Note: All quotes and material were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report through one-on-one between Jessamyn Duke and Bleacher Report's Riley Kontek.
It was finally here. The moment I'd been waiting for since I won my fight to get into the TUF house.
Our team had control of the fight picks and Ronda picked me to fight Raquel Pennington. I'd been ready to fight since I'd arrived on the show and had been keeping my weight low in preparation.
My cut to 135 is not really an easy one. To be able to make weight on 24 to 48 hours' notice at anytime, I have to walk around at a much lower training weight than I'm used to, so I was quite relieved when I found out that it was going to be my turn soon.
I've known of Raquel for almost a year before the show. Not only have we fought on the same cards before (with Invicta), we had potentially been opponents for each other at one point. It was for my professional debut, and despite the fact that I wanted the fight, my coach wouldn't let me accept it because he felt she had too much experience for me to take on as a debut fighter, so it never happened.
He promised me that I could ask for her next, and true to my word, I asked to fight her every time after that but it could never be arranged. Either we weren't fighting on the same card, or she already had an opponent arranged. So, I wasn't kidding when I said that this was a fight I've been looking forward to for a long time.
I viewed Raquel as the toughest opponent left in the house. Her ground game is very good, she's known as a heavy-handed striker, and I'd only ever heard people talk about how strong she was. But I thought, "Hey, if I'm gonna fight the toughest chick here, I'd rather do it when I'm fresh, uninjured and not coming directly off another fight."
I felt like everything was lining up perfectly. My strategy was to be a better fighter. Period.
I felt that my biggest advantage would most likely be on the feet, so I wanted to keep it in there. I didn't want to force the fight to the ground, but I was more than prepared to fight here if that's where it had ended up.
Even though I believed I was the better fighter on the ground, I knew how strong she supposedly was and that she has a good sprawl and a heavy top game so I didn't want to risk getting controlled in that range. I knew that no matter what, it was going to be a good fight. That's why even in my pre-fight interview, when asked to send a message to her, I said, "Let's go hard and put on fight of the season."
The Green Valley Ranch pool party was the day after our fight announcement. But more importantly it was the day before our weigh-ins. Originally, I had planned on going, but that was before I had started the really miserable part of the weight cut that involved being heavily dehydrated, no food and sitting in a sauna for around four hours.
Ronda was my weight-cut buddy. She kept me company in the sauna and helped me pass the time and really made sure my mind was in the right place for the fight. Anybody who cuts weight hard knows how valuable and appreciated the weight-cutting buddy is. So after going through all of that I decided that sitting outside in the hot sun, around people having a ridiculous amount of fun and stuffing their faces with delicious food sounded about like the worst possible thing I could think of to do the night before my weigh-ins, so I stayed home.
It was definitely the right decision. The quiet time was just what I needed. Anytime I fight, I always keep to myself for a little bit. It helps me get in the right place mentally. It's war. It's battle. And even if it ends up not being the case, you have to prepare for it regardless. It was a nice change of pace to have the house to myself and for it to be so quiet!
As soon as I was ready to lay down and get some sleep, everyone got home from the party and it didn't take long for the peace and quiet to end. To be fair, Anthony was really the only person who was guilty, but he was enough. The episode didn't show just how LONG his antics went on for!
The night before weigh-ins is always the worst night to try and sleep. You're hungry, dehydrated, you can't get comfortable on your bed because everything hurts from your muscles being so drained. I was extremely frustrated that Anthony felt it was necessary to try and do everything in his power to be as disruptive as possible. Not only that, he was annoying my opponent too, which is just not OK.
So, as I'm laying in my bed, grumbling about this to my roommates, Peggy finally climbs down from her aerial perch and goes full-on psycho mom mode and marches upstairs and tells Anthony—and let me make sure I get this right—"Hey! Anthony! Shut up! Just shut up, just shut the f*ck up Anthony!" and thankfully...he did. That night I was super thankful for Peggy. Because once Anthony knocked it off, I got to sleep at a decent hour.
Fight day had arrived. I woke up early, enjoyed my coffee, and Davey made me a delicious "proper gorgeous" banana omelet. I know that you probably don't know what that is, but trust me...they are delicious. I felt like the day was mine.
One thing I really liked about the TUF experience was how everything revolved around fighting. No distractions, no social media and nothing to take your focus off the task at hand. The fight. And on fight day, all the attention is on you and that day felt great to me. After breakfast, I kept to myself and wrote in my journal one last time before the van ride to the gym. The last thing I wrote to myself was, "Something wonderful is about to happen."
I was right. From the very first exchange, I knew I was in for a good fight.
One of the very first punches she landed busted my nose pretty good and from the beginning of the first round on, I had a hard time breathing. There wasn't much of a feeling-out process. We both were attacking with bad intentions and you could feel the intensity between us. All those shots were being thrown hard. It instantly pushed the fight to a pace where we were trying to break each other.
After the first round was over, I went back to my corner and felt like I had won the round, but I knew it was close. Coach Edmond told me I was doing the best with my clinch and my knees, and that I needed to attack with them more. I thought to myself, "If I can push hard and fight like this is the last round, I can finish her or win the decision."
However, she came out in the second round with the same attitude. She pushed forward and landed some big shots that started to really add up and do damage. At one point she had me against the cage and was teeing off on my head trying to finish me off.
I remember feeling like the lights were dimming and thinking to myself, "You gotta get outta here, you gotta move. You aren't going down like this!" and I went for that clinch and snapped a couple knees up to her face and she backed off.
I was trying desperately to shake off the cobwebs to recover. I knew at that moment I was behind in that round and I wasn't gonna let this fight slip away from me. So I did the only thing I knew to do and that was to just keep pushing forward and keep throwing bombs. The round ended with several more exchanges from us both. I walked back to my corner in that round and I wasn't sure what was coming next.
I remember Edmond telling me to wake up. I think he knew how bad I had been hurt in that round and he really helped bring my focus back. I heard the referee say we were going to a third, and I instantly had another adrenaline dump. This was it.
I was in the fight of my life and I was down to the last five minutes. Every. Single. Second.
That's what I came up off the stool telling myself to fight. I couldn't breath out of my nose at all at this point and I remember spitting a massive blood/snot ball onto the canvas at my feet before the round started.
Both of us were tired and we knew it. We were both trying to push that extra little bit to try and finish the other, but we just couldn't quite do it. I felt like the round was super close. Even in the moment, I felt like it was super close. But then something happened.
I threw a combo that ended with a knee and I saw her circle her head out and when she raised up, half her face was covered in blood. I had opened up a cut. I totally went for it. I just started throwing everything I had at her. I thought to myself, "This is it, this is the moment. You take it, you have to go now!" and I went. Then I heard the horn. The fight was over.
I thought I had stolen the round. I turned around to walk to my corner and "Stitch" Duran met me with a towel in my face and I heard him say, "I think you just took that round, girl!" I couldn't believe what I had just gone through.
I've never fought like that ever. That was definitely the best I've ever performed in a cage. I don't think its the best I'm capable of, but I believe that it was the best I could have done at that point in time.
I remember feeling an extreme amount of pride in myself for fighting through some extremely tough moments during the fight. I poured my entire heart and soul into that fight. I gave all that I had to give. I was happy. You can see it on my face as soon as the fight is over. Raquel and I meet each other in the center of the cage and hug each other and we both have this ridiculous smile on our faces. I'm sure she was thinking the same thing I was. It was that close. I told her, "Was it worth the wait?" and she grinned back and said, "Yes."
Decision time. Suddenly the reality hit me when the referee grabbed our wrists and positioned me in the cage. I haven't won yet, and I knew just how close that fight was. I started to have doubts.
When I heard Dana call out Raquel as the winner, my heart sank instantly. Never leave it in the hands of the judges. That's what it says on the walls of the UFC training center above the locker rooms. You can never complain about a decision if you let it get to that point.
I didn't win the fight because I didn't finish the fight. I let it slip away. I gave everything I had to the fight, but it just wasn't enough that day.
It was extremely hard to take. No one believed as strongly as I did that I was going to win that whole show. I believed it as strongly as I've ever believed anything in my life. I was absolutely heartbroken that I had failed. I felt like I had disappointed all of the people in my life that have supported me, invested in my career or believed in me. I wanted to win it for myself, but I also wanted to win it for them too.
Not only did Ronda say exactly what I needed to hear after the fight, she brought me back to the locker room, where my entire team surrounded me and gave me a giant group hug. It was the beginning of the healing process and I was so glad I had such amazing people there to help me through it.
That's why those people are like family to me now. There is so much more going on behind the scenes of that show than people realize. We bonded in ways that a lot of people won't ever understand. When you share life-changing moments like that with people, and they experience the highs and the lows with you, it brings you together.
My greatest hope was that the fight was entertaining, appreciated and that I did enough to still impress the UFC and Dana White with my performance.
The moment was swiftly brought to an end by Dana White letting us know that it was time for the next fight selection. Team Tate had control now and they selected Michael Wooten to fight Josh Hill.
I was so excited to see this fight. Michael had become one of my favorite male fighters in the house because I was a fan of his style. He's got a great dynamic striking style that was very exciting and a really solid ground game. I loved training with him every day and couldn't wait to see him fight Josh. We knew Josh was a strong wrestler and we were sure we knew what his game plan was going to be. He was going to try and outwrestle Wooten. Wooten's challenge was going to be not allowing that to happen, and I believed in him 100 percent.
**Tune in next week to hear Jessamyn's thoughts on the continued tension between coaching staffs, more in-depth stories from the house and her thoughts on the fight between Josh Hill and Michael Wootten, as well as the next female fight pick.