Thursday, March 28, 2013
Jessamyn Duke Interview
Photos 1-3: Dave Mandel/Sherdog
Photos 4-5: Esther Lin/Invicta
After a successful amateur career, there was a lot of hype around Jessamyn Duke, people calling her a future star. So far, with two victories in two pro fights, including most recently an impressive first round submission over Marciea Allen, Duke has lived up to that hype. On April 5th she looks to continue that when she steps back into the Invicta cage to face Miriam Nakamoto.
Q: First, for those who may not be familiar, can you talk about how you got started in the sport?
A: I came to Richmond, Kentucky with my mom. She told me I need to get out of the house, I need to make friends, I need to do something. She was sick of me sitting at home on the computer all the time. I got on-line and looked for something I had never done before and found kickboxing lessons. I went to the gym and almost immediately became obsessed with training and all the things going on. I had never seen anything like an MMA gym before in my life, I had no idea what it even was. Slowly I started doing all the classes, wrestling, grappling, MMA, all of it. It was an obsession and I got into it. I started competing, first in grappling tournaments, then Muay-Thai fights and then in 2010 I made my amateur MMA debut. The competition and the challenge was unlike anything I had ever done before. I played sports in high school and always ran, my mom is a runner, I always did stuff to stay active but never like the challenges that combat sports did. Normally when I picked up a hobby I did it for two or three months and then get bored. I feel I can do this the rest of my life. There is always a challenge, always something new to work on, something to learn. I just love it all.
Q: You made your pro debut with Invicta, going back to that night, were you any more nervous than your amateur fights?
A: I was only nervous because I knew that Invicta was kind of a big deal. It was a big deal to me to debut for them. I felt pressure but I always put pressure on myself. They say that the most important fight is the one in front of you and that is the case. Even at the amateur level, every fight matters and every win matters. There was more pressure because Invicta was a big deal, but I tried to refocus and realize I have dealt with this my entire career. Invicta was a big deal and so many watching it. My debut was Invicta 2 and I felt it had this standard set on it that Invicta 1 was a fluke and there was no way a second show could be that good. So I felt pressure in that I wanted everyone to see that we could put on an even better show. I knew it would be awesome and that I would put on a good fight. I said in another interview that after my first fight with Invicta, they treat everyone so good and make you feel so welcome and at home. Now I feel comfortable, I don't even feel like I am out of state, they make you so at ease and take good care of you. In the first one there was some pressure but it was because Invicta 1 was so awesome and I wanted Invicta 2 to be better.
Q: There is a lot of hype around you, everyone calls you one of the future stars, does that put pressure on you to live up to that?
A: Not really because I have since early on put that standard on myself that I am going to be the best at this no matter what. I am my own worst critique and am harder on myself than anyone else. It isn't that I don't care what other people think, but it is that I know what standard I hold myself to and it is higher than what others hold me to. My goal is to be the best in the world someday, so every time I fight, I have this pressure on myself. Even when I travel to other gyms with people, I have this extreme pressure on myself to do well and perform well and conduct myself well. I want them to realize I take this serious, it is my life and I want that to show. It is why I have had the success that I have had, cause I hold myself to a high standard, and so does my coach, when I slack he lets me know. Every day I have to live like I am at the top and have to maintain that.
Q: Most recently you beat Marciea Allen by armbar in the first, how happy were you with your performance?
A: Extremely satisfied! A first round finish is always ideal in my opinion. Anytime you can finish a fight in the first round it's a good thing cause there is less time to get hurt and an easier recovery. I love to get finishes, I hate decisions, I hate judges, nothing personal against judges, I just don't like their purpose in the sport. It doesn't feel as good to get a decision win. It is still a win, but the way a finish feels is incredible, I want that feeling, I want that rush. Getting it the way I did, it felt so good. I had been fouled, the ref didn't see it, I took matters into my own hands and to finish it, there is nothing like it. That is always my goal and it is no different this fight.
Q:Do you feel you are ever overlooked due to where you are from? Such as a comment on a message board that someone said they would take a well-rounded fighter from ATT over a fighter with a long reach from Kentucky any day?
A: I remember seeing that comment. I thought it was so funny because for the longest time people have seemed to be surprised I am from Kentucky. I go to Vegas or L.A. and all these places and they say "where you from?", "Kentucky", Kentucky?" and they look at you confused. They ask because you have done something good, you have grappled with them and they are impressed and then they are shocked you are from Kentucky. I don't understand that because MMA is really popular here. There are lots of good schools in this area. My instructors are extremely well trained and it seems silly to judge someone based on their geographical location instead of doing research. MMA is popular in Kentucky, multiple shows every weekend. I am hoping to change that attitude and show people there are some really good fighters here. It is rising constantly here. If they wanna keep thinking that it is fine, I have fought opponents from really good schools and won and held my own. If they like thinking that, it is fine, and one day they will realize Kentucky is pretty fricking good.
Q: You are fighting Miriam Nakamoto, how do you feel you match up with her?
