Jessica-Rose Clark rejuvenates career, life after move to Las Vegas

Jessica-Rose Clark won her UFC debut in November, defeating Bec Rawlings by split decision. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Jessica-Rose Clark is addicted to thrift shopping. Clark -- "Jessy" for short -- cannot seem to stop herself from dropping a few bills at a thrift shop every weekend. It started as a way to wear something other than gym clothes and has blossomed into 22 pairs of jeans and 30 jackets. It's a bona fide problem.

"I don't wear any of it," Clark said in a phone interview. "And who even needs that many jackets and pairs of jeans?"

Some guy took her to Savers and well, she's had a hard time leaving. This is a thing Clark, 30, does. She says she's an "all-or-nothing person." She also wanders into things and stays. That's how she got into MMA and it's how she wound up at her current gym. She does what she pleases and lets joy lead her.

It seems to be working since her second UFC fight is at the top of a UFC Fight Night card against Paige VanZant on Sunday in St. Louis.

Clark began her career at 23 by starting to train Muay Thai. Even though she didn't originally love the wrestling and grappling of MMA, she still found herself drawn to the sport because she "liked the rawness of it." She won three MMA championships in Australia.

She does not hate grappling and wrestling anymore.

"I say that I hate it because I prefer to strike, but I feel like I'm pretty good at wrestling and pretty good at grappling," Clark said. "It's hard to hate something when you're good at it."

In her UFC debut, Clark faced fellow Aussie Bec Rawlings at UFC Fight Night 121 in Sydney. She took the fight with 11 days' notice and defeated Rawlings via split decision. The next day, she had already been offered and accepted the showdown with VanZant. Fighting VanZant comes a little extra glitz and glamour, as well as the opportunity to impress and continue to be fast-tracked in a new flyweight division that is still finding its rhythm.

"I'm feeling really good," Clark said. "I believe that I'm better everywhere. I'm a lot more experienced. I'm bigger; I'm stronger; I'm older. I feel like my fight intelligence is really high. In all aspects, I just feel like I'm technically better."

Clark fights out of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. She has lived in Vegas for 18 months, and did so to remove herself from what had become a dangerous situation with her ex-fiancé. She described the relationship as toxic and rife with emotional and physical abuse. She said she ended up having him arrested in her apartment. In order to get her out, a friend purchased her plane ticket from Australia to Vegas, and offered a place to stay while she figured out her next steps.

"It was volatile the whole time, but was in love," Clark said of her previous relationship. "It was like a drug addiction. I knew how bad it was, but I couldn't get enough of it at the same time."

After landing in Vegas, Clark approached Syndicate MMA owner John Wood to see if she could train there while she was in town. He invited her to help out with another fighter's camp, and Clark figured she would be there for a few weeks before heading to Florida. More than a year later, she still hasn't left.

"He's changed my life," Clark said. "He learned how to get through to me better than anyone can. I'm overly emotional and he's like the one person who has been able to figure me out. He knows how to calm me down if I'm freaking out and pick me back up. No one has ever done that."

Syndicate MMA has become Clark's home. She teaches youth Muay Thai classes and trains as much as her body will allow. Though she spent much of her childhood in small towns in Queensland, Australia, Clark can't get enough of Vegas. Everything is available all the time and her gym is here. What else could she need?

After spending the last decade couch-surfing, living in gyms and crashing with other people, she's finally getting her own apartment. Right after she gets back from St. Louis, she's putting down three months rent and getting her own place.

"I feel like I've made a home in Vegas," Clark said. "I'm ready to really put down some roots."

With a new apartment comes the possibility of getting a dog. Even though she has physically moved on from her past relationship, the wounds are still present. She said she has nightmares and struggles with post-traumatic stress, so the opportunity to have a companion is appealing. It's another step in the healing process and building the life she wants.

"If that situation hadn't happened, then I wouldn't have moved to Vegas and I wouldn't be where I'm at," Clark said of her experience with domestic violence. "It still pops up in my head and I hate talking about him. I'll never say his name, but I can't be upset about that situation anymore."