Jessamyn Duke-Leslie Smith clash 'guaranteed' to be exciting battle
Mixed martial arts: Glendale Fighting Club-trained bantamweight faces foe known for stand-up scraps Wednesday on UFC Fight Night.
Jessamyn Duke trains with Sevak Ohanjanian at the Glendale Fighting Club on Monday, June 23, 2014. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / June 23, 2014)
“I totally dropped the ball,” Duke said. “It was not my best performance.”
Against Bethe Correia in April at UFC 172 in Baltimore, Duke really never got going, looking to counter offensive bursts by Correia that never transpired as the rounds slipped away into a unanimous decision loss for the Kentucky native who now trains at the Glendale Fighting Club.
It was a disappointing result for Duke in a somewhat pedestrian bout in terms of action.
At the very least, when Duke next sets foot into the cage, putting on an exciting fight shouldn’t be a problem.
Noted for her muay Thai background and slick jiu jitsu game, Duke will square off against Leslie Smith, the epitome of a crowd-pleasing, forward-moving fighter, on Wednesday in a three-round women’s bantamweight bout at UFC Fight Night on Fox Sports 1 in Atlantic City at the Revel Casino Hotel.
“I’m actually really excited about this fight, because she almost guarantees an exciting fight,” Duke said. “She does not stop marching forward. She makes it a fight whether you want it to be or not, luckily — I want it to be.”
Smith (6-5-1, 0-1 in UFC), a former four-time Invicta Fighting Championships Fight of the Night honoree who challenged for the Invicta flyweight (125 pounds) title, comes in a very slight favorite over Duke (3-1, one no-contest, 1-1 in UFC), who is 14th in the UFC women’s 135-pound rankings. Thus, Wednesday’s bout might be an arduous one to predict, but Smith still offers some assurances.
“It’s a fight, so who knows how it’s gonna go down,” said Smith, a product of nearby South Pasadena High. “When it comes down to it, about the only thing I can guarantee is A: I’m gonna make weight; and B: it’s gonna be an exciting fight.
“When you’re in a cage with me, you’re not gonna get away from a fight.”
Duke and Miller will clash on the FS1 UFC Fight Night prelims, which begin at 4 p.m. PDT. It will be the third of four fights on that portion of the card and the fourth fight overall of the 11-fight event. The card begins at 3:30 with a historic first-ever 115-pound UFC women’s fight, as Claudia Gadelha takes on Tina Lahdemaki in a fight streamed on UFC Fight Pass. The main event of the evening will feature a lightweight tilt between Jim Miller and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
“The night itself is already going to be electric,” said Smith of the fight card.
When Smith last hit the cage, it was for her UFC debut against former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman in a fight the former took on with just eight days’ notice. As has become her signature, Smith put on an action-packed fight, but was on the wrong end of a 202-79 striking disparity in a unanimous decision loss. It was a far cry from a split-decision defeat against Kaufman she incurred under the Invicta banner. Though five-weeks’ notice is hardly enough for a full training camp, Smith is still plenty pleased with the amount of time she’s had to prepare this time out for Duke.
“I feel really good,” said Smith, who said she’s turned down just one fight in her career and it was to fight Sara McMann on four-days’ notice. “I like fighting, I’ll take the fight [on short notice], but, man, having a training camp makes such a big difference.”
Smith, whose chief camp has long been Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu, spent a good portion of her time training leading up to Wednesday in Las Vegas with Cesar Gracie teammate and UFC lightweight challenger Gilbert Melendez in preparation for Duke. Duke, at 5 foot 11 inches, is one of the tallest female fighters around, which will bring about a new challenge for the 5-9 Smith.
“Obviously, anybody who knows anything about Jessamyn knows she’s very tall and she has a lot of reach,” Smith said. “She’s only two inches taller than me. I’m usually the taller one, so that’s new for me.
“I know that she has good muay Thai and she trains with a lot of women who have a lot of experience.”
At the Glendale Fighting Club under coach Edmond Tarverdyan, Duke trains alongside fellow “Four Horsewomen” Ronda Rousey, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Shayna Baszler, also a UFC bantamweight fighter, and Marina Shafir, an upcoming featherweight.
Duke was a member of “Team Rousey” in the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and joined Baszler in migrating west to train with Rousey and Shafir under Tarverdyan following the show’s completion in the summer of 2013. Duke’s run on the show ended with a close decision loss to Raquel Pennington in a bout that was voted the fight of the season. Still, it was a loss for Duke, who took her share of shots from Pennington in the thrilling brawl.
Refining her stand-up skills and implementing a style that that had helped her better avoid taking shots and landing accurately became a focal point for Duke. But against Correia, Duke admitted she focused too much on that approach as a whole, rather than using it to accompany her already formidable base.
“I focused on that so much for 12 weeks it was like I had tunnel vision. ... I was really hesitant. I just kept waiting forever for something to happen,” said Duke, whose fight Wednesday will give her three under the UFC banner and therefore the most of any of the “TUF 18” cast members. “It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I know also, I’m a growing, improving fighter and there’s things I have to go through.”
Thus, Duke, 28, didn’t hesitate in taking a bout against Smith, 31, less than three months removed from her prior fight.
“I was in shape. I never really got out of shape or out of my groove,” Duke said. “I love the short turnaround. It’s easier for me to charge it.
“I feel a lot more energized this time.”
With the short turnaround came a bit of hectic timing, though, as Rousey just successfully defended her title July 5 and GFC stablemate Art Hovhannisyan had a boxing match July 11. Tarverdyan therefore had to put on a balancing act and Duke’s training at GFC was generally overseen by Sevak Ohanjanian.
“Even though Edmond’s been focusing on Ronda, the gym’s still hopping,” Duke said. “Edmond’s still the maestro.”
With both combatants coming off losses, a victory is certainly paramount, but putting on an exciting — and memorable — performance seems to be at the forefront, as well.
“I definitely try to give it my all inside the cage,” Smith said. “The biggest regret I can have walking out of the cage … is that I didn’t give it my all, my 100%.”
Said Duke: “The impressions I make right now are the most important and I really feel like I have to go out there and leave the right impression and last time I didn’t. It was really important that I learned that lesson.”