About to make her UFC debut, women's MMA pioneer Kedzie looks back
Legendary trainer Greg Jackson calls Julie Kedzie the Lucille Ball of MMA. And for good reason. From tripping over open desk drawers and gashing her leg two weeks before her 2008 fight against Tonya Evinger, to face-planting into a laundry basket in front of a roomful of guests at a Jackson's gathering, to fending off come-on attempts by disgraced Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Kedzie's earned her accident-prone reputation.
But there's nothing accidental -- or even funny -- about her success in the cage. Kedzie, now 32, helped pioneer women's MMA at a time when UFC president Dana White swore women wouldn't be in the world's leading promotion. Kedzie (16-11-0) gets the last laugh on Saturday when she enters the octagon for her UFC debut against Germaine de Randamie (3-2-0) as part of the UFC on Fox 8 card.
In a wide-ranging conversation with SI.com, Kedzie talks about the early days of women's fighting, the dumb comments boyfriends have made, what she really thinks of Ronda Rousey, and the women's accessory she feels she will one day wear.
To get to the first female fight in UFC history last February between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at the Honda Center in Anaheim, I took the 405 freeway. Taking that road, to me, was almost poetic. Ten years ago, I took the 405 to my first MMA training sessions. When I decided to be a fighter, this other girl, Erin Webb and I drove to California to train with this other female fighter named Debi Purcell, who was on the first DVD of women's fights that I'd seen. Debi had injured her knee but she would run us through practice.
I spent two or three months there then headed back to Indiana to finish my English literature degree. In March 2004, I had my first fight at a Hook n' Shoot show in Evansville, Indiana. I walked up a ramp into this boxing ring and I remember the other girl, Terry Blair, seemed really big to me even though she was shorter than me. The bell rings and I remember thinking to myself, You just gotta go. Take her down. Take her down. Take here down. She was a boxer.
I got her down and executed the worst armbar setup and armbar you'll ever see in your life. It just was so bad. But I won. It was crazy how alive I felt. It's so hard to duplicate that feeling in anything, even in a good training session. Maybe power lifters get that when they get that really big lift. Maybe mountain climbers feel it when they've gotten to the summit, but it's just something where you feel truly, truly alive. I felt like it was what I was meant to be doing.
Then I lost three fights in a row.
I was pissed I was losing but it never occurred to me to stop. I kept thinking, I have to get more fights so I can win. I got to learn this jiu-jitsu stuff. I just wanted to do more and I wanted to do better. I moved from Bloomington, Indiana, to Greenwood and moved in with my sister to train with James Clingerman. I started working all these jobs just to fight -- waiting tables, personal training even though I didn't have a degree in it. I worked for a chiropractor. I taught at kid's martial arts at a YMCA.
Then I would go home -- this was in the days of dial-up internet -- and run up an incredibly huge phone bill pulling up as much as I could about every female kickboxer, every female boxer, every female in combat sports so I could know about them. I remember seeing Germaine de Randamie's name from that. Later, I saw footage of her on YouTube. I thought, holy s---, she's good.
I was lucky to be near the Hook n' Shoot shows -- that's where female fighting got its birth in America. The Hook n' Shoot promoter, Jeff Osborne really believed in the product. He gave women's MMA its first platform. He took care of us to a certain extent. Some of the fans, though, weren't as progressive. I remember during one fight one guy yelled out, "Hey, watch out for the guillotine. Watch out for the guillotine. Oh, I just want to f--- you in the mouth. Watch out for the guillotine." At another fight in Wisconsin, some guy pinched my ass on the way to the cage. Little things like that happened and you're like uuuggggghhh.
By 2007 I had an 8-6 record and was signed to two promotions, BoDog and EliteXC. In February of that year, EliteXC set me up to fight Gina Carano for what would be the first female fight on Showtime. When they first said it was going to be on TV, I thought they meant on some local TV station, but then I get there and there are all these TV cameras.
