Undefeated kickboxing prospect Jessamyn Duke, steps into the Invicta cage for the third time in her career April 5th at Invicta FC 5.
2-0 thus far in her career, Duke will take on fellow undefeated kickboxing champion Miriam Nakamoto. Duke brings a killer attitude each and every time she enters the Invicta cage, and looks to best Nakamoto to remain perfect.
Corey Smith: How did you first enter into the world of MMA?
Jessamyn Duke: I started training in 2006 under Scott Elliott, and although I was only taking Muay Thai classes in the beginning, it was only a matter of months before I was enrolled in all of the classes (Muay Thai, no-gi grappling, BJJ, MMA, wrestling, etc) available at the AFS Academy.
JD: I expressed interest in competition and my coach directed me to grappling tournaments first, and then in 2008 I had my first Muay Thai fight. In 2010, after several kickboxing matches and numerous grappling tournaments I decided I wanted to try MMA and made a successful debut. Once I had a taste of what MMA competition was all about, and the popularity of female fighters was growing, I decided that I wanted to fully dedicate myself to the sport and becoming the very best.
CS: You bring a very strong Muay Thai background into the cage with you, and are also a certified instructor. How did that come about?
JD: It was just a natural progression of my training. We have a saying at my school… “Fight as a result of training, don’t train as a result of fighting.” In other words, train first. Train because you love it. Don’t train because you feel like you have to because you’ve agreed to a fight.
JD: I decided early on that I wanted to pursue certifications in the areas available, and Muay Thai was one of them. My coach, Scott Elliott is a full instructor under Ajarn Chai Sirisute of the Thaiboxing Association of the U.S.A. We travel to train with him on a regular basis as well as host him at our school once a year. The man brings 45+ years of experience of coaching and training fighters and champions.
JD: In late 2009 I took my apprentice instructorship test in front of Ajarn Chai, and in 2011 I was promoted to Associate instructor as well as taking over the responsibilities as the new KY state director for the TBA. I still train regularly with Ajarn Chai as well as attend the yearly Pacific NW Muay Thai Camp; an invitation only training camp where many of the world’s greatest fighters and instructors come to share their knowledge and push our minds and bodies to the limit for one week up in the mountains of Oregon.
CS: You fight out of the AFSAcademy in Kentucky. What is the MMA community like in the state of Kentucky?
JD: MMA is hugely popular and competitive in KY. Almost every weekend there are fights going on somewhere in the state (usually multiple shows). My instructor, Scott Elliott, even teaches college accredited courses at the university here in Richmond (EasternKentuckyUniversity) on Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and MMA.
CS: What has your experience with Invicta been like so far, considering both your professional bouts have been under the Invicta banner?
JD: Invicta has been an absolute joy to compete for. I honestly couldn’t ask for more in a promotion. They respect all the competitors under their banner and they strive to ensure that we are treated the way professional athletes should be treated. I never feel as though corners are being cut, or that anything takes priority over us and our experience with them.
CS: Invicta cards always seem to be exciting from top to bottom. Do you think that female athletes are more motivated to perform?
JD: Definitely. We always feel as though we have something to prove, whether it’s to the crowd, or the naysayers that claim we have no place in the sport. The women have been competing alongside the men for years, and even though we have a cage of our own in Invicta, I feel that we carry that motivation from past experience onto that stage. Like almost every coach tells their fighter, “Leave it all in the cage!” And I think women have no problem doing that. We’ve been doing it for years to carve out our niche in this sport.
CS: After your first professional bout, a TKO victory in round 3 at Invicta FC 2, you stated that you wished you had finished your opponent more quickly. At Invicta FC 3, you finished your opponent with a submission in round 1. How will you be looking to improve in your next bout on April 5th at Invicta FC 5?
JD: I train my body and my mind for a war, every time I fight. Ideally, you train to such a high capacity that when you get in the cage, the fight feels like an easy day of training. I will always strive to finish my opponent in the most exciting, dominant way possible. I want the crowd to feel like they just saw the physical manifestation of someone imposing their will. I want the word “Wow” to be on everyone’s lips after my fight.
CS: Your opponent at Invicta FC 5, Miriam Nakamoto has relatively the same amount of MMA experience as you. How familiar are you with Nakamoto, and what are you expecting out of the bout?
JD: I’m extremely familiar with Miriam. I’ve known about her since 2006 after I saw her on a reality show about female Muay Thai fighters. I’ve always admired her as a fierce competitor and someone to model myself after in the ring. She is an aggressive, dominant fighter who has proven time and time again that she is not to be taken lightly or looked over.
JD: However, I’m expecting a finish. Miriam has never been defeated in professional Muay Thai or MMA. I intend on issuing her the first L in her career. I asked for this fight because I wanted a challenge and I wanted to make a statement. I feel that I have nothing to lose and no reason to hold back once we are in the cage together. I want this victory and Miriam should expect to collide with me at my best on April 5th.
CS: How would you describe your in cage mindset and how that translates to your fighting style?