A: I think she is the toughest opponent I have had yet but I think it is a really good match-up stylistically for me. She is undefeated in Muay-Thai and MMA, she had one fight in MMA. She is pretty tall for a 135 fighter, strong obviously. She is very strong, a dangerous clinch, dangerous knees and elbows. For MMA, the advantage is way more in my favor. I have way more experience in MMA and grappling. I also have a height and reach advantage. Her striking is gonna be a little bit different having to strike with someone who is actually taller than her. I always hear when I fight someone how awkward I am to fight because I am so tall. If you ever train with females you know that they can be extremely strong, just as strong as some males, but strong in a different way. There is a unique thing about training with females. Even if you train with a male my height, he is not gonna feel the same as I would feel. I present unique problems that will be difficult for her to deal with when it comes to close range and the clinch and the ground. As far as the striking goes, I am comfortable striking. I am not afraid of her striking. While she is incredibly good and has lots of titles, I am not afraid to be in that area with her. When I fight, I want to be as dominant as possible, so it makes sense to go to the place she has the least advantage, and that is the ground and in close, so that is where I plan on taking it. Make her play my game. It is a different experience and will show I am more experienced in MMA.
Q: You just touched on it, but the feeling among most is that you will have a huge advantage on the ground, do you expect her to basically do all she can to avoid the ground?
A: I don't think she wants to go to the ground with me, but I don't think she is afraid to get close to me. I think she wants to clinch with me, her knees and elbows are her best tool. In Muay-Thai you cant do takedowns, you can't shoot for doubles. The clinch game is different and the reason I know this is because I went through it, but I did it as an amateur. I wanted to be a striker and fight that way, but it didn't work out because that form of clinching and striking doesn't translate well into MMA when you are fighting someone that wants to get you on the ground. A superior grappler will always get you on the ground unless you are also a superior grappler who can defend that. It is one of those things where I think she will make the mistake of trying to get close to me to hurt me and she will have to make the most of the small opportunity she has before it ends up on the ground.
Q: If it does stay standing for an extended length of time, you are confident correct?
A: Absolutely! She will be shocked. I think her camp severely underestimates my striking. Her is good and she has the belts to prove it, but they underestimate mine. If she can keep it standing, I think it would be a harder fight than she realizes.
Q: You have the experience on this big stage with Invicta, she doesn't, could she be nervous and that give you an advantage?
A: Maybe but maybe not. She has fought internationally and done some big things in Muay-Thai. She has done it for so long and you get numb to it. The only difference is that it is MMA, it is very different, the crowd is different, even just fighting in a cage is different. There may be some of that, but not just because Invicta is a big stage.
Q: Do you have a prediction?
A: First round finish of some sort. I don't like to call an exact way because I will take the first thing that is there. If I can get a TKO it will be on the ground probably. I will take the first submission I see. Anytime you pass up an opportunity to finish the fight you leave more opportunities for them to recover. It may be a submission or may be a TKO.
Q: With so many fighters who would love to fight for Invicta, what does it mean to you that they keep bringing you back?
A: It is the biggest compliment in the world. You cant put into words what it means to have an organization like them respect me and think so much of me. They asked me to come back for Invicta 4 and I requested not to because I had trained for five fights in 2012, I only got three of them, but had been in camp all year. My body was exhausted and I wanted to focus on growing. They said it was no problem and were so willing to work with me and gave me that needed time. I have changed so much and my game has evolved. It is so nice that they are willing to work with the athletes. It makes me feel good as a fighter and is pretty awesome. It makes me want to put ona good show, that is the best way to repay them and is what I plan on doing.
Q: Before we finish, I wanna talk about someone I have become a fan of and you know her better than anybody. Gina Begley is 3-1 and to anyone with eye-sight she is 4-0, how good can she be?
A: Gina has all the potential in the world and people have no idea. She is freakishly strong and I tell people this and it is like that are not really listening. She gives me problems and I walk around typically out-weighing her by fifteen pounds easy. She gives me serious problems on the ground. She hits me harder than anyone else, she is like "I am not hitting hard" and I say "yes you are, my is black, you hit really hard." She doesn't realize how good she is. Part of our problem is getting her to realize that. Gina is gonna surprise people. She will go pro and shock people. She will go through that underestimating thing I have gone through, but like me, you keep winning and change peoples attitudes.
Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: My coach Scott Elliot, my gym AFS Academy, all my teammates, first is Gina, she is my best friend and number one training partner. People say how she is a weight class lower than me, but if they ever train with her, they will know why I have her with me all the time. All the fans for the support. My sponsors have done so much for me, and all the traveling I have done is because they have helped me out and helped me make this a full-time job and I want to show them that. I have gotten my purple belt over the winter and then got my purple belt under Eddie Bravo as well. They are Polanti Watches, VII AD Jewelry, Babes of MMA, Outlaw Fight Gear, Klench Mouthguards, Horsepower Strength and Conditioning, Dr. Taverni, Hype X-Treme, Combatives Gear, Stinson Chiropractic, Intimidation Clothing, A Healing Stone Therapeutic Massage, Brett Atchley and Addison Sports Management. Also thank you, I am a big fan of yours and have been for a long time and it is cool to get to do an interview with you