, I totally fell in love with it. I just became addicted to training. I went to all the classes I could, I’d there before they opened the doors, I didn’t want to leave. I was like that for years! Then I started doing competitions like grappling pretty early on, things like that. But it had been almost 3 years since I had my first Muay Thai fight, and I won it and it was like from that moment “Oh my God, I have got to do this more often, as much as possible!” At that time, MMA wasn’t really a viable option for women as a career. I mean, it was kind of around a little bit. Gina Carano was just barely on the scene, and I only knew who she was from Muay Thai.
I think she just started doing some bigger stuff in MMA, and that was pretty much it. So I decided I wanted to be a professional Muay Thai fighter and that was it. But then it didn’t really happen that way. MMA started getting pretty popular even for women, so by the time I made my MMA debut, it pretty much took off. I’d always trained in everything. Once I found out it was a viable option, I finally felt like I found a real passion in my life. I’d never had that before. When I started fighting, I decided it was a worthy pursuit for my life, and so far I feel like I’ve made the right choice.
F2F: When you decided to do MMA full time how difficult did you find it to get started?
Jessamyn: You know, not terribly to be honest. I know it’s a pretty common thing to hear women complain about how hard it was to find fights and opponents. And it was at first, it was very difficult to find fights. But it didn’t’ really affect my training. I kind of felt like, even if a fight fell through, I would just keep getting better and use it as an opportunity to improve. So even after several dropped opponents, I never got discouraged; I kept working and getting better. By the time I graduated from college, I decided I would work just enough to make money to pay my bills, then spend the rest of my time training and preparing. So I could focus all of my attention on this. Once I did that I was like well, it’s going to happen.
I’ve never felt like I’ve been stifled in any way. I kind of feel like at least in one aspect, women have it a little easier because there’s less competition. And if you are dedicated and put in the work, then you will stand out because there just aren’t that many of us. For the guys, there are just so many male fighters out there who are talented and have the dedication and the drive, but they have a terrible time breaking out and getting noticed and getting onto the big cards. I think it’s harder for them to find opportunities. I mean when I was an amateur I had places paying for me to fly out and fight for them. Because they knew I was legit, they knew I was going to put on a good fight and they knew I’d make weight. Even though I was amateur, they knew I’d act professional. So to be totally honest, I didn’t find it too difficult.
F2F: That makes sense what you said about the women. I know on things like The Ultimate Fighter, you see guys who are 15-0 and they can’t even get into the house.
Jessamyn: Right! And I mean, it’s the truth. I think the hardest part is just being patient. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, because it doesn’t. I’ve been training almost seven and a half years now. And the last couple years have just now been the really exciting part. You just have to stay diligent and it does happen. I feel like for me, everything happened at a pace that was appropriate for where MMA was at the time.
F2F: Yeah, this seems like the perfect time for women’s MMA. You’re basically getting in on the ground floor.
Jessamyn: Exactly! And with Invicta just starting and being like an up and comer, this is perfect. We got the Ultimate fighter coming up now. And I found out I’m just eligible enough to be on the show, so it couldn’t have worked out better.
F2F: What would you say has been your biggest obstacle to overcome in your career?
Jessamyn: Um, usually I tell people the hardest thing was getting enough fight experience as a female fighter. Because there are less of us, it’s harder to get the experience needed to compete at high levels. So you just have to make the most of what you get. I did manage to get seven amateur fights before going pro. I’d have liked to have more, I wanted to have ten. But it didn’t work out that way, so I just had to take what I could and grow from each fight experience, since I didn’t know when I’d get that chance again. So I might go 6, 8 or 12 months in between fights whereas guys might be able to fight once a month or every three months, so I had to take as much as I could from each fight. Since I’ve gone pro with Invicta, it’s been pretty much a non-issue. I could have been on Invicta 4, but I needed to give my body a break from fight camp and work on developing my skills for the next camp. It’s pretty to get the experience you need when working for a company like Invicta.
F2F: Yeah, they have a really good product going on. I’ve been excited about how things have gone with them. I know in your last fight at Invicta 5 with Miriam Nokamoto, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding that fight with the illegal knee she threw. I know you’ve already done a ton of interviews on it. But just to touch on it, in the week since that fight, what impact has that had on your life and career?
Jessamyn: It’s been definitely a roller coaster, but that truly is part of the fight game. I’ve lost fights before, I mean, not controversially, but I have lost fights. It’s just a matter of dealing with a loss and part of being a fighter. Part of what makes MMA so exciting is you never know what is going to happen in a fight. Even with this fight despite all the controversy that went down, and all the negative feelings I still had so much fun with the whole experience. And I learned a lot!
