The UFC women’s flyweight division is one of the fastest growing weight classes in MMA.
WMMA Rankings sits down with BJJ World Champion and TUF 26 finalist Sijara Eubanks to discuss her career, the state of the 125-pound division, and more.
Eubanks began her career on the amateur scene but had to quickly turn pro due to lack of opportunities, being one of the more accomplished athletes turning to MMA.
“Lol I had 2 ammy fights actually, I went 2-0. I wanted to fight more and get more cage time as an amateur but I got turned down a lot because of my jiu jitsu background. So, I ended up going pro a little early because I couldn’t get fights otherwise.”
Being an unbeaten highly touted world champion grappler coming off of the amateur circuit has its perks as Invicta FC (the leader in WMMA) quickly offered her a contract. Eubanks competed three times for the all-female outfit, compiling a 2-1 record at 135. With Bellator and the UFC snatching up champions and contenders left and right from the Invicta roster, many wonder how long the promotion will be around. She spoke about her experience fighting for such a respected organization.
“I think they still are a leader in WMMA. Invicta and Shannon Knapp have made incredible strides for female pro fighters. They’ve given a lot of women a platform to fight, express themselves and make some decent money. I think they groom women for the UFC and that’s honorable, where some shows will try to keep you from moving up.”
In early 2017, Invicta FC was the premier promoter in bouts at flyweight on the women’s scene, but that would soon change. Bellator announced that it would crown a champion in the women’s 125-pound division later in the year, while leading Polish promotion KSW saw Ariane Lipski take home the inaugural KSW flyweight title in front of nearly 60,000 fans. This left fans and the media wondering when the industry-leading UFC would get on board with the category.
Seemingly out of nowhere Dana White revealed that the UFC will begin promoting women’s flyweight in 2017, turning once again to the Ultimate Fighter format to crown it’s first women’s champion, this time at 125. The news spread fast over social media. When the promotion announced the cast for TUF 26 some fans began scratching their heads as to why so many of the top fighters were left out of the cast. Some in the media used the records of the participants to claim that the division was not ready for the bright lights of the octagon. Eubanks doesn’t understand the criticism.
“No, not really. I mean who else is there? I think Andrea Lee was suspended at the time. And Maia was Invicta champ so makes sense that she would pass on the show and wait to go straight to UFC. Other than that, the best in the world went into the house. Valentina was still at 135 so I thought the show did well to grab top level talent.”
When the announcement was made Eubanks was still on the regional circuit, working her way to the UFC when she was contacted about the opportunity. As she explains, flyweight wasn’t first on her list.
“I believe my ex-manager texted me about it. And I was like hell yea this is it! I knew right away I’d be in the house and in the UFC. I didn’t know right away that it was flyweight tho lol.”
It took years for major promotions to welcome flyweight fighters on their rosters, but when they did it had an immediate impact on the women’s scene. So, what took so long?
“I think women’s MMA is just less populated than the men. So, it just takes longer for the talent pool to develop and for fans and promotions to catch on. I’m happy WMMA is growing because the more women who train and fight, the more we evolve and grow.”
The BJJ world champion’s only defeat at 125-pounds came in the form of a 2015 decision setback to top 10 ranked flyweight, Katlyn Chookagian. Eubanks is not opposed to a rematch.
“I never really thought about it. If it so happened that our careers lead us to fight, I would for sure but it’s nothing I’m gunning for.”
She picked up the two biggest wins of her professional career while competing on the show, knocking out former top 10 ranked flyweight Deanna Bennett and long-time veteran Roxanne Modafferi. Eubanks was happy to show what she knew all along.
“The experience was amazing. I knew I was top level so it was great to prove it and to test my skills. In fact, I complained a lot about my seeding in the house, they had me at 12, but really it helped in the long run because I had tough girls all the way through.”
