Women’s MMA pioneer Julie Kedzie continues to blaze a path for other fighters as she fights full time and provides commentary for Invicta Fighting Championships.
Commanding universal respect among her peers, and unable to hide her passion for the sport, Kedzie is a welcome addition to all Invicta broadcasts. Despite never commentating or conducting interviews before, Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp chose Kedzie as the face in the cage, and few could argue Knapp could have made a better decision.
Corey Smith: After nearly a decade fighting professionally, everywhere from Indiana to Russia, you recently made your UFC debut. What was that experience like for you?
Julie Kedzie: It was a surreal experience in a way, because it was a relief to finally be in the UFC in that it was such a dream and a goal for so long. But I was very disappointed in my performance. So the only thing that I can do is work harder to represent myself better and show that I am actually a very good fighter and that I belong there.
JK: For me it was a little bit of a road block, but it was a good lesson learned. I lost the split decision, and I didn’t really execute the way I was supposed to out there.
CS: Others fighters have spoken about ‘Octagon Jitters’ in their debuts. Do you believe that was an issue for you?
JK: No I didn’t actually feel ‘Octagon Jitters’ to be honest. Because of my experience working with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn and fighters on the Jackson/Winkeljohn team, I’ve been backstage at UFC events before. I’ve been under the bright lights before, even though they were never directed at me. I’ve been around it, so it wasn’t as uncomfortable for me.
JK: I really think for me, there was a little bit of a block in my mind. I don’t want to say too relaxed, but something just didn’t quite happen for me. For me, there are a lot of factors that go into that; it had been a really long time for me since I fought, and I was coming off a really major surgery. But I don’t really believe in making excuses like that, it just didn’t happen for me. I have to do better next time. I don’t think it was ‘Octagon Jitters,’ I don’t think it was ring rust; I just need to do better. All you can do is move on to the next thing.
CS: With world class talent at Jacksons’ Winklejohn’s in almost every weight category, what is the team atmosphere like in New Mexico?
JK: The team atmosphere is probably what keeps me going. That’s the reason I am here in Albuquerque. Not that it’s not a beautiful place, I’ve come to love this town, but the team is the heart of the town to me; it’s the heart of MMA to me. For instance coming back in after a loss, I know that the only place that I want to be is with my team because they are my family. They are the people that will kind of rag you a little bit, tease you a bit, but also teach you how to win.
JK: There just such nice people here, there is just this atmosphere of everybody trying to make everyone else better. Even though we are trying to achieve things for ourselves, there is this recognition here that you can’t do that on your own, that you need your coaches and your teammates around you. It’s a very addictive atmosphere. The people that are the most successful are the ones that keep coming back here.
CS: The team boasts an unusually large female contingent compared to most gyms. What advantages do you receive from being able to train with other female athletes as opposed to training with a male athlete?
JK: I think that there are advantages to training with men, and I think there are advantages to training with women. I think one of the main advantages to having talented female training partners, is that I am fighting with them, I’m not fighting men. There is aggression with them, a level of competiveness that exists between two women that doesn’t always exist between a man and a woman.
JK: If you take a 135 pound man like Damacio Page, and put him against a 135 pound woman like me, regardless of how many fights I’ve had, he outclasses me in strength. It’s not that good technique can’t win over strength, but when it’s two women, and you are at the same strength level and the same technique level, you gain a little bit more out of a training partner that way. There is also a lot of inspiration to be gained by watching other female fighters training for fights.
JK: I might lose a fight, but then I watch someone like Holly Holm get an amazing knockout, it makes me want to get back on my feet and cheer for her and then achieve that for myself. There is a competitiveness that’s not to beat each other, but to live up to each other’s expectations of each other. We expect the best from each other, we expect to push, and we expect you to win. That kind of atmosphere really breeds success I think.
CS: When you aren’t training or fighting, you provide color commentary and interviews for Invicta FC. What has that experience been like?
JK: I LOVE it. I absolutely love doing the color commentary for Invicta. I had no idea that it would be something I would like or that I would be good at, but I am and I like it. It makes me feel a connection to the fighters out there. I know I am critiquing their performance, and they may not like what I am doing but it makes me feel like I’m bridging some sort of gap between the fighters and the viewers watching.
JK: I work with such a great team. I absolutely love King Mo. I love Mauro Renallo, and I loved Bas Rutten when he was there too. It’s such a great experience to work with these knowledgeable people that I have watched for years and have them kind of guide me through and teach me how to represent the sport in a different facet.
CS: Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp has stated she is particularly proud of ‘discovering’ you for the commentary role. Most fans would agree that your positive energy and enthusiasm are a welcome addition. How do you feel you have grown in that role?
JK: I definitely still make mistakes, and I still stumble during interviews and stuff like that. What I’ve learned the most is that you make that connection to that fighter that you are talking to, and you make that connection to the crowd. It isn’t about me, that’s what I’ve learned. I might be too fat in my business suit; I might to be too skinny in my suit. None of it matters. What matters is that the fighter is able to communicate.
JK: After fighting they are out of breath, and crazy exhilarated or totally heartbroken and it’s my job to center them and bring them back. That’s been the most challenging part for me to not make it about me, but to make my questions about them. That sounds really self-centered, but I’m just trying to being honest with you. It’s hard, I have a hard time with crowds and everyone is looking at you, and you’re in the cage. You think ‘everyone is looking at me,’ but they aren’t looking at me, the focus isn’t on me, the focus is on the fighter. That realization made me work really hard to ask the right questions so that people are connected to the fighter.
JK: As far as the enthusiasm, I love MMA. I wouldn’t be involved in it if I didn’t love it. There are times when disappointing things are happening. Of course there is heartbreak, injuries, and these sorts of things that can happen. But at the heart of things we have a really beautiful sport. Just getting to experience people competing at this high level, it’s awesome.
JK: It’s a beautiful avenue for humanity. I am very privileged. I don’t want to take my position in the company for granted, and I don’t want to take my position in the sport for granted. When fighting is done right, people are completely stripped bare. They show how much they care, how much work they put into it, and that’s MMA at its best. And you see that so much at Invicta, which is incredible.
CS: What do you think an all-female promotion does for Women’s MMA as compared to a card that has one or two female bouts mixed in with male bouts?
JK: Obviously it improves the rankings and the depths of divisions. There are more women competing because they don’t have to compete with men for spots on the card. Beyond that I think it really is the final argument against the naysayers that say women can’t fight. The people that don’t support women’s MMA end up watching an Invicta card, and it inevitably changes the conversation from ‘oh these women can’t fight,’ to ‘these women do better than those women.’
JK: So women can fight, and they are doing it progressionally, and doing a good job. The conversation has changed from women can’t fight to who can beat Ronda (Rousey.) So you see these breakout starts like Ronda and Gina (Carrano) and then you see Shannon (Knapp) and Janet (Martin) band together to give women this avenue. The whole idea that women can’t fight has been made dumb when you see a promotion putting on these fights that are compelling and are evenly matched.
CS: With such an extensive and respected career, do you feel any responsibility to mentor or help younger fighters?
JK: Oh yeah, of course I feel a responsibility to mentor. But you know the best way to do that for up and coming fighters is to lead by example. You look at the pitfalls of my career; I won’t sit here and tell you I am undefeated because that is a lie. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’ve had the best fights in the world. I have had some of the best fights in the world, but they haven’t all been barn burners. Some of them have been boring as hell.
JK: So the only thing you can do is lead by example. I can sit here and talk to girls all day about doing this or that as a fighter, or I could simply not quit. That’s what I really got going for me, not as a pioneer maybe but as a leader in the sport. I’m not going to give it up until I am ready to. Until I have squeezed every drop of life out of this sport that I can. Until I have proven myself to myself, I am not quitting. That I think is the best example from my career that I can show them. That’s the best way that I can mentor young fighters.
JK: It seems like an easy answer, but it’s really hard. I’ve put my time in, and I could retire, but there is no way in hell I am going to do that. I am fired up to be the best fighter in the world and the only thing I can say to the up and coming fighters is that it’s their responsibility to do it. Lead by example.
CS: What are your general fan interactions like? Are there any differences between fans of male and female MMA?
JK: There are some people that are exclusively female fans, and there are some that are just creepers and gross. Then there are some that are just trolling trying to get you to yell at them, and there are some that are just trying to pick fights with you just so they can get attention. But I think that male fighters have trolls and creepers as well.
JK: In general though, my fans are incredibly nice and I love interacting with them. I don’t mind a Twitter fight here or there, but I do end up blocking the super negative people. I have a lot of people after my fights that tell me I suck. I have a lot of people during my commentary for Invicta that tell me I suck. I usually block them, because I don’t have time for people that just want attention by insulting me.
JK: There are people that want to talk to and ask why this is or that, and I feel very happy when I have a moment to sort of explain things. I can be mean, and maybe make fun of people sometimes if they are just fishing for attention. I try not to be a bully, but I am definitely a person who likes to fight back a bit. I don’t go out of my way to insult anybody, but if someone goes out of their to insult me or my teammates, I’m very protective of my teammates, I get pretty mad.
JK: For the most part, the fans of female fighters, they go to all the Invicta events, they talk to all the fighters, and they’re amazing. They had the least available to them in this sport for the longest time, and I have respect for them. They are the ones at the end of the day that pay the bills. MMA itself is a very accessible sport still. We’re not on this level where we have ten thousand bodyguards walking down the hall.
JK: You can still walk up to a fighter and say ‘Hey can I can take a picture with you?’ or ‘Hey can I get your autograph.’ I like that. There is nothing different from me than them. We’re the same. I just happen to be doing the action that they like. I’m sure they can write or draw something that I would like. It’s just who is doing the art, and who is doing the appreciating of the art. I think you have to have respect for that connection.
CS: Outside of the gym and the world of MMA, what types of activities do you enjoy?
JK: I have a wonderful dog Bailey. I work at the gym, so I’m around MMA almost 24/7. I very much enjoy reading. I love to read. I love animals. I’d love to go to Africa someday on safari. Zoos can kind of be sad places, I’d love to see animals in their natural habitats. I love animals. Someday I want to have a big ranch like Cowboy (Cerrone) has, and just fill it with dogs and children. Just a dog and children ranch, have them running all over the place. That would be great. I’m usually a pretty solitary person though, I go home and I like to be alone, have my music, have my TV shows, and have my book. I love being with my dog, I love reading, and I love going to the gym.
CS: Whenever you decide to take off the gloves for the last time, what will you have wanted to have accomplished at that point?
JK: I want the UFC belt. If we are talking about physical, material things, then I want the belt. I want the UFC belt. And I am going to fight for it, until I can’t fight for it anymore. I am going to achieve it; I am going to get that belt. In terms of other things, I want to make sure that I fought the fights I was supposed to fight and that I fought as the fighter I was supposed to fight as. I don’t want to look back at my career with regrets.
JK: With someone that has had so many losses and gone through so many ups and downs, it’s easy to fall. But I’m not going to let that happen to me. I’m not going to look back on my career with regrets and say ‘I shouldn’t have done that, or I shouldn’t have fought that person.’ Hopefully before I hang up the gloves, I have another career I can make a transition into. That’d be nice!
CS: Lastly, whether you are commentating or fighting, it takes a team to succeed. Who would you like to thank?
JK: First and foremost I always want to thank Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, Israel Martinez, John Wood, and all my teammates at Jacksons Winkeljohn MMA. They are the ones that keep me going.
JK: I would like to thank Fear the Fighter, Hayabusa, Ikon Motoring, and the Fight Dentist. Those are they guys that really supported me.
JK: Friends, family, and teammates. All of them.
JK: And my dog Bailey!