Ten years ago, Cornwall’s Kate Jackson entered the cage for her first MMA fight with little knowledge of the career she had just embarked on, writes Craig Bratt.
Having scrapped her university studies to take on a full-time career in a sport which has seen colossal growth in the UK, Jackson will face her toughest challenge yet as she faces world champion Ilima-Lei MacFarlane in Bellator’s women’s flyweight world title fight in Honolulu this December.
Jackson, from Lostwithiel, has an interesting story that has led her to one of MMA’s elite title challenges, having started with judo – one of the combats the sport incorporates – aged 15, and she admits growing up it was something of an unknown to her.
“The sport in it’s modern form has been around since the early 90s, so theoretically I was growing up with it but I didn’t really pay much attention or notice it, especially in this country, until about 2005.
“It was a gradual evolution from judo, which is an Olympic sport – a competitive sport – so I competed in that, knowing it was full contact.”
Jackson focussed herself on a first scheduled bout which came in May 2009 against Kate Rennis. The Newquay-trained athlete went into the fight as a rookie and says she struggled to grasp the concept of what she was actually about to commit herself to.
“I went into the first fight really not knowing what I was doing and with little understanding of the sport at all,” said the 33-year-old. “I didn’t really know what I was doing but I told myself I’d go in there and see what happens. My coach said hit her hard and fast and that’s what I did. It only took 48 seconds to win by technical knockout (TKO).”
Her progress since her first fight has been considerable and she is now on course to join a select list of British MMA champions should she overcome the current title holder on the Hawaiian’s own patch.Jackson admits she was surprised when the offer came and was not prepared to be the main event.
“It was a bit overwhelming really because I thought that I maybe needed one more point to get to this stage,” she said. “I thought I was going to be offered a fight on the same show on the main card, but I didn’t expect to be the main event against the champion.”
When asked if she is looking ahead to being a potential champion, she said she firmly has her eyes on this fight and reiterates that it is strictly “one fight at a time,” knowing that she cannot get ahead of herself as Honolulu looms.
“Starting when I did without clear avenues to the top that are available now, it’s always been one fight at a time,” said Jackson. “In a way, it’ll make it harder for me if I start looking past the fight that I’ve got ahead of me”
The odds will be against the former Truro High School pupil taking on an opponent that will be backed by a huge crowd in her home city.
However, this is something that Jackson relishes having faced most of her recent fights overseas. Since 2012, Jackson had been so successful that UK challengers diminished and she had to look elsewhere for new adversaries. She insists she will not feel the pressure and believes it will be tougher for McFarlane.
“It’s pressure on me obviously, but it’s pressure on her. It’s the main event, the whole arena is going to be there for her more or less. I don’t think it’s going to be a hostile environment.”
As any sportsperson knows, success does not come without sacrifices – something which Jackson has had a lot of on her course for victory.
Struggling at university in Bristol, she gave up her English course to focus on fighting, citing difficulty in socialising and concentrating on studies. She felt at home in the cage and said it was the right decision to “get away from somewhere I didn’t feel comfortable into somewhere I did.”
Two weeks before her last fight she had to scrap plans to attend her cousin’s wedding in Belgium in order to be best prepared for the test, which some family members have found difficult to come to terms with. She insists though, that the decision did not come lightly.
“My immediate family see how tough it is to a certain degree. My extended family may be not so much. I think they understand – and my parents get them to understand – but it is tricky.
“It’s a focus thing for me a lot of the time. It’s all consuming, especially when there is a fight coming up. It’s not just the physical side of it.
“There’s almost nothing beyond the mental focus. It can make things difficult.”
Jackson and her team will head out to Hawaii via an acclimatisation in California two weeks ahead of the scheduled bout, and she is well aware that she is not just fighting for herself but for the whole of Cornwall – where opportunities for elite athletes have been limited.
“There’s a few people from Cornwall that have competed at a high level but not a huge number, so it means a lot to show people from here that the pathway is there to be successful in sport,” she said.
Jackson’s fight takes place on Saturday, December 21 at the historic Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.