This is a story about triumph, of hope, but above all else the pursuit of a dream.
Jessica Rose-Clark grew up on the road. The eldest child of nine; a daughter to a mother who was fraught with sickness and a father that wasn’t around unless it was to serve his own purpose. They moved around from place to place her life akin to that of a gypsy keeping her out of school until the fifth grade when they finally settled in Northern Queensland. Due to her mother being so unwell much of the time, Clark was responsible for raising her siblings – it forced her to grow up quick smart.
Home schooled by her grandmother who taught her to read and write, Clark, or Jessy Jess as she is most affectionately known in MMA circles, found solace in books and excelled at school once she finally walked through the doors of her very first classroom.
A straight A student, Clark was a chameleon, adapting to every new situation with the experience of a seasoned veteran – friends with the nerds because she was one of the top of her class and equally as chummy with the jocks because of her sporting prowess playing representative softball and football. But despite being academically inclined, Clark found the confines of school too restrictive and lasted only two months at University before throwing in the towel.
“I studied marketing and sports management and after two months of being around 18 year olds and wanting to head butt the teachers I was losing my shit from being around these fucking idiots.
“I’m not supposed to be in a classroom or be at home studying every night and not being able to leave whenever I want. I need to be able to move and progress and do new things. I know I would’ve ended up dropping out at some stage anyway, not because I’m a quitter but because it wasn’t the right thing for me,” Clark told Fight News Australia.
Clark openly admits that her decision-making can be spontaneous at best but when she does make up her mind, she is as stubborn as a bull. With University off the table Clark quickly turned her attention to making a career out of fighting. She had recently competed and won in her first kickboxing match, after being introduced to the sport by her partner at the time, and immediately fell in love with the uncertainty and unknown of it all. Chaos is something that most people want to steer well clear of but for Clark she thrives in it.
“I thrive on the uncertainty and how unknown everything is. The only thing you know for sure is who you are and what you’ve done to get there, everything else is pretty much out of your control. I like that. I thrive in chaos.
“This sport is always changing and there’s always something new going on. There’s somewhere new to go and new people to meet, and you can travel the world doing this. I love it.”
Under the tutelage of Adrian Pang and the team at Integrated MMA in Brisbane, Clark racked up a string of titles – claiming three in the space of six months. Her first came in February 2014 at Unarmed Combat Unleashed where Clark she submitted Zoie Shreiweis via first round rear-naked choke despite her opponent weighing-in at 10lbs over the the division limit. She then went onto to dismantle Kate De Silva via TKO in the second round in June and just one month later beat Rhiannon Thompson via unanimous decision at Roshambo MMA. Clark had only a single loss to her name at the time, a recently acquired blue belt in BJJ, and appeared to be on the fast track to the top of women’s MMA. But it wasn’t meant to be…yet.
A turbulent relationship with Julian Wallace, a polarizing figure in the MMA world, nearly ended her career all together.
Clark attributes her relationship with Wallace as the underlying reason she decided to leave Integrated MMA after two years at the highly respected gym. At the time she was working and training in Brisbane whilst Wallace was living on the Gold Coast. The distance, albeit minute by most people’s standards, ended up putting a strain on their relationship. With fights falling over and a lack of direction in her MMA career, Clark was at a low point in her life and was convinced by Wallace to pick up her things and move yet again. It was a decision she now looks back on with regret. Hindsight as they say is 20/20.
“He (Wallace) convinced me that my life would be better with him so I moved down to where he was. When I said that to Adrian (Pang)…look, I tend to say things one day and do them the next. I’m super spur of the moment, which I think was part of the problem. When I told him he said that I was making a mistake. They knew that Julian had a bad reputation for violence against women and his partners and they knew that and had tried to protect me. I wish every day now that I had listened to them. I didn’t.”
It would be love that ultimately saved Clark.
The Mattila-Mertins family took the 28 year old in when things escalated to the point of no return with Wallace, who has now pleaded guilty to one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and to one count of intentionally choking with recklessness, with sentencing due in December this year.
Despite having never met Clark; Sammy, Will, Aralai and Byron opened the doors to their modest Sydney apartment and offered her a couch, and a home, while she got back on her feet.
“I posted in the Australian girls in Gi page asking if someone had a room or a couch I could rent and Sammy was on it because of Aralai and said they had a little two bedroom place but I could crash on their couch. I loved them immediately. They treated me so well. They gave me a home and made me feel like I was part of their family. They saved my life.”