Everything from the weight cut, to the fight prep, my camp; it was over all a great experience. So there are a lot of happy feelings. But as far as the controversy goes and the bad calls, when I fought Muay Thai I had some pretty shoddy judging or fights that I feel shouldn’t have gone the way it went. But as an amateur, it doesn’t really matter. Your amateur record isn’t permanent. You just learn something from it and try to move on. So that’s what you do.
But as a professional it’s a little harder to do that. For one, there is a lot of money on the line. Also, this is your permanent record. Whatever you do as a professional is going to follow you everywhere, I mean it’s not going away. So you have your permanent record on the line. Then you know when and outcome is controversial and you appeal it like we have and go public, you’re going to catch some criticism. So it’s hard to kind of deal with that. It’s upsetting when people aren’t happy with what you’re doing. But for me, I’m a professional in this sport so I see it as my responsibility.
I see this as a blatant, illegal foul. This was something to me that questions the integrity of our sport. We have pretty black and white rules. And when these rules aren’t followed, to me that lowers the bar in our sport itself. As a whole our sport is better than that. Like I’ll be the first to admit when I think certain rules are stupid. I think the 12-6 elbow rule is the dumbest rule in the book. I really do. I think it’s idiotic that it’s against the rules. But, it’s still a rule. So if you throw that strike, you’ll be disqualified, or it’s a no contest, or whatever. You’re done. It doesn’t matter if you think it was right or wrong, it’s against the rules.
So to me that’s what happened. The fight was still on; the ref had not stopped it. She threw a knee that hit me in the skull that put me down. And to me, that’s black and white. I feel like it’s my job that I need to stand up and say, “Hey this is wrong.” And to bring attention to it to make it right. We’re better than this as a sport. I hope this spurs people on to consider implementing instant replay. We need on hand instant replay for stuff like that. So I’m happy with my decision to appeal it, regardless of what the commission says. I see it as a professional as part of my responsibility. I would expect any other fighter to do the same thing. I’d question if another fighter who this happened to didn’t appeal it. I’d wonder why don’t they care?
But overall, I’ve had overwhelming support. The minority who has been critical of my decision to appeal it has been very very small. They’re very vocal, but very small. I’ve had some pretty big names openly support me. So that made me feel I made the right choice. Honestly I have a good feeling about it. I just heard a radio interview with Big John McCarthy talking about it for the first time. When I heard it, I was like “Well there you go”. But at the end of the interview, he said if he’d had instant replay, he’d have DQ’d Miriam. He said but he’s only got one set of eyes and he admits there could have been an error.
He said with what he had at the time, there was no good call, and no matter which way he’d have called it, someone would have been upset. So he made the call and I can totally respect that. Referees have the absolute worst job, I would not want that job, and I totally feel for them. I have no ill will toward Big John McCarthy at all, he made his call and that is fine. But this is why we have commissions, so if I feel he made a mistake, we can appeal it and go through the process. But hearing that told me a lot, it was interesting hearing that come from him. I think he’s a great ref, but I think he made a mistake. But he said he has no hard feelings about me appealing it. And if the commission overturns it he’d be totally ok with that.
Some people asked me why I didn’t make a big stink about it at the time, why was I clapping for my opponent. For one, I got kneed in the head pretty hard, you know? The second knee hit me and I felt Big John put his hands on me. I never fully collapsed on the canvas; I was still on my arms. And I remember thinking “Wasn’t I on my knees?” but he was talking to me, so I figured I’d better stop thinking about it and listen to him. And nobody said anything to me right away at least. So I just tried to be a good sport. I didn’t want to make a scene and make myself look like an ass, only to find out later it was legit. I never want to take away from someone’s win, or ruin that moment.
F2F: I think you did the right thing. You handled it with class you did the right things at the time. Then afterwards you went back, reviewed it and went through the process. Because Big John wasn’t going to overturn it if you threw a fit anyway.
Jessamyn: Exactly. So it’s just always easier to be a good sport. It really is. Plus it makes you feel better. If you throw a fit, that just makes you feel worse. I was willing to take it on the chin and just let it go. But once we got back to the warm up area people were coming up to me saying we have got to appeal this and there were already pictures of it online. Then I was like ok, this is bad. Then it starts to hit you, like “Wow! This was really bad!” so then I decided I needed to appeal it. It wasn’t a gray area at all; it’s pretty black and white.
F2F: So what are your thoughts going into the Ultimate Fighter tryouts?