JD: My cage mindset is fairly simple. Impose my will, trust in my training, and hold nothing back. When I fight, I want to make sure that the opponent is fighting MY fight. I’ve erred before in my amateur career by trying to play my opponents game too much and beat them at it because I felt that I HAD to fight a certain way to beat them. I trust in my coach and my training that I am a highly skilled fighter who is capable and dangerous in all areas. You have to believe that your techniques will work, and if they don’t you have to trust that you will recover. You can have NO FEAR of failure in the cage.
JD: And although saying “Hold nothing back” sounds cliché, it’s important to drill that into your mindset. If the fight goes all 3 rounds, I want my opponent to feel 100% of my capabilities in that time. I don’t want to finish the fight and then be able to do backflips or pushups. I want to feel as though I gave everything I had, that way I have no regrets. The smallest things can turn the tide of a fight, if you hold back, you may be cheating yourself out of a victory.
CS: During a fight, how do you like to be coached? Whose voice do you look to the most?
JD: I’ve trained under the same instructor since the beginning. My coach, Scott Elliott, has all of his fighters tuned into his voice. It helps that his voice is loud and carries, but he honestly doesn’t say much during the fight. Occasional reminders or warning of something being set up that we might not see in the fight is about it. He doesn’t like to “overcoach” a fighter during a match. He says he trusts his competitor to know what to do.
JD: Between rounds, he helps me maintain focus and then, if there is some opening he wants me to exploit, he will tell me in the corner. Oddly enough, his voice is one of the only things I can hear in a fight. I’ve been told it’s called “tunnel hearing”. Everything else outside the cage just sounds like white noise. The only exceptions seem to be my Mom, or my sister’s voice, and if they’re cage side for one of my fights, I can hear every word they say. So they know to be careful what they shout when I fight! Ha!
CS: How much do you believe your natural height of 5 feet 11 inches contributes to your abilities in the cage?
JD: I think it’s a HUGE contributing factor. The challenge in my career thus far has been learning and understanding how to use my frame to its fullest advantage, both on the feet, and on the ground. But that goes for any fighter. You have to learn how to make the best use of the natural gifts you’re given. My height is one of mine. I’m one of the tallest female competitors at 135lbs. I present a unique challenge to anyone that fights me. It’s my job to continue making that challenge more and more difficult.
CS: 135lbs appears to be the premier division in Women’s MMA. What are your thoughts on the division as a whole, and competing within it?
JD: The women’s bantamweight division has always been one the most stacked and most competitive. I’m glad I made the drop down late in my amateur career. I made the move, not because I thought it was the premier division, but because it is where I thought I would be the most competitive. So far, I’m undefeated at 135lbs. I’m glad it’s the most packed division, because that presents me with plenty of challenges and experience along the way.
CS: How much MMA do you watch on a regular basis? Does training constantly in the sport make the fighting less appealing to watch?
JD: I watch something MMA related almost every day. I actually love watching fights and I think it’s great that there is so much free MMA available on TV all the time. Watching fights is addictive, to me. I study them and project myself onto the fighters I’m watching and think about what I would do in that situation, or how I would have handled a certain opponent or obstacle. It just helps to reinforce the things I do in training every day.
CS: Outside of the cage, what types of activities do you enjoy? What helps you unwind after a long day of training camp?
JD: I love to play video games when I get time. Usually in fight camp, that’s almost never though. After hard training, I really enjoy snuggling up on the couch with my kitties and watching some Ancient Aliens or a documentary I found on Netflix. I also enjoy visiting my family. I’m lucky that my Mom lives so close and that I can see her on a regular basis. I love going to visit and spend time catching up with her and eating the good food she spoils me with!
CS: Lastly, MMA is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Who would you like to thank?
JD: So many people contribute and have a part in my success! I want to thank my coach, Scott Elliott, who has been with me from the very beginning and believes in me the way I do. All of my teammates at the AFS Academy, Gina Begley, Adam Fritz, Emily Bartee, Brandon Campbell, Andrew Brown, Ethan Bens, and everyone else who embraces the grind with me every day and sacrifice their bodies and their training to help me succeed.
JD: I want to thank my friends up in Minnesota, Kaitlin Young, her coach Greg Nelson, and her entire team for having me in for training to help during my fight camp, and for treating me like one of their own!
JD: I also want to thank my manager, Brett Atchley of Addison Sports Management and Media for helping provide guidance and opportunity to me as a fighter and for caring as much about my career as I do!
JD: Without sponsors, pursuing my dream of fighting would be much harder and many opportunities I’ve had in the past wouldn’t have been possible, so I want to be sure to thank ALL my sponsors: Polanti Watches, VII A.D. Jewelry, Horsepower S&C, Klench Mouthguards, Intimidation Fightwear, The JKD Doc – Dr. Taverni, BJJ Bands, Hype X-treme, Outlaw Fight Gear, Stinson Chiropractic, A Healing Stone Therapeutic Massage, and of course Invicta FC for giving female fighters a cage of our own.
JD: Finally, I want to thank my family, and all of my fans for the never-ending support. Thank you Mom, thank you Sis, and thank you to any fan who ever sent me words of encouragement, sent me an inspirational quote or cheered for me when it was my time to shine, regardless of the outcome. That support is the foundation of my success, and I am eternally grateful for each and every one of you!