Photo Credit: Emily Sisson
One of the first fighters I ever interviewed when I began covering women’s mixed martial arts, was Jessica Philippus. Admittedly I knew basically nothing about her. I just knew that at the time she was an amateur fighter, and me being new to this, I was gonna do an interview with anyone who said yes. Quickly though I was glad that Jessica said yes. I liked her. I liked her attitude, I liked her opinions on things and most of all, I liked her confident but not cocky attitude. Quickly I forged a friendship with her that made it hard not not live by the “media is supposed to be unbiased” code.
Through the course of my time knowing Jessica, some of my favorite memories include her being the first winner of the Amateur Fighter of the Year winner in my own sites awards and her fight with Sarah Goodlaxson where after the bout, both fighters showed what respect is all about sharing an embrace that became a very popular picture amongst the women’s MMA community.
I was not alone in my fondness for Jessica. It seemed most people in the community also had an affection for Jessica. Sure, there are haters and doubters, but name one fighter who doesn’t have those. I found people liked her because of her willingness to give back and teach young “wrestler girls” and her creation of Wrestler Chick as well as her attitude of not talking trash but willing to speak her mind when provoked.
After a very successful amateur career made her pro debut for Invicta facing Liz McCarthy. It was actually her second scheduled pro debut as she was forced to withdraw from the original debut when she had issues beyond her control affecting her weight cut. Jessica lost that bout with McCarthy. She lost when doctors wouldn’t let her continue due to bruising around her eye. She has been out of the cage since that July 2012 bout.
In her time away, she has not been lazy. Teaching kids in wrestling, hosting the MMA Moms show on our network and as evidenced by her physique in her comeback fight, training and lifting.
So why accept this fight with Cat Ginorio on the Rocks Extreme XI card? “I finally got my weight, health, head, and strength where it needed to be to fight at atomweight again. I have always gone into the cage ill prepared in some regard, I didn’t EVER want to do that again- not for myself or my family or my fans.” The women’s MMA community was excited for this fight. Much more excited than they normally would for a fight with an 0-1 fighter facing a debut fighter. That speaks to two things. First being that Philippus is so well liked and second being because many people know that if Jessica did get her head right, get her focus where it needed to be, as she stated it now was, that she is capable of making some waves in the 105 pound division.
Jessica knew very little about her opponent going into the bout. Some people would not like to know nothing about an opponent. But Jessica had previously stated it was a relief. When asked why she considered it a relief she said “I was able to focus on just myself, my abilities, my strengths and weaknesses and not stress about what my opponent was doing. Stress really stalemates weight loss and I truly had the most fun, happy and positive fight camp of my career.” She added that “I always tell my son not to worry about what other people are doing or saying because he is the only person and the only actions he can control in life- this really applies to MMA as well!”
One question I had is if after being off so long, would this fight camp, especially the last couple days before the fight be any different for her? Would there be nerves that maybe were not there in the past? “Yes, I’ve never been so stress-less on weigh in day. Like ever! Everything went exactly as planned, much better than last time. Also there was a notable difference in my mental game backstage before walking out. I started to freak out because I wasn’t freaking out or ‘want to poop your pants’ nervous, I worried that I somehow wasn’t taking it seriously enough and was going to get caught off guard, I just didn’t quite comprehend what in the heck was going on.” She got some words of encouragement from friend and wrestling teammate Emily Sisson who told her “Jess, this is what it feels like to be prepared. You’ve done all the hard work already so that you don’t have to freak out right now and wish you had done more. So go do it!” She also checked with her husband Robb because she said last time he looked visibly sick. This time he said ” “I am so ready for this! You have never looked better or been more sharp. I love you, go be you!” Now, if you know anything about the Philippus family, you know how incredibly supportive they are of each other and there is no doubt that Robb’s belief and encouragement was a huge boost to Jessica as she prepared for her fight.
