Monday, March 3, 2014

The Evolution Of A Zombie



Photos 1-2 courtesy of Mike Wrobel/Shoot It MMA
Photos 3-4 courtesy of Cali Fights Magazine




"I can't say that I've fully achieved my dream yet. I'm just starting to evolve."
Sean Combs

"I always thought of the zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next."
George A. Romero

Fans in Ohio and the surrounding states have long known about Jessica Zomcik. Thew knew her to be among the best amateur fighters in the sport. She compiled a 9-3 record with only three defeats, two to Tamikka Brents and one to Amanda Wilcoxen which she avenged one year later. However outside of the area, Zomcik was not as well know except to the most die-hard of fans. Why? Jessica doesn't brag or boast. She doesn't tell you she is the best, she goes out and shows it. The only drawback to that is that unless you see those fights, you don't see what she is showing. While not being a big talker, one thing she does have is charisma, a natural charisma. You may see her fight and become a fan of her fighting, but once you meet Jessica, you can't help but become a fan of her as a person. Rarely, if ever, will you come across someone who has met Jessica and not liked her. Luckily, with women's MMA increasing in popularity, with more people covering women's MMA and with more and more information and video becoming available, more and more people outside the area have gotten to know about Jessica, more people have become aware, and it culminated in her winning several female amateur fighter of the year awards for 2013.

Jessica described herself in a previous interview with me as being "a tom-boy growing up", but also added that she didn't start playing sports until 10th grade when joining the high school football team. She wanted to be a kicker, but says she didn't do well so was put on the offensive line. She even went on to play semi-pro football for four years until some injuries put an end to that.

Her foray into MMA began when she met someone who was into the sport and he took her to watch a class and her former coach invited her to try a class. She said it took forever to understand the moves and get her body in such awkward ways. Even today she says she is still learning and that is one of the things she loves. She says she enjoys "learning how to manipulate your body". She adds that "people can't do somersaults and I know how to manipulate my body in such a way and submit you with these odd moves. It's fascinating, you are constantly learning. Just the other week I thought I knew how to throw a jab and Steve (Traczyk) showed me a little thing and I was like 'Oh my God, you put pressure here and not there'. It is a constant evolution of knowledge. In a previous interview with me when I asked what advice she would give to potential fighters, she perfectly explained her feelings when she said " You have to change your entire life, your social life is very minimal, your hair and skin are not going to be nice anymore, you will be hungry and will cry, but you will have so much fun."

In July 2009 Jessica made her amateur debut at NAAFS War on the Shore winning via TKO over Janel Kraftt in just twenty-six seconds. She says that afterwords she was surprised it went so fast saying "I didn't know why they were stopping it. I was like "oh, I won? That quick? That easy?' I couldn't believe it, it doesn't feel like it should be over that quick." What did her parents think of her fighting? "My parents were used to my odd choice in sports so they backed me one hundred percent."

Jessica followed that up by winning her second fight with a first round submission over Alyssa Vasquez before suffering the loss to Wilcoxen that she later avenged. She had a great career going till her loss to Tamikka Brents and taking 21 months off. In that time she joined a new gym, Evolve, a gym with a large number of fighters and making big waves. On the gym move she said "I had to get somewhere where I could make it to the top.... it was the best move I could make.

Evolve is loaded with some great amateurs and is now making some waves in the pros. She went 4-0 as an amateur under the Evolve banner winning four fights in impressive fashion. After her second fight with Evolve, a dominating decision win over Jena Baldwin, there were many in the sport who felt Zomcik was ready to turn pro. However with Jessica and her coaches, there was no rush. Evolve's John Cook says "fighters make the jump to pro way before they are prepared to compete at the next level.... the level of competition has grown exponentially." Cook adds that those who go pro early "usually have short careers.... if you are passionate about fighting and want to continue competing, you better be damn sure you are ready." Jessica's striking coach Steve Traczyk adds "We believe you need to be a martial artist who has trained for years in at least a few disciplines. That's what Jess is, a true martial artist." Zomcik's response when asked about it was that "she never felt ready, I wanted to hone my skills." She added "if you aren't ready, you don't have a long career."

After the first two fights with Evolve being with the NAAFS, Jessica got an offer to fight in Las Vegas for a Tuff-N-Uff tournament. It would seem a great opportunity for her, a chance to travel and not be the local fighter, experience that could help in the pros, where she will have to travel more. Jessica concurred saying it was a good experience with the weight cut and travel and not being liked. She went into those fights and put on outstanding performances showing both her stand-up and ground skills in winning both fights in the second round, finishing Bryanna Fissori via armbar and Shannon Reed via TKO. In fact, Jessica has finished the majority of her wins. When asked if their is a mindset to being a finisher she says about that some people are "more determined, not into squeaking by. Willing to put yourself in a dangerous situation.

