Standing in First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, as she put pen to paper to become the newest women's Bantamweight on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster, Jessica Eye was imagining the thrill of a future crowd.
"The stadium holds over 70,000 people," Eye said with excitement, while speaking to MMAmania.com recently. "I remember when I actually signed my UFC contract, I looked up at all the seats. I had chills down my entire spine. I was excited."
Signing the contract there wasn't planned. Eye has a good relationship with the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise and happened to be on the way to the stadium to visit with a sponsor (not to mention she is a Browns fan, of course).
"I can't wait to feel like all those people will be there for me," she said, like she has the picture in her head. "Maybe I'm a little bit of a spotlight junkie, but in that way when it comes to fighting, that's when I feel the most alive. So when I know that all those people, and all that energy is going to be there for me, I'm going to explode."
"They made sure I was promoted, and that I was given what I needed to fight," she explained. "But, they also gave me the opportunity -- I didn't get to fight in their cage as much as I wanted to -- but they still let me get released to fight under the NAAFS banner. I think people don't really realize while I was in Bellator I had three fights, but I also had four fights in the NAAFS.
Upon her release from Bellator, the UFC's pursuit of her services came "very, very fast," she said. In fact, Zuffa had already reached out to her once earlier in her career when it purchased Strikeforce, but she was under contract. She had to wait patiently for almost a week until the official word (read it here) came on Tuesday night's episode of "UFC Tonight" to speak about the good news.
"I tell you what, that was worse than Christmas," she admitted. "That was so hard to keep in and publicly not answer to my fans and just not put it out there. I'm freaking jacked dude. I feel like now I can accept that I'm really there."
How does she feel about going against the best of the best in women's mixed martial arts (MMA)?
"I think I rate really well," Eye said with confidence. "I'm not here to push any buttons with anybody, but I'm obviously here for a reason. And I've obviously been in the sport for a long time, too.
How about the pressure and magnitude of being in the UFC?
"It's the big show -- it's the everything show," she said. "But, I feel like mentally I've already been there because of what Bellator provided for me."
Had a car accident gone a different way on a winter afternoon more than 10 years ago when she was 16 years old, she may not have been alive to even start her MMA career. She explained the horrific details.
"It was January, because the Browns played the Steelers that day," Eye said, using a football game as a reference the way die-hard fans often do. "It was a playoff game and the Browns were winning, but the Steelers ended up coming back and beating the crap out of them.
"I had an indoor soccer game that day and my car broke down," she explained in further detail. "I had a Dodge 600. I called my father. He showed up at the scene and parked his car in front of my car and a drunk driver sideswiped me while I was standing outside the car and pinned my father between both vehicles."
Her father's right leg was completely crushed and she suffered a broken back as result of the accident. Eye said she is "glad it happened" and "glad I'm alive," calling it "a very monumental moment" in both of their lives.
"It really just makes you change, especially at such a young age," Eye said. "To see something that traumatic, it really helped mold me. It really made me appreciate life and I think that's why maybe I am here now."
Eye is also where she is from her work ethic, drive and dedication. After her recovery from her broken back, she went on to have a successful track season, making it all the way to regionals for state qualification that very same year.
The Ohio-based fighter moved out after high school at the age of 18. "My father had rules I didn't like," Eye said.
After moving out, the future-fighter enrolled at Akron University and worked as a cocktail waitress, and also at Friendly's and Dicks Sporting Goods. It was at the first job of the three where she met some people from the Strong-Style gym, which is where she now trains, leading to the beginning stages of her MMA career.
While nicknames are common amongst fighters, "Evil" as Eye is known, is one that stands alone in regard to females. She received that nickname after her second fight ... a moniker she shares with her father
"It originally came from my dad, who rode with bike gangs when I was younger," she explained. "They called him 'The Evil One.' It's like the dichotomy. I don't want to be an evil person, but I'm evil when I'm in there because I want to win."
"Evil" owns an impressive 10-1 record. She was undefeated (3-0) inside the Bellator cage, with her last victory being a one-side dismantling of Zoila Gurgel. Eye dispatched of the former Bellator Strawweight champion in less than one minute with a standing arm-triangle choke.
The only blemish on her record -- the "1" that sits to the right of her 10 wins -- is something the Strong-Style fighter doesn't want to erase. The rear-naked choke loss to Aisla Daly in her fourth pro fight is symbolic for her.
"I love that 1," Eye says, empahtically. "I embrace it because it taught me to be a completely different person. "It's opened my game up to so many new things so I can't take that away."
The former 125-pound competitor is "excited to be at 135," she exclaimed. It was last August when she cut down from 151 pounds for a fight against Angela Magana at NAAFS Rock N Rumble 6 that, making it to 125 was starting to take its toll.
"That's when I realized I'm tired of cutting down," she confessed. "Anybody that knows me, knows that 135 is a great decision for me," She continued. "Anybody that thinks that it's not, you just wait and watch because it's going to be a different fighter. I just can't wait to show people the new, improved, faster and more powerful Jessica."
Sara Kaufmann is the name being bandied about for the 27-year-old Bantamweight to collide with in her Octagon debut bout. Kaufman has fought for the title and has been in some wars with the elite of the 135-pound division. Eye said, "She reminds me of a taller Munah Holland."
"I don't feel like it's anything I haven't seen before," she continued. "She's dealt with some good strikers. I don't know if she's dealt with as fast as a striker as I am. I think stylistically we match up very, very well. I think it will make for a very fun fight for everybody."
Seeing as the UFC women's division is not a deep pool of talent, a path to a shot at Ronda Rousey's 135-pound title is not necessarily a long one. With a couple of wins, Eye could be in line for one.
"You never know," she said. "You never know."
Does the mention of a possible championship opportunity freak her out a little?
"You know what the crazy thing is? I thought it would," she admitted. "I legitimately thought that I'd be like ‘Oh my god, my anxiety' like how I felt for other fights. I don't feel that way. I've never been a scared or nervous person," she continued. "Maybe I hung out with boys too much when I was a kid. My dad and brothers raised me to be that way."
I'm sure that helped, but not being the first pro athlete in the family couldn't have hurt, either. Dick James-Eye's grandfather was an NFL running back from 1956-1965 for the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 1961, passing away in 2000.
"I'm confident in myself," she says with conviction. "I'm confident in my ability. If I wasn't the UFC wouldn't have been looking at me. I'm a confident woman before I am a confident fighter. So no matter where I put my time or energy that is what I'm going to do."
And she will be "Evil" trying to do it.