Sammy was very much the catalyst and driving force behind Clark finally getting the courage to leave Wallace. A positive, strong, female influence very rarely had in life, reinforced for Clark her worth as a person and that she deserved better. It was this renewed confidence and the knowledge that those around her believed in her that reignited her focus and direction with MMA that she hadn’t had for some time.
“When I finally left him (Wallace) and started training again properly, I realised how important this sport it is to me. Even if I never get to where I want go, I just love being apart of it and helping other people achieve their goals too. It makes me happier than any guy is going to make me.”
Clark would sleep on that couch for the better part of five months, splitting her time between working and training at Igor MMA and Australian Top Team (ATT).
Brothers Suman and Ashkan Mokhtarian founded ATT and whilst the two may still be considered young in this sport they have quickly taken their band of misfits straight to the top and are widely considered one of the best gyms in Australia, particularly at bantamweight. Whilst previously Clark had struggled to find training partners in her weight class, especially female, she now had a plethora of bodies ready and willing to throw down with her at the drop of a hat.
The reputation that preceded ATT was not lost on Clark when she walked through the doors of the Western Sydney gym however it was their no holds barred approach to fighting and life that appealed to her immediately. They were ride or die. A family that would do anything for each other in and outside of the cage. It was a loyalty that had been bred through blood, sweat and tears – literally.
“Suman and Ash are the best people ever, they made me feel like I was apart of the family from day one and have put so much time and effort into me. When I got booked for my last fight all the boys gave me so much attention and gave me everything I needed to be as prepared as I could. I will always go back to ATT; it’s my home.
“They (ATT) don’t pull punches when they talk about other people. The thing about Aussies and Aussie MMA is that they love to cut people down when they are doing well and like to kick them when they lose. ATT has the top tanked bantamweights in the country and have a camaraderie you just don’t see in other gyms – every single one of the fighters has their own personalised gear, ATT clothing, everything is covered and it’s always about promoting the gym. It’s not surprising that guys who have been around the sport 30 years see these young upstarts like Suman having so much success and they get shitty. These boys call it how they see it, they don’t bullshit or backstab, and that’s what I love about them.”
The fight against Janay Harding in July would cap off a long journey back to the cage for Clark. As fate would have it, Harding weighed in considerably over the bantamweight limit. It wasn’t an issue for Clark, who accepted the fight in any case, however combined with the fact that she had just blown her knee out two weeks earlier and it would seem adversity was flying in her face yet again. It wouldn’t be enough to stop her though.
Clark pressed on, despite not being able to grapple properly or complete takedowns without serous pain, to secure the win via unanimous decision. It was a fight she calls her favourite to date, despite taking many an elbow to the head, purely because the odds were stacked against her and she overcame. Clark proved yet again to be a warrior in the face of hardship.
It would be Clark’s last fight on Aussie soil for some time; at least that is the plan for now. The competition just isn’t readily available down under, and with a contract inked with top female promotion Invicta FC in the USA, and a dream to one-day fight in the UFC, the move to Las Vegas was a long time coming.
“Finding girls at my weight is really hard. The competitive side of female fighting in Australia has dropped off big time. They’ve disappeared. It is hard because there are so many soft bitches – I’ve had girls pull out on fight day, weigh-in day then you have Janay who didn’t make weight by five kilos! They just don’t take it seriously and that’s fine but don’t try and step into the same cage as me. Don’t do it because you want your mates to think you’re a cool fighter. Fuck off. This is serious shit.”
For now Clark has found her home within the confines of the four walls that is Syndicate MMA. Under the guidance of John Wood, with world-class training partners, and the ability to focus 100% on fighting for the first time in her career, Clark has positioned herself for success. Her burgeoning potential is not lost on Invicta matchmaker Kaitlin Young either who contacted Clark within moments of arriving in the USA to book her next fight.
“We are talking about Invicta in mid-November. I don’t know what date or where but I should have definite very soon. I know they’re very keen. Kaitlin Young, the Invicta Match Maker, basically called me as soon as I arrived in the states and said they wanted me back on the show and I called her straight away and we had a good chat and she said they wanted me for November. Which would be awesome.”
It’s been an arduous and winding road for Clark who, after four years in the fight game, has finally found her way. It may have been the long way, it may have been the path less travelled, but the destination has always been the same.
Fight fans can follow Clark’s journey at the following social media handles: