When looking at some of the best and brightest prospects in the women's bantamweight division, one name seems to come up time and time again.
The 5'11 Kentucky native possesses a nasty Muay Thai kickboxing skill-set to go along with her slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills on the ground which has helped her become one of the best and most well-rounded female fighters today.
"The Gun" has looked incredible in her first two professional fights, destroying both women laid out before her on Invicta Fighting Championship preliminary card bouts. Her strong performances have earned her a fight against unbeaten kickboxer Miriam Nakamoto at Invicta FC 5 tomorrow night (April 5, 2013) and with a victory, she could be well on her way to a shot at glory.
That's because tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 18 take lace two weeks later, and it'll be the first season which features female fighters. And wouldn't you know it, but they're looking for bantamweights.
Duke spoke to MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission talking about her recent training with Ronda Rousey, why she asked to fight Miriam Nakamoto and potentially trying out for The Ultimate Fighter 18 in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to talk about what happened in your last fight. You were on the ground and your opponent pulls your hair. You look to the ref and motion to her as if to say, "How dare this chick pull my hair?" The ref does nothing and you get punched in the face and instantly your demeanor changes to, "Screw this!" and you just armbar her like two seconds later. It was definitely one of the things that stood out to me at Invicta 3. Can you talk me through what happened there?
Jessamyn Duke: We ended up in a scramble and as I was trying to get to my feet, I felt her grab my braid. It kind of shocked me and the next thing I know she had it pinned to the canvas and I got slugged in the face. I couldn't believe it, like "She just pinned me down by my hair and punched me in the face!"
I look up to the ref and was like, "Come on!" and my opponent and my opponent Marciea Allen was like, "Sorry" but she kept punching me in the face and it just made me so mad. The ref had this look on her face like she wasn't sure. She was looking at her and then me and then her again and I realized, "You know what? She's not gonna do anything," and it just made me so mad.
I was like, "This is over. I'm gonna finish this now," and I just took that arm.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been keeping yourself busy with a heavy training schedule, notably going up to Minnesota to work with Kaitlin Young and also heading out to California to train with Ronda Rousey and Eddie Bravo. Can you talk about those experiences?
Jessamyn Duke: Yeah, I'm pretty lucky that I get the opportunities to go and train and I think the experience is pretty invaluable as a fighter. You really do learn so much and it's not just the technique, it's the change up in the training pace, the change in the opponents, the styles you're working with, the change in environment. Like in Colorado, I'd never been at a high elevation like that before so getting to do workouts at the elevation is cool and there's a lot of good benefits. This is the most I've ever traveled during a training camp and I feel like it's the best for me. I feel really sharp and fine-tuned because of all the constant changing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How did it end up coming about that you were able to travel from Kentucky to California to work with Ronda Rousey?
Jessamyn Duke: Ronda and I actually fought on the same card as amateurs in Tuff-N-Uff and we've stayed in contact ever since then. It's not like we're talking all the time but when she would fight I'd shoot her a message and have a conversation and when I would fight I'd do the same. I told her if she fought near me I'd see her and when she fought for the Strikeforce title against Miesha Tate, it was in Columbus, Ohio and we drove up and watched her win that title live.
We've always been friendly and leading up to her UFC fight, it was like a few weeks out and I contacted my manager and said, "I'd really like to train with Ronda at some point. If you could work this out, maybe her team would have me in and train some up there and work with her and her team and see what they think about that."
He was like, "Sure, no problem," and he got back to me almost immediately and said they gave me the go-ahead and that was that. They were super nice and civil and let me come in. Ronda's friend and roommate Maria Shafir was training for an upcoming Tuff-N-Uff fight as well so she was in need of some training partners so I got to work with her a lot and we got to spar some rounds and her coach was there and she was there and everyone was helping training. It was an awesome environment and it was everything I expected from a camp. She's got the right attitude, the right training discipline and it was great to be a part of that and experience it and get to see how the best in the world trains. That can only help me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So after putting in all that time against some of the best female 135-pounders in the world, were you able to assess where you stand in the women's bantamweight division overall?
Jessamyn Duke: I think I'm right on schedule for what I always said that my goals were. I said from the very beginning from the time I went pro, that about two years after I went pro I wanted to be in contention for a title, whatever the top title that may be at the time. I'm getting ready to have my third pro fight and I am lacking in experience compared to the elite 135-ers out there but honestly I feel like I'm making up a lot of ground with all the different things I'm doing in my training. After this fight, we'll see where my next opponents are on the rankings and where that'll place me. I feel really good about it. I feel right on track.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent. Miriam Nakamoto is a fantastic Muay Thai expert. She's unbeaten in Muay Thai kickboxing and she's 1-0 in MMA at the moment. I've heard that she's been someone who's been on your radar for a long time. Can you go into detail about that?
Jessamyn Duke: It's funny. She was actually the first one that brought up us fighting. She was at Invicta 3 and I was cutting weight. She was there with Sarah D'Alelio who's a teammate of hers. When you're cutting weight, you're bored and miserable and I'd known of Miriam for a long time and we got to chatting. I told her I'd been a fan since she was on Fight Girls in 2006 and she was a great kickboxers. She actually fought the girl that I fought for my last amateur fight in her pro debut so we had a common opponent and we had things to talk about. In conversation, she mentioned, "I bet they make us fight next."
It kinda shocked me not in a bad way. I was kinda flattered honestly. She said we're both tall, both strikers, they'll make us fight next. I told her I think that would be a good fight. There's no animosity or anything like that. I didn't fight at Invicta 4 so when Invicta 5 came around and they were looking for opponents for me, she was a name I brought up. It took a few weeks to get the fight nailed down for sure but her camp was all good with it and it's happening. I think she's a great fighter and it's a good test for me. I think it's a good step up.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Considering she has such a strong background in Muay Thai and the fact that you're a very good kickboxer as well, are you interested to see how your striking stacks up compared to hers?
Jessamyn Duke: It's gonna be a factor no matter what. Any time you're in an MMA fight, you're gonna deal with all ranges. It'll be about who's better at imposing their gameplan that night. My gameplan isn't to take Miriam where she feels the strongest. It's not that I don't think I can hang with Miriam and her kickboxing, but honestly, why play to her strengths? I'm sure there will be plenty of punching and kicking and kneeing and elbowing, but it's also important to remember that this is a mixed martial arts fight and anything can happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One last thing I definitely want to touch on is UFC announced that the next season of The Ultimate Fighter is going to feature 135 pound men and women. Of all the female prospects that people are bringing up as candidates, your name is a common theme on every list. One of the requirements is you need to have had at least three pro fights and what do you know, you're having your third pro fight two weeks before tryouts take place for the show. It almost seems perfect timing. Now say you go out there and look amazing in this upcoming fight, is trying out for the show something you'd be open to?
Jessamyn Duke: It definitely is awful convenient. I'm certainly open to it as I think anybody that's eligible for it would be. Right now my main focus is Nakamoto and I'm trying not to get distracted too much but it's definitely on my radar and it's definitely in the back of my mind. After the fifth, it will be the main thing I'm thinking about, the decision on what I'm going to do exactly. It's definitely on my radar.
Jessamyn would like to thank her coach Scott Elliot, her team, all the teams who have hosted her in this training camp, Horsepower Strength and Conditioning, Clinch Mouth Cards, Dr. Taverni, Outlaw Fight Gear, Hype Extreme, Combative Gear and all her other sponsors. You can follow her on Twitter @JessamynDuke.