'I wanted to know what happened when I got hit in the face': Interview with Kate Jackson - the first British woman to contest an MMA world title

Gareth A Davies
The Telegraph
Kate Jackson is the first British woman to contest an MMA world title fight
Kate Jackson is the first British woman to contest an MMA world title fight

They say you should never judge a book by its cover.  Kate Jackson, with her middle class accent and shy demeanour, comes across as the unlikeliest of cage fighters.

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But Jackson has spent ten years and fifteen fights transforming into a thorny, brutal cage fighter with flying fists, feet and elbows.   

Once the 33-year-old from Newquay, Cornwall steps into a fight arena, she is a different beast. And after a decade of testing herself in the most unforgiving sport, she makes history in Hawaii on Saturday night as the first British woman ever to contest a world title in mixed martial arts.

"I wanted to know what happened when I got hit in the face," explained Jackson to The Daily Telegraph in an exclusive interview, as she prepares to meet the Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in Honolulu.

"It was through my fascination to test myself in combat. That's the simplest way of putting it. I started karate and judo in my mid-teens, and it's just been an evolution ever since then. It came about one stage at a time with me adding more martial arts before I dived into the mixed martial arts world to fight.

"I wanted to find out what happens when you put two people in a small space and they’re allowed to use everything, within reason. I think everyone knows the answer to that now given how much MMA has grown, but ten years ago that’s why I started." 

"It seems a weird thing to say nowadays because of the prevalence of MMA and full contact fighting, but 15 years ago that was a very real question to want to answer. What happens against someone who is trying to hurt you just as you are trying to hurt them?"

<span>Gareth A Davies talks to Kate Jackson ahead of her title fight</span>
Gareth A Davies talks to Kate Jackson ahead of her title fight

In the time Jackson has been fighting, women's MMA has mushroomed with a legion of stars led by 'Rowdy' Ronda Rousey, who shifted the paradigm. When Jackson's parents Richard and Jackie, a rural land surveyor and school bursar respectively, found out about Jackson's penchant for fighting, they simply backed her. As did her sister Rebecca, who has a Masters in American Literature and works for a luxury travel company, and her brother Robert, who is "very very intelligent and specialises in genetics", explains Jackson.

There are always reasons why individuals choose to fight. Jackson had a desire to be kinetic, to test herself physically. "I think it was something that made sense when I was a teenager. I love reading and have always read a lot, though I was dyslexic and it made academic stuff that much more of a struggle. Socially as well, I was incredible shy. Once I got a little older, the physical outlet drew me, and it helped me in so many ways, but helped me grow and grow in confidence.”

But here is Jackson now, on the cusp of making history. Only two British men - Michael Bisping and Liam McGeary - have won world titles respectively in Bellator and the UFC. Jackson's opportunity has come at a time when women in the sport are now flourishing. "I keep thinking, like a lot of people, if only I was 10 years younger, but really I've got opportunities that a generation of fighters before me, especially females, just didn't have," explained Jackson to Telegraph Sport.

"When I started there was no thought it could be a full time career. That's a possibility now. You can train and fight full time as a woman. Ten years ago that was just inconceivable," added Jackson, who has a record of 11 victories, three losses and one draw, and has fought two previous world champions with her strong wrestling and striking game.

"I don’t think I should have to be grateful, but I am grateful to be alive now and have the opportunities I have now. Even 20 years ago it wouldn’t have happened. My grandmother was doing research at Cambridge University and she had to quit her job when she got married. That’s not that long ago. I’m glad things are changing slowly." 

"I've had to fight abroad for the vast majority of my career. I ran out of opponents in the UK in 2012. But it’s wasn't until Bellator invested in the UK and European market that I had the opportunity to fight in my home country again, which is amazing. I love fighting in London."

Indeed, it was a victory in London in June where Jackson crushed the Ukrainian Lena Ovchynnikova with cuts from elbow strikes from a mounted top position that earned her the world title shot. Jackson remains the underdog. Champion Macfarlane, a renowned grappler who studied at the same Punahou High School in Honolulu that Barack Obama and golfer Michelle Wie attended, defends the title for the fourth time at the sold out venue for 9000 fans.

Macfarlane has become a huge star in Hawaii. “It’ll be amazing. It’s an interesting environment to be fighting in, they’re definitely fight fans and I want to give them a good fight," explains Jackson, who says that she has deep respect for her rival.

“She has a wrestling background, so she’s really tenacious. She wants the fight on the floor and she keeps going until she gets it there," explained Jackson, getting into fight mode, moving her shoulders as she apes moves.

"I want to be on the ground, but I’m not sure I want to be on the ground at all costs. I’d rather be dictating where the fight takes place. But if she takes me down, it’s not somewhere I’m afraid of being. Watching her previous fights, her submission game is definitely something to be careful of.

"It’s not going to an easy fight. I don’t expect that at all. We’re preparing for it to potentially go the five-round distance. I'll stay focused step by step and round by round, and try the push the fight my way and take her strengths away.”

What would victory mean, becoming the first British woman to win a world title in mixed martial arts? “It would be amazing. You know, the truth is that I hadn’t even realised or considered that it was making history when I got the offer to fight Ilima. I was a bit surprised to get it at first  I thought I needed one more fight. But once I got my head round it I jumped at the opportunity. Now I can really see if this ten-year experiment has worked - against the very best in the world. For me, it doesn't get better than that."

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs Kate Jackson for the Bellator Women's Flyweight title is live on Sky Sports on Saturday night

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