Kate Jackson: “I like the freedom that Bellator give their fighters.”
By Dan McConnell
Kate Jackson is an English mixed martial artist from Cornwall, and is currently signed to Bellator MMA and fights in their flyweight division where she sits at number 6 in their rankings.
I recently had a chat with her in regard to her career to date, fighting Joanna Jedrzejczyk, her appearance on The Ultimate Fighter series and what life is like at Bellator compared to the UFC or other organisations.
Kate made her professional mixed martial arts debut in 2009, after numerous judo and BJJ competitions. I asked Kate what got her into the sport and wanted to know more about her craft in the sport.
“I was vaguely aware of MMA by about 2005, probably through google searching or whatever the equivalent was back then. By that point I’d been doing karate since 2001 and judo from 2002 since the age of 15. I kept going with whatever martial arts I could find at university-traditional jiujitsu, a bit of kickboxing and occasional BJJ classes. I think the first time I watched MMA properly was the Bodog Fight Series, which started in September 2006, and it was really cool to see women fighting.
“I found an MMA gym, Koncept in Newquay Cornwall in 2008 and that’s really where it all started. I’m really grateful to the head coach and owner, Mark Rowlett and my No Gi Coach, Kevin Derrington and his team Pure Grappling for the start they gave me in the sport and all the time they’ve put into me.
“I’ve recently moved to Plymouth so I can coach and train at Flo Martial Arts full time, and work on different aspects of my game, but I’m still close to some of my teammates at both Koncept and Pure Grappling, and I’ll hopefully still train with them once a week when gyms officially reopen with covid and that.”
Early in her MMA career Kate fought a young Joanna Jedrzejczyk at PL MMA in 2013. I was interested in finding out what was this experience like and what Kate thinks of Joanna’s career to this date.
“When I got offered the fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk a few months into 2013, I’d just had a Muay-Thai fight on an all-female fight show in Guernsey. I didn’t know much about Joanna but my reaction was why the hell not. In hindsight, possibly not a good idea considering I’d only been doing Brazilian Jiujitsu properly for about 6 months, but I’d fought pro for the first time with no experience, as that’s what was offered, and the amateur scene back then didn’t really exist, especially for women.
“I find it hard to talk about losses, not so much because it hurts, as that fades, just like anything in life, but because it’s so often seen as making excuses. I don’t think I tend to do that though, if anything I don’t think I own my wins enough. It’s been a few years since I last watched that fight, and at the end of the day she was better than me.
“I will say that it put me off fighting on home shows and it really makes me appreciate Bellator – it’s regulated, with a consistent rule-set and the staff are pretty hands off and treat us really well. I think really it was a wake-up call, and I had to make the decision on whether to keep going and keep improving, or to give up. I chose the former and there’s a night and day difference between my game now and my game then. That’s what I really want out of this sport: to keep growing and I definitely still have work to do.”
Kate reached the semi-final of the UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter in season 23, with former opponent Joanna and Claudia Gadelha as coaches. I asked her what this experience was like and who most impressed her on the show while she was there.
“TUF was an opportunity I didn’t ’t think I could pass up. I’d been considering strawweight and then they put the call out. It was one of the toughest weight cuts in my life not so much because of the numbers involved, but because I still wasn’t 100% sure how to get the weight off, I did it 3 times – with only 8 days between the second and third weigh in.
“I’m confident I know what I’m doing now and how my own body reacts, although strawweight still seems like hell. I hated almost every minute of TUF, I didn’t realise quite how reserved I am until I was stuck somewhere with no music, TV, books, internet, teammates, family or outside contact.
“I’m super grateful for the lasting friendship with Lanchana Green that came out of that. She came to Hawaii with me, I stayed with her for a couple of weeks in January when lockdown closed my gym, and she’s staying with me at the moment for some training. I’m really glad we ended up on Claudia’s team. It didn’t really sound like the other team had a particularly pleasant experience and it seemed pretty intense.
“Claudia and her coaches cared about helping us and giving us a good an experience as possible. Part of the reason I was there, was that I wanted more experience training with other women, which actually seems really weird now. I was 7-2, with other fights under my belt and judo and BJJ comp experience. I don’t think confidence was really my strong suit! I fought Tatiana Suarez on the day we were leaving the house and I was far more excited about getting to go home. Fair play to her, she’s very good and she wanted it more, and I’m looking forward to seeing her fight again when she’s healed up.”
A question that often comes up when fighters move to other promotions is how they differ from each other. Kate made her Bellator debut in 2017, so I asked what are the differences between Bellator and the UFC? And what is one thing she loves about fighting under Scott Coker’s banner.
“I’ve been with Bellator for over 3 years and my experience with the UFC was only the Ultimate Fighter, so I’m not sure I’m ideally placed to talk about the differences from an insider point of view.
“I think it’s great that Scott Coker doesn’t slag his fighters off and is a much less controversial figure, and I appreciate being able to wear my own gear and openly represent my teams and sponsors. As I’ve said, I like the freedom that Bellator give their fighters. My last fight and the whole Covid secure bubble aren’t a very good representation of what the Bellator is really like during fight week: normally I get given a schedule and I can do whatever I like around that.
“It’s one of my favourite things about the sport, being able to travel and see new places and sightsee during fight week. I didn’t even realise that being really active plays a huge part in making weight until I was stuck in a hotel. I’m grateful for the opportunity, but there was a glaring difference between my title fight in Hawaii, and how amazing the whole experience was, and my last one, and it must be really hard for the Bellator staff as well, so I hope we can get back to normality soon.”
Kate has had an incredible career to date fighting the likes of Joanna, Tatiana Suarez, Ashley Yoder, Valerie Letourneau, Denise Kielholtz and fighting for the Bellator world title against former flyweight champion Llima-Lei MacFarlane. I wanted to know what Kate’s favourite fight was, and how was the lead up to that fight week.
“My favourite fight to date was Bellator 223 in London, June 2019, against Lena Ovchýnnikova. It was one of those rare occasions where everything just fell into place perfectly (aside from being stupid enough to dislocate my patella at a grappling competition 10 weeks out, as you do).
“I’d had over 3 months’ notice, we’d drilled everything to death, I was only 2.2kg over a week out and I managed to do a strength and conditioning session at Plymouth Performance Gym and 1-2-1s with all my coaches during fight week, which is normally impossible because of travel.
“I found someone that did a really good job with my hair and make-up for my photoshoot. I made weight without a water cut and even had a latte with Bryony Tyrell, and some fruit the night before. I had teammates and friends and family in the audience, and the fight went almost perfectly. I took Lena down, pressured through her unorthodox defence just like we’d drilled and finished it with elbows from mount in the first round. I’d expected her to give me a lot more trouble given the footage I’d watched on her on the ground with previous opponents, so I was really happy with that one!”
A smooth fight-week creates a happy and dangerous fighter. I decided to throw a curve ball into the interview, asking Kate what her favourite cheat meal post-fight is. Kate seems the ultimate professional and doesn’t take her foot off the gas even for one night it seems.
“I don’t really do cheat meals, as I’m all for the “if it fits your macros” style eating-Get enough protein, fruit and veg and let the rest work itself out. I’m vegetarian, so milk and cheese feature heavily in my diet protein wise. I don’t deal well with being given meal plans as I’m a control freak and like the choice and flexibility of doing it myself.
“That said, pizza is one of my favourites “sometimes” foods. I like Italian style, thin base woodfired pizzas with plenty of vegetables (but never pineapple!). Doughnuts are also a long-time favourite. I used to like apple doughnuts from Morrison’s before they discontinued them. Right now, I like either glazed donuts or warm sugared ring donuts from Sainsbury’s or M&S.”