The path to the top in the world of MMA takes a level of dedication that many aren’t willing to endure. In fact, many fighters call it a career before they even have a chance to truly prove themselves.

Kentucky’s Jessamyn Duke is not one of those fighters.

The 26-year-old bantamweight may be just 2-0 as a professional, but as she prepares to enter the Invicta Fighting Championships cage for a third time on April 5 against Miriam Nakamoto, “The Gun” has her priorities straight.

“I know what my eventual goal is and that makes each fight that’s in front of me the most important fight in the world,” Duke told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I want to be the best in the world. I always feel there’s a lot of pressure going into a fight, I had that even as an amateur. If you stumble, if you lose, if something goes wrong, it’s a huge setback.”

Duke (top) drops a left hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

After back-to-back finishes at the promotion’s second and third events in 2012, the 5-foot-11 fighter is facing a new challenge in the decorated Muay Thai practitioner Nakamoto. However, Duke is confident of her abilities.

“I will impose my will and expose her where she’s weakest,” the AFS Academy product adamantly proclaimed. “I think Miriam’s the toughest opponent I’ve had to date. She is a very experienced opponent, at least in kickboxing. However, as far as MMA goes, she’s the one with the experience disadvantage.

“She should be more worried about me being a well-rounded fighter than me worried about her as a kickboxer. I have a lot of respect for her and I think this will be an exciting fight, but I think it will go the way that I want it to.”

With maturity beyond her years and experience, don’t expect Duke to waver from her game plan when the cage door shuts.

“Honestly and truly, I’m not afraid to strike with Miriam. But why would I play into the one strength that she has?” she asked rhetorically. “It doesn’t make any sense strategically. I like to go where I have the most control in a fight. In this case, that will be on the ground. My ground experience is way more than what she has. We’ll see who’s better at imposing their game.”

Bringing the fight to the ground may be Duke’s immediate goal on April 5, but it’s far from what she is aiming to accomplish inside the cage.

“Getting a finish in a fight is one of the most important things for me, period,” she explained. “I hate decisions. A decision win is still a win, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Anyone that has fought will tell you that it doesn’t feel the same way that a finish does. It’s always my goal to finish a fight. I’m willing to give it everything I have to get a finish in this fight.”

Duke celebrates victory (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

In preparation for the fight, Duke has ventured far from her native Kentucky to find the best training possible. The first stop on her journey? A trip to The Academy in Minnesota to train with fellow Invicta fighter Kaitlin Young under the tutelage of Greg Nelson.

“Kaitlin and I are both on the card, so our camps were aligned perfectly,” said Duke. “We were able to really go at it and push each other. It was hugely important for my experience and my confidence. She’s one of my heroes in the sport. To get to train with her so much was great for me as a fighter.”

Duke didn’t stop there though. As part of a trip to California, the bantamweight put herself through a training gauntlet that included kickboxing pioneer Kathy Long, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Eddie Bravo.

“It was almost surreal as a fighter. It’s one of those things that you don’t really believe is going to happen and then you wake up and realize that’s where you’re going that day,” Duke recalled of the experience.

“Eddie is a phenomenal teacher. I love jiu-jitsu, I love grappling. His system is perfect for me. His whole concept of grappling is to just crush people and that’s like my favorite thing to do.

“I just want to tangle people up and cause them so much grief. I have really long arms and long legs, and I want to use them like big long ropes and suffocate the life out of people. No matter where you’re at, you’re going to be miserable. I want to channel that.”

With all of the star power on her various trips, Duke’s travels gave her more than just sparring and additional time on the mat.

Duke (R) throws a right hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“All the traveling is hard but it also keeps you on your toes,” she said. “It lets you see how all these people train and coach. I got to work on a lot of areas. It was an extremely valuable trip to me.”

The time spent with Rousey may have been a glimpse into the future for the Bluegrass state fighter who plans on trying out for the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter—the first installment of the reality series to feature female fighters and where Rousey will be one of the coaches.

“I would be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind,” Duke revealed candidly. “I’m trying not to get too excited about it. When they announced it, I kind of flipped out, but I remembered I had a fight and I need to focus.

“Invicta has my full attention right now. I owe it to them. I would be doing them a disservice if I were wrapped up with The Ultimate Fighter. It’s definitely on my radar. I expect to make plans after this fight.”

As a 135-pound fighter, it’s only natural that Duke would consider the reality show. Even with the stability that Invicta has brought to female fighters, competing in the UFC is something every bantamweight is striving for.

“[I just] try to focus on my goals in the sport,” Duke reaffirmed. “I think of it as it’s one more step on my path to the top.”

A win over Nakamoto on April 5 and Duke’s goals will be closer to becoming reality.

Jessamyn would like to thank her coach, Scott Elliott, and all of her teammates at AFS Academy. Also, her sponsors: Polanti Watches, VII AD, Babes of MMA, Outlaw Fight Gear, KLENCH Mouthguards, Horse Power Strength &Conditioning, Intimidation Clothing, Dr. Taverni, Hype X-treme, Combatives Gear, Fight Soap, Stinson Chiropractic and Healing Stone Therapeutic Massage. Also her manager  Brett Atchley of Addison Sports Management and Media. Last, but not least, all of her fans. Follow her on Twitter: @jessamynduke

Top Photo: Jessamyn Duke (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)