Jessamyn: I’m super excited about it. Regardless of what happens I think it will be a pretty neat experience. I’ve never gone to a fighter tryout before. My training partner, Gina Begley went to an XFC try out a while ago; she kind of told me how they ran things. But personally I’ve never been to one, so I’m excited over the new experience. I think it’s a great opportunity to get your name and face out there. It’s also a great opportunity to show your stuff to some pretty influential people where the UFC is concerned.
F2F: Do you know if Miriam is going to be there?
Jessamyn: She’s not. I saw where her camp announced that she will not be trying out. I guess I’ll have to wait on that rematch.
F2F: What are your thoughts on the format this season for TUF? With the guys and girls living in the same house?
Jessamyn: You know, I don’t know. At first I thought it didn’t matter. I train with guys all the time anyway so I’m used to being in that environment. So to me it would be stranger to train with women all the time. I guess it’s going to be eight men and eight women. I think that might be a good thing. I think if it were all women I think there’d be way too much cattiness. So maybe it’s a good thing and the guys can level things out a little bit. But I don’t know how that will work or how it will go over.
I do think on one hand, as far as the guys go. And I don’t care what anyone says. Any female who trains seriously knows deep in their heart that I’m right. But guys always have to level down a little when they train with girls. If both are equally skilled, especially if the guy is bigger, he’s going to have to level down just a little bit. They are just more explosive and have more muscle. So there are some advantages males have.
I think it will help we’re all the same size, all 135, so that might even things out a little. But I wonder if the guys will hold some resentment because they are going to have to train with women. I have a training partner who is male. We are the same skill, same height and weight and everything. But when he needs to be pushed to his limit, I’m just not explosive enough or strong enough to do that. I can be an awesome training partner. But I can’t push him beyond the breaking point.
I think women and some fans might get upset and say “Well you can kick a guy’s ass!” I think when you’re evenly trained there are still certain advantages guys have. So I wonder if there will be some resentment with guys on the show for training with women, because physically we can’t push them as hard. But there will still be guys for them to train with. We will definitely get the benefit of training with guys. Unless the female is so unbelievably technical, the guys might learn some things from her.
F2F: I’ve heard some concerns that the show might move into some kind of “Real World” meets “Ultimate Fighter” territory. I hope it doesn’t go that route.
Jessamyn: Yeah, me too. I like it better when they stick to the training with the fighters and fights. Like this last season, I thought was great. There were a few moments I thought were a little too sappy or boo-hooey to me. But I like it when they focus on the fighters and the training and the fights. I just enjoyed it so much. But I really don’t want it to go into this downward spiral into this Real World type thing. I think it would bring women’s MMA down. I think the women can train just as hard and put just as much into it, then fight hard on fight day.
F2F: What do you do when not fighting or training?
Jessamyn: Um, I’m always training or thinking of fighting. I train everyday even if I don’t have a fight scheduled. I’m always focused on improving. When I have some down time I really enjoy relaxing. When everything else is always so go go go, I’m ready to play some video games, watch a movie. I don’t really have another hobby other than trying to defrag my brain on the X-box or something like that. I don’t really go out. I’m not a big night life person. I like to sleep. Might seem kind of boring, but my life gets real exciting every few months.
F2F: What would you have to say to any young girls, or anybody struggling with weight that is looking to train in mixed martial arts and just starting out?
Jessamyn: I would say some of the best advice is always to stick with something long enough to find out if you hate it or love it. Sometimes you don’t always know right away. If you want to see results, you have to stay consistent. Like with MMA, there will always be an excuse not to train. There are people out there who have great potential, but maybe they just don’t feel confident in training or doubt if they can really do it. So maybe they’ll just not train or give up. But if you stick to it, you’ll be amazed at the results. I really feel like that’s what I did. I stuck to it. I showed up every day and trained and I feel like I’m reaping the rewards now. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.
You go to the gym, train hard and put everything you got into it and stick with it. I do this year round. I don’t have an off season. I don’t take a week off after a fight like some fighters do. I was in the gym on Sunday after my Invicta fight Friday. I was going lightly, you can always adjust your intensity but you have got to get in the gym and train. If you want to be a great fighter, you have to put in the hours. If you want to lose weight and be fit, you have to put in the hours. Whatever your goals are you can reach them, you just have to put in those hours and it will happen. You’ll get your results; the formula is really the same.
Thank you very much Jessamyn Duke for taking the time with me. Best of luck to you at the Ultimate Fighter tryouts. You can connect with Jessamyn on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jessamynduke
Jessamyn’s loss to Miriam Nakamoto discussed above was overturned today by the Missouri Athletic Commission and ruled a No Contest due to an illegal knee to the face of a downed opponent. Congratulations to Jessamyn for sticking to her guns and doing what she felt was right. Sometimes the right choice isn’t always the easiest.