So, how has Jessica become a better fighter since joining Evolve? Jessica says it is her stand-up, getting timing and distance down, as she says "all the little things." John Cook says "she's not even the same person." He says that she came to Evolve with excellent Jiu Jitsu, she was lacking in striking, wrestling and strength. He says that Steve Traczyk works tirelessly round after round to perfect her stand-up. He adds that wrestling with both himself and Sonny Marchette has had a huge impact on her confidence to both take opponents down and avoid being taken down herself. He also mentions Evolve's top flight strength and conditioning program is something that has helped Jessica. Traczyk also points to helping with her mental game and diet. He says "she was really good when we got her and we helped make her a champion." He adds that "she has brought just as much to our team with her leadership and knowledge. About training with mostly males, Jessica on numerous occasions has stated it's positives. John Cook says Jessica is "treated as a fighter, not a girl" and adds she holds her own and in some cases has done better." Traczyk adds that at Evolve they say "train with elephants and your opponent will feel like a peanut. Jessica is not above sharing that knowledge she has gained either. Amateur fighter Jessica Dinch talks about training with Zomcik and says "it was an awesome experience. She fights three weight classes above me so she is bigger and stronger. But when we trained together she used her technique instead of her strength and just beating me up. I got to do work and not just get thrown around the cage." She adds about Zomcik "I respect someone who is highly skilled and still trains with me and teaches me things. She doesn't think she is to good to work with me." In fact, Zomcik even came to one of Dinch's fights and worked her corner for her.

So after the Vegas fights, Jessica's career as an amateur came to an end, making many fight fans excited. John Cook says the decision was made after Tuff-N-Uff when he and Steve Traczyk agreed it was time.... timing is everything and with all the opportunities available to female fighters, it is time for her to seize those opportunities." With her wrapping her amateur career winning big fights and receiving multiple awards, one might wonder how she handled the attention. She handled it by remaining the same, humble. John Cook adds "she is humble, but very confident" saying she handled it will professionalism, class and appreciation." Steve Traczyk adds that she is "not an attention seeker and no awards will ever change that." At many local fights you will see Jessica stopping to chat and take a photo with anyone who will ask her.

When an amateur career ends, a pro career begins and Jessica's pro career was set to begin with a March 1st match-up for Driven MMA with the talented Summer Bradshaw. When I asked Jessica her thoughts on how they match up, she was complimentary of Bradshaw but felt she was the more technical fighter and that would play a huge role in a win. John Cook agreed but also added she is "better conditioned, more well-rounded, more experienced and better prepared." Steve Traczyk also points out her heart and intelligence adding her fight IQ is "through the roof."

Fight day, before the doors opened, as fighters were walking about or relaxing, Jessica seemed confident. Seemed she knew the win was coming and was just getting ready for a night of work. She said it was "the same old song and dance." The women would be the first fight after intermission, Jessica had already seen teammate Kyle Rozewski walk away with a victory. Bradhsaw came out looking confident as well, same as she appeared the night before at weigh-ins. Jessica walked out to a very loud ovation, the benefits of having the home crowd support, fans who had seen her grow up in the sport. After introductions, both fighters seemed ready to go at it. They came out and both fighters threw a flurry of punches and kicks. Neither seemed to have gotten the better of the other. Then Zomcik pulled guard and took it down and immediately began to work on submissions before securing an armbar at the 3:17 mark of the opening round. When asked when she knew it was over, Jessica said " When I felt her elbow pop out." Jessica said she expected her opponent to come out aggressive and was not surprised by Bradshaw's stand-up. Was pulling guard part of the game-plan? Jessica says "Because I wasn't feeling well I knew my gas tank was limited and I didn't feel like I was doing much damage standing up. I knew my ground game was much better than hers so I decided to take her arm." Why was her gas tank limited? Because she was battling food poisoning. Did she consider not fighting? She says "There was no doubt that I was going to fight, I didn't feel well at all and was probably at sixty percent when I stepped in the cage. I couldn't warm up more than thirty seconds without feeling nauseous and exhausted. It just wasn't like me to feel this way. But fighters fight, there was no other option." She easily summed up her emotions after the fight saying she was "Relieved and happy to represent my team and family well."

With her first fight in the books, I asked Jessica what was next and she simply said "we'll see." How good can Jessica be? Steve Traczyk says "she can go to the top of the sport, there is nothing she can't do." John Cook says "we shall see, I think pretty fucking good" adding she is "already the best seamstress in the world." Jessica Dinch adds "she'll be the champ one day" adding that before turning pro she was "already better than some of the pros out there."

Different people are meant to do different things, be it a writer, a teacher, a police officer, you name the profession. Jessica Zomcik was meant to be a fighter. Not cause she is some mean person or because she has some penchant for violence. She was meant to be a fighter because she is a competitor, a competitor that likes to test her skills and continue learning, and what better outlet for that than mixed martial arts. Jessica will continue to evolve, improve and climb the ranks to the top of her class. Jessica "The Zombie" Zomcik is a name that MMA fans need to get used to, it's gonna be around for a long time.

Follow Jessica on twitter at https://twitter.com/jzthezombie
Jessica's fan page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/JessicaTheZombieZomcik

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