I was there by myself, though. My coach, James Clingerman, had been shot in the head years earlier and had a bullet lodged in his brain. He couldn't get on planes because it would swell up with the cabin pressure. So he had to make the 12-hour drive from Greenwood to Mississippi. He hadn't arrived yet. Greg Jackson and fighter Joey Villaseñor asked if I wanted to work out with them. I thought they were weirdos so I said, 'Maybe sometime' and the people in charge took me to another gym.
When it was time to cut weight, I got into the sauna and saw that the "weirdos" were in there. It turned out that they were really nice guys, though. Joey didn't have a sauna suit and I left to go get him one. Greg says that made an impression on him. I had no idea who Greg was. I only cared about the chicks in MMA. Everyone at that fight was Gina, Gina, Gina, Gina, Gina, Gina and they were the only people who actually really talked to me.
Greg and Joey invited me to train with them in New Mexico. My brain was limited in what I could pick up because I was so locked into Indiana. I wasn't in a happy place in my heart and my mind and my life. At the time a female coach was inviting me to train with them on a female team. But I had a boyfriend at the time who was also a fighter. He knew who Greg was and said, "No, no we need to do this."
So we went and met Greg. My then-boyfriend completely monopolized the conversation and told Greg we were going to move there. I remember thinking, "He kinda invited me." The day after my 27th birthday, March 19, 2007, I get in my car and I come to New Mexico, thinking I'm not going back.
That boyfriend told me when we moved down here that I needed to get a fulltime job again. I would go to work, pick him up on my lunch break -- he couldn't drive. He wanted me to get a fulltime job and support him training. He said, "Let's look at it: I'm the one whose career is going to make it in this sport. So you need to support it." I was thinking, "No, I'm the one who's signed to two organizations."
He's like the uncle from Napoleon Dynamite who could throw the football over the mountain -- a guy with big dreams who constantly lived in the past and wasn't willing to work for the future. My first red flag should have been when he started calling me babe -- that's the name of a pig.
He was someone who didn't have the motivation to follow through with his dreams. Dreams aren't just sitting around. You actually have to put the work in and I love putting the work in. As much as I whine about it, I love putting the work in and I don't understand people who don't want to do it.
At the time, Dana White was saying there wouldn't be women in the UFC. But I just knew it. I saw the effect that Gina had on people. I saw the way people, the real fans of the sport, respected people like Tara LaRosa, Debi Purcell. I saw that. It's out there. I saw the respect people gave Megumi Fujii, the greatest female fighter of all time. Yeah, she didn't make a lot of money. But the availability was there. It was a just a matter of putting the right girl at the right time in the right circumstances and seeing what happens.
That was Ronda Rousey. She absolutely broke through that glass ceiling. I wanted to be the first. I was jealous before but not when I actually went to the Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche fight. They were the best two women who could have been chosen for it. Ronda brings this incredible athletic and personal story with what she went through with her dad. Liz being the first openly gay athlete in the UFC? It's not like she was on a soapbox or anything, she was just honestly, quietly living her life and that made it more powerful. I was so blown away by that story and I love those girls.
I didn't know I was in the UFC until after I arrived at UFC 157 and was sitting ringside. I really wanted to be in the UFC, but I had always thought, "I'll earn my way in. I'll fight my way into it." It's not like it wouldn't be hard. It will happen for me. I will fight in the UFC. That's what I said before my very first fight. That's not positive psychology ripped out of the pages of The Secret or anything like that; it's just knowing what I'm capable of and doing it.
Now, I'm going to win the belt. I just know it. I'm never confident. I'm terrified every time I spar. But I know I am going to be UFC champion of the world someday. People will say, "Oh, you're looking past so and so. I'm not looking past anybody. July 28 -- the day after my fight with Germaine -- doesn't exist for me. It's all just July 27 for me. I just know I'm going to be the champion.
Looking back, my journey in MMA has been me tripping every two feet but I wouldn't trade places with Ronda Rousey. I wouldn't trade places with Meisha Tate or any of these people who are the famous ones. I like tripping over my own feet. It's made me happy and it's made it more worth it. You can look at the way someone else achieved it, but it's not their way, it's your way. It's your own journey. And mine, on Saturday, will take me down a road that is both new and familiar. We might even take Washington's 405 highway to get to the show.