Abusive childhood fuels Jessica Eye's success ahead of UFC 238 title showdown

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Jessica Eye celebrates her victory against Katlyn Chookagian of the U.S. in a flyweight bout during UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena on Dec. 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Getty Images)
Jessica Eye celebrates her victory against Katlyn Chookagian of the U.S. in a flyweight bout during UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena on Dec. 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Jessica Eye has spent much time this week, days before she realizes a dream and fights Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title in the co-main event of UFC 238 at the United Center on Saturday, talking about her relationship with her late father and the bruises he inflicted upon her.

Eye wrote a compelling piece for The Player’s Tribune in which she explained the stormy relationship she had with her father, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound hulk of a man who would regularly beat her.

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In her Player’s Tribune piece, she wrote of a time she was a teenager and went to a club and, when her Dad showed up looking for her, how he beat her.

“I stood there thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s gonna kill me,’” Eye wrote. “He grabbed me by my hair, pulled me outside and started beating me. Choking me, slapping me, throwing me back to the ground whenever I tried to get up. I was 14 years old, weighed 90 pounds, and everyone in town could see my 6-foot-4, 250-pound dad beating me half to death in the parking lot of a local dive bar.”

It’s heart-wrenching stuff, and something no one should have to live through.

Eye long ago came to terms with her relationship with her father, who died in 2013 from brain cancer.

Her life has improved immensely since her childhood days. She’s won three fights in a row since moving back to flyweight, and her move to Las Vegas to train with Eric Nicksick and Gray Maynard has been a revelation.

“I feel so ready for this,” she said.

The scars from those beatings healed, but not all scars are visible. And those don’t heal as easily.

Her difficult upbringing created issues with her and she still has difficulty with men.

“It really has and it’s challenging for dating,” Eye said. “Unfortunately, I don’t trust men, especially when I date them. It’s hard. Unfortunately, that means I don’t get to have that love yet. It’s tough not to have that love in your life.

Valentina Shevchenko (L) and Jessica Eye pose for the media during the UFC 238 Ultimate Media Day at the United Center on June 6, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)
Valentina Shevchenko (L) and Jessica Eye pose for the media during the UFC 238 Ultimate Media Day at the United Center on June 6, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)

She’s dealt with things as best she can, and is so invested in putting the positive spin on things that she says she’s thankful she endured the abuse she suffered at her father’s hands.

“I’m thankful for him because without him, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel as confident as I do if I hadn’t gone through some of those things he put me through. I can’t be mad at a man who was emotionally flawed himself.”

She’s done remarkably well dealing with it, and has vaulted herself to the top of her chosen profession.

Eye said the last several years have been a period of transition and learning for her. She lost four in a row and five of six from 2014 through 2016 while competing at bantamweight, and she began to feel left behind.

Not many really tried to encourage her or lift her when she was down. But now that she has turned her career around and won three consecutive fights and put herself into position to win the title, she’s trying to do that for others who are struggling.

“Unfortunately, with the way the world is now and with the growth of social media, we a lot of times forget about the people at the bottom and don’t help them so that we can all rise together,” Eye said. “We’re better in numbers. We’re better when we help others. The best way to success is by helping other people. That’s how the world becomes a little bit better of a place. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m trying to give one to the people who don’t feel good about themselves; who don’t feel worthy enough.

“They feel like they can’t get that job they want or they don’t have the courage to ask that person out they’d like to date. I want to show with this fight that, look, it is possible to struggle and be down but not be finished. I lost a lot of fights and there were a lot of people who I’m sure had given up on me. But I never gave up on myself and I’m almost back to the top of the mountain. So I want to do something for them, and make a point by winning this fight and showing what is possible to do.”

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