Eubanks earned one of two spots in the finals with the win over Modafferi, but it was not to be. A tough cut to the flyweight limit sent the BJJ black belt to the hospital, resulting in her being pulled from the title bout in the eleventh hour.
“I didn’t really think it was going bad until the last day. I was confident and not stressing but that last 12-15 hours just went left, quickly.”
The UFC would eventually replace her with Modafferi but Eubanks was going through too much to care about the change.
“Man, I was blown about the whole thing so I was like whatever. It was frustrating obviously because I felt it was my time. But I didn’t really care who they replaced me with I was just going through the emotions of the failed cut and subsequent hospitalization.”
Like a true professional Sarj pulled herself together and attended the historic fight.
“It wasn’t bad. I knew they would go to a decision, neither of them is known for their finishing power. So, it was entertaining.”
In MMA it is not always the physical challenges one has to overcome but the mental aspect as well.
“Honestly my physical health bounced back pretty quickly. No long-term damage done. The mental part took some time. A lot of reflection and self-healing had to be done for me to move on.”
Before competing for the UFC Sarj fought primarily as a bantamweight. Flyweight wasn’t always in the picture.
“No, back then I didn’t think I’d end up at flyweight. I felt strong at 135 and there wasn’t a flyweight division in the UFC. So, I stuck to 135. When TUF was announced I figured it was a no brainer to try to make the cut for a shot at the title. Now that I’m out the TUF house, I’ve decided to stick to 125, it’s the best division for me.”
Sijara Eubanks is scheduled to compete at UFC Fight Night 131 in June, but she will not be fighting for a UFC title. The Lloyd Irvin black belt will meet former Invicta FC champion Lauren Murphy on the card. The move is believed by many to be a result of the misstep on the scales. While she agrees, Eubanks doesn’t feel any pressure going into the contest.
“Oh, yea I definitely got passed up because of the weight issue. And I get it, nobody wants to spend all that money and resource and the fighter never makes it to the cage. So, no biggie, I gotta prove to the company that I can make the weight and perform.” She stated “There’s no pressure though. There’s never pressure, that’s just a false self-inflicted feeling. I’m relaxed and having fun and it’s gonna be a smooth cut and great fight.”
While Sarj was out the discussion has turned to who deserves a shot at Nicco Montano’s title the most, with former UFC title challenger Valentina Shevchenko and Invicta FC flyweight queen Jennifer Maia often being discussed as the frontrunners, often with no mention of Sijara Eubanks. Most fighters would feel disrespected in a situation like that but Eubanks is not dwelling on the situation.
“Maybe a little bit, but it is what it is. My time will come and on June 1st I’ll be sure to remind everybody why I’m the best.” She continued “Haha they’re doing what a professional is supposed to do so I’m not mad at them at all. I’d be doing the exact same thing. I mean if you don’t wanna be champ, then I dunno. This is a dangerous sport to wanna settle for mediocrity or worse play nice and let the next girl have a go first lol But uh who’s more deserving? Lol idk, I don’t really care that much either”
She does not necessarily expect a title shot with a victory over Murphy.
“Beating Lauren keeps me at the top and back into title contention. I match up very very well against Lauren.” stated Eubanks “The only thing I expect is to be champion, when that time comes, I’ll be ready. I would hope to get the shot, but as it stands Nicco isn’t booked and Valentina kinda has the jump on me lol.”
Sarj wants her fans to know that there is no need to worry about her weight this time around.
“Well my camp starts next week, I know everybody wants to know how my weight is and it’s great! Lol I got a new nutrition plan from Clint At the UFC PI and I’m super excited for this camp and this fight.”
Sarj wanted to give a few shout-outs to her supporters.
“Big shout out to my Dad who’s helped me so much. To Clint, Duncan, Bo, Bobby and everyone at the UFC PI for helping me get my body in tip-top shape. My coaches Mark Henry, Jamal Patterson, Nick Catone, Ricardo Almeida, and the whole Renzo Gracie family. And my manager Ali”