Jessica-Rose Clark hopes to punish Paige VanZant for stepping up to the newly formed women’s flyweight division when the two fighters collide at UFC Fight Night 124 this weekend.
Clark, who defeated Bec Rawlings in her UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 121 in Sydney, Australia, is somewhat of a sleeping giant in the UFC’s women’s flyweight division. In fact, after the bookmakers originally released their odds for the fight with VanZant as a moderate favorite, money rushed in to support the Australian and she now enters this weekend as the betting favorite.
It doesn’t take much to realize why, either.
When Clark received the call to face Rawlings just 11 days prior to the event in Sydney, she was hesitant at first – not because of the time or place, but because she felt like she would be taking away an opportunity from another Australian fighter. Clark is referring to the fact that there are just a handful of Australian women in the UFC and she would preferably want to support the rise of each Aussie, rather than colliding with another.
What made the bout with Rawlings all the more interesting was that the fight between these two Australians was one that had been anticipated for many years locally. So, in a way, it was bound to happen – why not make it happen on the biggest platform of all.
Clark went on to defeat Rawlings in an eventful three round war, managing what seemed to be a clear decision victory. However, one judge scored it in favor of Rawlings in what is now the second split decision victory for the Australian.
The very next day, Clark was rewarded with a bout agreement with the super-popular Paige VanZant in St. Louis – not bad for a fighter who wasn’t contracted to the UFC just 12 days ago.
While Clark didn’t get the stoppage that she was hoping for, the contest with Rawlings was a showcase bout for “Jessy Jess” in many ways.
No, it’s not a showcase by way of highlight-reel knockout, or by displaying exceptional striking techniques, but rather Clark overcame many challenging aspects on the way to victory.
She was tested by the relentless forward movement of her opponent, draining clinches against the cage, and a competitive closing round. Through it all, Clark remained composed enough to use the tendencies of Rawlings against her.
When Rawlings stormed forward with punches, Clark bounced them off her forearms before planting her feet and answering with heavy punches of her own. In the clinch, Clark used effective head positioning to stop the progress of her opponent before eventually reversing the position with ease. And in the third and final round, “Jessy Jess” showed brilliant heart and determination to out-scramble her opponent and land a series of heavy elbows from top position to secure the round on the two of the scorecards.
‘F*cking heavy’ top pressure
Most significant in her contest with Rawlings, though, was how Clark applied her strength and size advantage.
Clark, who has experience in power-lifting prior to her MMA career, combined her strength with technique to control Rawlings on the mat. “Jessy Jess” relied on her experience in 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu while also applying heavy top pressure by using head and arm control to ‘crossface’ and slice through Rawlings guard.
In fact, Clark’s top pressure was so overwhelming that Rawlings admitted to her corner in between rounds two and three that Clark is ‘f*cking heavy’.
See, there’s more to heavy top pressure than meets the eye. The inability for Rawlings to shake her opponent resulted in a reduction of confidence and broken spirit – all the while as Clark was gaining momentum.
Raw or ready?
Clark is thrown underneath the UFC’s spotlight again as she features on her second consecutive main card in just as many fights.
While she might still be a ‘raw’ talent when we are speaking about the UFC as a whole, Clark has made vast improvements over the years to now become a capable martial artist with a number of ways to frustrate (and terrify) her opponents.
Previously, Clark’s footwork was lacking. It still might not be the most technically sound footwork we’ll see inside the octagon, but it isn’t bad by any means. She disguises her plodding movement with effective distance management and an ability to raise her arms and block punches when she is caught inside an opponent’s boxing range unsuspectingly.
This improvement in distance management – through a better sense of range, timing, and composure – has resulted in better inside boxing for Clark. It’s not Valentina Shevchenko-like in terms of strike selection and precision, and it’s also not Amanda Nunes-like in way of power – but Clark is more than capable of punishing an opponent for stepping forward carelessly.
Despite this, John Wood and the team at Syndicate MMA encouraged Clark to actively move around the octagon against Bec Rawlings – a tactic that worked well against the fellow Australian. However, we might see them ask “Jessy Jess” to plant her feet and unload some strikes against someone of the Paige VanZant type.
We might see Jessica- Rose Clark’s inside boxing as soon as this weekend as she steps into the UFC’s octagon for the second time – now with over a year of experience training with John Wood and Syndicate MMA.
Will we see more ‘f*cking heavy’ top pressure from Clark at UFC Fight Night 124, or can “Jessy Jess” finish the fight standing?
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Jake Nichols is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief. Previously, he was the MMA Editor at RealSport.