For those who have not seen the fight, a long description is not needed. Mostly because it wasn’t a long fight and because what happened is pretty easily described. Jessica and Cat clinched fairly quickly and Jessica landed some hard strikes, including some vicious knees, an element many people may not have expected from a so-called “wrestler”, before sinking in a D’arce choke and getting the tap. Here reaction when the fight ended was simply “Excitement, relief, excitement, fruition, pride, love and more excitement.” When asked to grade her performance she said “A- mostly because I would have liked to strike a little bit more or do a suplex, but overall you cant complain with a dominant win to make a statement that I’m baaaaaack and prove ring rust is a fallacy.” Was the D’arce something she saw as a potential end to this bout? “Yes of course! Actually Robb wanted me to practice it on Thursday night and I tried on him but that didn’t work at all for obvious size reasons!” adding that she had a former coach and teammate named Deryck Ripley send her a video to watch and review while she warmed up. “Baaaaaack” she is!
I mentioned her improved physique and the obvious improved strength, asking if she felt it helped her in that clinch? ” Well being stronger makes everything easier honestly. I don’t remember it helping in the clinch as much as I specifically recall looking down at my veiny right bicep and shoulder when I was considering letting go of the choke because my grip was slipping and my arms were burning; looked down and thought, “NO, F that! I worked way too hard for this and my arms have burned worse than this in the gym. I can do this. Remember what Smashley said.” Smashley is referring to Ashley “Smashley” Cummins who trained with Jessica before the fight and noticed that Jessica was letting go of chokes two seconds before Ashley was going to tap. Before Jessica could explain why, Cummins said “let me tell you what I think is happening…you aren’t believing in yourself. You need to, you’re good. Believe in yourself and your technique and don’t let go!” Which is why Ashley was the first person Jessica called after the win.
So this so-called wrestler got her first pro win, and didn’t even take it to the ground. Did this performance possibly disprove any notion that Jessica Philippus is “just a wrestler”. I would say it did. What does Jessica think? “Well I sure hope so because we didn’t even go to the ground! It’s really ironic because my striking coaches’ goal was to give me enough striking to get in and wrestle and we didn’t even get to wrestle but we did get to show off some super sweet striking! I threw a combo right at the beginning and I still, for the life of me, cannot remember throwing it. Now that’s cool, because that means Tim Seretta did his job effectively because I used to think so hard about striking. I don’t really care how I am perceived anymore, because it’s no secret I was a wrestler and unless someone wrestled longer than me there’s just no way an opponent can prepare to offset eight years of wrestling with a eight week fight camp. I finally feel confident and fluid with striking and movement; that’s a gift Tim has given me that I cant thank him enough for!” So maybe she is just a wrestler, but she is a wrestler that can strike and strike with confidence.
What is next for Jessica in MMA? “I would like to stay active this year, Robb would like for me to fight five times this year. Rock’s Xtreme invited me back”, which she is excited about adding that Texas fans are “awesome.” “So I’ll definitely be fighting for them again. I would also like to fight in Omaha at some point this year so all our gym friends can come! I would like to get a couple more fights in before going back to Invicta however, just so I can have the flexibility of taking last minute fights if need be. Invicta is my end game, so once I get there again I plan to have a solid career there then retire, thirty-five yrs old. Unless UFC adds atomweights….then I’ll consider drawing out my career a little longer”
You often hear people say that they are back. They win a fight after a loss and claim they are back. Where did they go? How many times can you be back? Jessica really is back. She is back because she was gone for two and a half years. Not gone from the sport, as she has always remained a presence, but gone from the cage. She is back, and she is improved and can really do some damage in this division.
Why did I want to write a story about a female fighter winning a fight that she came into with an 0-1 record? Of all the fighters, why pick someone who simply improved to 1-1? Is it because she is popular? Is it because I think it will get a lot of hits? Is it because I wanted to kiss her ass? Is it because I think it’s a great story? Is it because I consider her one of my closest friends in a sport that I love? Is it because I want to make her look good? Nah, it is because she is Jessica Philippus, and really, no other reason is needed.