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UFC 276: Clark v Stoliarenko Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Trash bags, old Japanese women, and the one time Jessy Jess had to pay to fight

“None of us spoke Japanese, no one around us spoke English. It was an experience.”

Mixed martial arts (MMA) in Japan is just different.

It’s not abnormal for fighters starting their careers to get paid “peanuts.” Paying to fight, though? That’s never something that’s part of the plan. Now over a full decade into her journey as a professional, Jessica-Rose Clark has several stories that highlight just how wacky MMA can be.

When it comes to trash talk, one of the more outrageous claims a pro fighter can make is saying they’ll fight somebody for free. Clark can say she did fight for free ... it wasn’t at all the intention, but it happened in March 2017 against Sarah Kaufman at Battlefield Fighting Championships’ lone event. Why was it Battlefield’s only event? Well, the promotion never wound up paying the fighters and still hasn’t to this day.

Clark’s Battlefield bout took place in South Korea, adding another crazy Asia fight trip to her resume. Two years prior, “Jessy Jess” traveled to Tokyo, Japan, facing Emiko Raika in what turned out to be an all-timer of a “lose-lose” scenario.

“When I fought in Japan, I paid to fight,” Clark told MMA Mania. “I paid her (Raika) my fight purse. They f—ked me. I fought there before I got in the UFC. In my contract, it said I was supposed to be arriving in Tokyo three days before the fight so I could do my weight cut there. They flew me in and I landed a couple hours before the weigh-in. So, I missed weight by two pounds. Also in the contract was if the fight didn’t happen, you’re now financially responsible for all expenses for your fight.

“I’m like, ‘F—k, I got no money. I can’t afford to pay for my flight, pay my corner’s flights,’” she continued. “I missed weight, but if they hadn’t of flown me in right before the weigh-in, I wouldn’t have missed weight. It was two pounds, that was it. I was so close. The circumstances of the whole situation were that I could not continue to cut. I simply had no time because of when they brought me in.”

The Ryo Chonan-helmed Tokyo Tribe Fight Challenge (TTF) 05 card was supposed to act as Clark’s official debut at 125 pounds, which didn’t help matters. In most Japan-based MMA promotions, it’s tradition for weight misses to be taken extremely seriously. In some cases — more with larger promotions — it can arguably be better not to fight at all.

Unfortunately for Clark, that wasn’t the case, and the overall environment made for a literally unwinnable situation.

The Cairns, Australia native agreed to compete, but couldn’t come in heavier than 131 pounds on fight night. It was nothing a little water and soup couldn’t aid. In the cases of weight misses in Japan, the guilty party is no longer capable of winning. It’s either a no-contest or defeat. Pile that on top of every other factor, and Clark found the fight to be entirely without benefit regarding her bank account.

It was a memorable in-cage experience for Clark despite all the wackiness. Her would-be third-round technical knockout win was almost preceded by a first-round armbar, but in the end, none of it mattered thanks to the weight miss. Clark says the footage of her bout with Raika has been seemingly scrubbed from every corner of the internet. Not even the promotion had anything to share with her upon request.

“Half of my cut, I had to do by myself naked surrounded by old Japanese women, covered in athletic tape because I had to cover all my tattoos up because I wasn’t allowed to wear clothes. It was single-sex only,” Clark said.

“When I got to the point where we couldn’t do that anymore, we went to the hotel and I was wrapped in trash bags, sitting under a hot shower because we didn’t have a bathtub,” she added. “We didn’t have access to a portable sauna, nothing. None of us spoke Japanese, no one around us spoke English. It was an experience.”

It wasn’t all bad for Clark during her one fight in Japan. Coincidentally, the trip intertwined with UFC Fight Night 75 fight week, where Josh Barnett took on Roy Nelson. After getting her fisticuffs out of the way, Clark recalls living off plum wine and pre-packaged fruits before meeting Cody Garbrandt, Demetrious Johnson, Cub Swanson, and UFC matchmaker, Sean Shelby. Two years later, she was in the ultimate proving ground herself.

Clark (11-8, 1 no contest) has been out of action since July 2022 when she suffered a second consecutive first-round submission loss. Falling short against Julija Stoliarenko in a fast-paced, but short-lived, thriller, the Bantamweight veteran was forced to take several months off to recover from an elbow injury. That plus the loss itself left “Jessy Jess” questioning if she’d continue her career.

MMA: JUL 02 UFC 276 Photo by Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“For the entirety of my career until right now, I said I was gonna retire at 35,” Clark said. “I’m 35 right now and I thought at that stage I would have been 15 years in and I would have been ready to leave it, you know? After the last fight and getting my arm f—ked up, I thought about it. It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to continue competing. I was just so tired of being injured.

“In 2019, I tore all the ligaments in my foot and was out for almost a year,” she continued. “2020, tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and was out for almost a year. Then 2022, f—king tear all the ligaments in my elbow. Out again for almost a year. It was just these massive injuries that kept coming up and after the last one, I was like, ‘F—k. Do I want to keep doing this? Do I want to keep putting myself through all the stress, pain, emotional heartache, financial stress that getting ready for a fight brings ... just to not have it pay off?’ Then be out for a year after that.”

Ultimately, the answer was yes for Clark, who felt her passion and excitement to compete again build up around her birthday in Nov. 2022.

The time away helped Clark realize she still has plenty left in the tank and hopes for redemption against her last two opponents, the aforementioned Stoliarenko, and Stephanie Egger, at some point. First, the Aussie fights out the final fight on her contract when she welcomes UFC newcomer and Brazilian Muay Thai specialist, Tainara Lisboa, to the Octagon on May 13 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

UFC 276 Weigh-in Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

“She has a lot more striking experience than I do,” Clark said. “I feel like our jiu-jitsu experience is probably relatively similar, but I have a lot more experience in MMA. So, I am really excited for this one.

“When they offered her to us, I looked her up and she fought Valentina [Shevchenko] back in the day,” she continued. “She’s been around in the Muay Thai community for a long time. That’s kind of what I’ve been wanting. We fought a couple grapplers and that didn’t f—king pay off the way that I wanted it to (laughs). I said let’s find a striker. Let’s find somebody that we can actually have a good f—king striking fight with, and hopefully, this is the one.”

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