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What It's Like to Fight Your First UFC Fight

Fightland Blog

By Julie Kedzie as told to Josh Rosenblatt (art by Derek Teoh)

By Derek Teoh

[Ed. note: Two weeks ago, after 10 years as a professional mixed martial artist, women's MMA pioneer, and all-around brave soul, Julie Kedzie finally had her UFC debut. She lost a split decision to Dutch kickboxer Germain de Randamie but was still kind enough to tell us all about the experience.]

We were on the under card so I didn’t go to any press conferences or anything like that. Still, the amount of press I dealt with beforehand was a lot more than I’m used to. I did a lot of interviews. I was surprised that so many people asked me for interviews and wanted to cover this and wanted to cover that. I guess it’s a pretty good story of someone who’s been in the sport a long time who finally gets on the stage. Walking to the weigh-ins, when I first walked in from behind the curtain, to the stage, I was like, "That’s (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva, that’s Dana White, there's Burt Watson." That moment, with the crowd and the flashes, kind of startled me. And I was just like, “What the hell?!” Because even my Strikeforce weigh-in, when I fought Miesha Tate, it wasn’t that big of a crowd. So I was like, “Why are all these people here. I’m going to be in my underwear.” That’s a little disconcerting.

When I was getting ready to walk out for the fight and Germaine walked out first, the song she walked out to, by Fall Out Boy, I was very familiar with it and I found myself singing along and dancing to it. I was like, “I know this song! My sister’s best friend is in this band and sings that song.” I met Andy the drummer a couple times through her and he’s a very nice guy. He actually Tweeted about Germaine using it. He actually had conflicting feelings.

So I’m singing along to my opponent’s song, and then my song came on and I’m like, “Cool, yeah.” Actually walking to the cage and everything like that, I’ve done it so many times and it’s funny, like all those little shows and all those big shows, and everything that I’ve done, kind of prepared me for being okay with walking and getting into the Octagon. I practiced it a couple times. Because big, loud noises and people looking at me, that bugs me.

I learned the practice to walk to the Octagon from watching some of my teammates. I had been at Donald Cerrone’s last fight. I can’t remember--I think it was in Las Vegas, I think it was in Mandalay Bay. He did a walk-through the night before. And I’d seen like GSP also doing walk-throughs the night before. Basically, the night before the fight you kind of mentally prepare for the fight. You walk through the cage. You think about what’s going to happen. Sometimes you think of touching gloves and meeting your opponent out there, stuff like that. And Donald did and his mental coach was talking him through, like, “Okay, hear the crowd. You’re going to feel this; you’re going to feel that.” I thought, “Damn, I’m going to practice this too.” And so I was practicing the walk-through while Donald was doing the walk-through. I was kind of trying to do it secretly because obviously it was about Donald and his fight. But I was like, “Okay, I want to visualize this too.”

Sometimes I would practice that at home when I was walking my dog or something and I would try to put myself in that position. Like, “Okay, people are walking here. There’s people on either side of me. They’re staring at me. There’s a camera in front of me” and, you know, and my dog was almost like my little prop. And I was just practicing walking down the street. “Okay, you stop here. Okay, you take your shoes and your shirt off. Okay, practice walking, walking, walking up the stairs.” Honestly I would do that. I don’t know why I was so scared of that part. But, I don’t know, people looking at me scares me a little bit. I’m not born for theater or the stage or anything like that. And all of that attention right at once is: “Blah, why are you looking at me?” So that was an element that I practiced a lot. That sounds so nerdy. But I made it to the cage. I made it to the fight.

And then you get in the cage and I look at her and I’m like, “Okay, cool.” When I get there I like to some jump squats and I like to pace because I have massively big legs for my size. I like to make sure I feel them. Like I feel blood in them at the beginning of every fight so I can get my movement underneath me. I remember that. I remember stalking back and forth, getting my usual routine going. And then I remember doing my jump squats, getting ready.

And then the fight happened. Honestly the actual experience of fighting wasn’t much different than any other fight. It’s just two people in a cage, but it’s also two people in a cage. I don’t know, it’s such a bipolar thing. It’s like, “Oh, okay, this is just another fight,” but it’s also a fight. I remember she rushed me in the first round and got me to the cage pretty securely and she had great head positioning from there. And I just didn’t do all the things that I’ve been training in that position. It was crazy. And I remember lunging, trying to take her down with these takedown attempts that were so in my head going, “Crap, what are you doing? That’s elementary school crap. Where’s your stuff?”

I remember she threw some knees to my body and I thought, “Oh, that’s not so bad,” and then all the sudden she threw a hard one that took my breath away and I was like, “Ah crap, that fuckin’ hurt!” She threw one to my nose that busted my nose up pretty good. It didn’t break my nose but it busted the cartilage up pretty good because it was bleeding, and my nose has been broken so many times, it takes a lot to make it bleed. So I was like, “Okay, that hurt.” When she landed it I was like, “Damn, I think that’s the knee that knocks people out and I’m still standing. So there you go. Now why aren’t you throwing knees back?”

I know you’re supposed to have these mental discussions with yourself and I guess I’m not. The mental discussion that would work best with me is, “Go, go, go,” and somehow I never got to that. I might actually see a sports psychologist. I’m not sure what my next move is. I do remember we were jockeying for position and her head positioning was very, very good. And it pissed me off because her head positioning game is my head positioning game. I’m really good, especially in practice, at getting my head underneath people, and controlling them with that. I’m like, “This bitch is doing my stuff.” It made me mad. I’m like, “You’re not fighting like a taller fighter! Fight like a taller fighter.” Good for her. She totally put that game on me. That was good. It’s a big credit to her training and her evolution into an MMA fighter from a kickboxer, I should say.

In between rounds, my coaches were telling me to put punches in front of my takedowns: “Why are you lunging at her like a beginner?” So they were pissed about that. Mr. Winklejohn (Jackson’s striking coach Mike Winkeljohn) likes you to repeat back what he says. He wanted me to hit her with a straight right. She was open for a straight right. She was also open for an overhand right, the way she was holding her hands. So he would say, “What are you going to do?” And I would say, “I’m going to hit her with a straight right.” But I was having such a hard time getting distance. I remember that. I think her jab was going to be a problem for me. She’d be able to jab out of the way. But he was just like, “Please, move forward with your punches. She’s not fighting back when she’s going backwards. Throw a combination of punches and then take her down.” And I was like, “Okay, we practice this all the time. I can do this.” And then I was just like, “Breathe.”

In the second round I got her down but I didn’t do anything while I had her down. I didn’t pass her guard or really do any ground-and-pound. I’m like, “What the hell is going on?” I knew all the right things to do; I just wasn’t doing them. It’s like my body locked up and I didn’t know what happened. I was just like, “What the hell is going on? Why is my body not responding to everything it’s supposed to be doing?” I knew the right things to do. I knew how to pass. I remember being in top half guard and it’s a really, really strong position for me, and just freezing. And I’m like, “Why am I not passing over?” My corner’s furious. They’re yelling at me to pass to mount or pass to side-control: “Move, move, move!” And I’m, like, searching for a head and arm choke that’s not even there. I was bored. I was just lying on top of her. I was like, “Why am I not opening up?” And I don’t know where that came from or what was going on, why I wasn’t flowing. Usually in practice I’m great, I’m strong, I’m moving, and I’m always in motion, and it’s like something blocked me. Granted, she was blocking me. She was putting up a fight. She was holding me in position very, very well. But it’s crazy when you’re out there. It wasn’t nerves because I know what it’s like to be very, very nervous. It makes me stronger and more frantic. It doesn’t freeze me.

I thought we were one and one going into the third round. I thought I must have secured the second round but I really wanted to finish her and I was like, “I’ve got to finish her this round.” You never want to bank on thinking you’re one and one, and rightly so because in the end someone gave her the second round as well. I thought I got the second round because I controlled most of it, but I thought it was boring. She hit me with two solid right hands in the third and the second one wobbled me, bad. I remember my head snapping and I was like, “Fuck,” and being blurry and wobbled. And being like, “You just gotta go, you just gotta go,” and I remember trying a takedown on her and losing my balance and falling. My head felt scrambled.

After the fight I didn’t think I’d won. Even if they’d given me the decision I would have been disappointed. Not getting the decision makes me even more disappointed but it’s understandable. There’s fighting and there’s … fighting. How do I explain it? You can have fights that you win that you hate yourself for because you didn’t fight the way you’re supposed to fight. You can fights that you lose but you walk away saying, “Goddamn, I still did well.” And this time, even if I’d have gotten the nod, I was like. “Ehh, that was not me out there.” I’d rather be me fighting even if I lose a fight. Me feeling like a warrior, feeling like I did what I was supposed to do. And so I didn’t feel like I won that fight at all. If the decision had gone my way I would have been extremely grateful but I still wouldn’t at all be happy with myself. 

I fought at 2 o’clock in the afternoon so when I was done with the fight I went to the dressing room. I was pissed. I talked to Greg Jackson. I got some texts from friends who watched it. Some of my teammates--their support and love for me just made me cry. And I was like, “Well, I don’t really want to cry here.” I didn’t want to call a lot of attention to myself because I was in the same dressing room as Rory MacDonald. And he was the only fighter in the dressing room who hadn’t fought yet. And I was just like, “Okay, I just got to take a shower and get out of here.” I tried to hold it together. There’s always a part of me that’s going to be a girl and cry and I really didn’t want to cry in front of those people. So I took a shower.

After the fight the doctor checks you out and there seriously was nothing wrong with me. Which made me more mad! I was like, “Man, I should have gone out on my shield and gotten knocked out at least.” I had a bloody nose; that was it. I went to the crowd. I had friends who came all the way from Indiana to see the fight. So I went to pay respect and say hi. The crowd was overwhelmingly nice to me. So many people asked me for pictures and autographs and were great and like, “Oh, we thought you won.” One guy was so excited he dropped his entire beer on my dress. He spilled it all over and I remember I was like reeking of beer the entire day. I like to keep a dress there. Sometimes when you have bruised up legs and things, just putting on jeans is a chore. So I always take a dress with me. So I was wearing this beer-soaked dress just saying hi to people. And I was pissed so I went back to the hotel and I drank two beers, had a burger, then I went to my room to take a nap.

My sister and I met with some friends in the hotel lobby and they had some very spirited discussions about comic books. I know nothing about them but it was kind of fun to just sit in and listen to them talk about science and comic books and all these things. It’s just kind of nice to be with a group of people that were interested in talking about other things. When MMA’s the only thing on your mind 24/7 for three months, it’s kind of a nice break: “Okay, I got the fight out of the way. Let’s talk about some interesting things here.” So I hung out for them. I didn’t really party. I didn’t feel up to it.

I’m already back practicing. I was three days after my fight. I’m doing two-a-days already. It’s such an overwhelmingly big part of my life. It takes up a huge chunk of your psyche and your energy and when it’s gone … I don’t know what to do with myself now. I need another fight. I think that’s why fighters sometimes have a hard time retiring. Because they’re just so used to going on to the next one, you know? And I think some of the most successful fighters are the ones who aren’t so obsessed, that have other things in their life and are a little more balanced. I’ve never been a totally balanced person and I need this. I’m addicted to it. I need another fight now. I need to show that wasn’t me. I don’t like that in the past three years I’ve only had one fight a year, because that’s my only outlet sometimes.

By the way, (UFC commentator) Mike Goldberg came back to use the restroom in our dressing room. And the person I am, while he’s peeing I’m asking him question. I was like, “My fight sucked.” And was like, “No, it was an entertaining fight to call. Don’t worry about it.” And I was like, “Hey do you have any advice for an upcoming commentator” because I commentate for Invicta. And he was like, “Keep practicing. You have to practice, practice, practice.” And I was like, “Okay, thank you.” He was very nice, talking to me like that while he was peeing. I’m not exactly someone of refined taste. I just talk.

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