Often times, the road that is life takes its own course. The peaks, valleys and everything in between are just mile markers along the way. Yet, for some, that course takes them exactly where they wanted to be.

After nine years of competition and 27 fights, 32-year-old bantamweight Julie Kedzie has a resume that includes a who’s who of opposition—Gina Carano, Miesha Tate, Tara LaRosa and Shayna Baszler—and stops in Strikeforce, EliteXC, HOOKnSHOOT and BodogFight. Even after logging plenty of miles, Kedzie has at least one more stop on her itinerary: the UFC.

The Chicago native, who now calls Albuquerque, N.M., home, is poised to make her Octagon debut on July 27 at UFC on Fox 8 against Germaine de Randamie. Having been through so much already in her career, Kedzie always expected this day to come.

“I’m like the only person who honestly believed from my very first fight that I was going to be in the UFC,” the Jackson’s MMA product told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “You have your ups and downs, especially when [UFC President] Dana [White] was saying it would never happen, but I still believed it was going to happen. I worked hard for it and I got it.”

Kedzie (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

Kedzie is entering the world’s largest promotion on the heels of back-to-back defeats to top-five competition inside the Strikeforce cage. The first came at the hands of current UFC combatant Alexis Davis and the second was courtesy of the aforementioned Tate, a former Strikeforce title holder and current UFC title challenger. Despite the setbacks, Kedzie is optimistic about her future, especially after nearly finishing Tate last August with a violent head kick.

“That last fight was the real Julie Kedzie; I’m a late bloomer,” she proclaimed. “It was the first time in 27 fights where I showed who I am as a fighter and it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what I’m capable of. That fight was how I always am in training. That’s how I should always be fighting.

“I’ve been waiting so long to break through whatever mental or physical barriers that I’ve put in front of myself. Everything that was keeping me from that is departing. It took nine years to get to the real me.”

The loss to Tate was coupled with a shoulder injury that kept Kedzie parked on the sidelines for the past 11 months. Fully healed, the veteran is counting on her experience to carry her through a number of obstacles when the cage door shuts in Seattle on the 27th.

“We’re talking about a triple whammy here. I’m coming off an injury, there’s ring rust and Octagon jitters. All three of those things are going to cancel each other out and it’s going to be great. At least that’s what I’m banking on,” Kedzie said with a laugh.

“I worry about all of that, but the thing is that I don’t let it control me. You have those fears and those worries, but you can address them and fight. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Kedzie’s first challenge inside the world-famous Octagon comes in the form of the towering, 5-foot-11 Dutchwoman de Randamie. Although Kedzie’s MMA experience trumps de Randamie’s 3-2 record, the former featherweight and fellow Strikeforce veteran also holds a perfect 37-0 kickboxing record. Kedzie, herself a decorated Taekwondo practitioner, is undeterred by what her opponent brings to the table.

Kedzie works with Greg Jackson (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

“In kickboxing, she paved the way for females,” acknowledged Kedzie. “I don’t think she gets enough credit for what she’s done in female combat sports. She’s scary, but I also think I’m better.

“Every fighter has to say that, right? But I do think I’m better. I think I can out-kickbox her, out-wrestle her, out-grapple her…or I wouldn’t be fighting.”

The confidence—or perhaps more accurately, candidness—that Kedzie exudes regarding her fight game is the result of more than just a decade of highs and lows in the cage. She’s witnessed the growth and evolution of women’s fighting firsthand at Jackson’s MMA. Her teammates include former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman and Invicta Fighting Championships atomweight title holder Michelle Waterson.

“I’m lucky that I train with extraordinary women. All of them have helped me tremendously for this fight,” explained the 32-year-old. “A lot of women who don’t get to train with other females may not realize that women bring a different energy. Men have egos when they spar, but women have egos like crazy when they spar other women. I’m not saying my training partners are like that, but it’s hard to duplicate that energy unless you’re actually sparring a woman.”

It’s not just energy levels that Kedzie feels separates her and her training partners. She hints that it’s something much more personal.

“I’m a female fighter, so I only know this perspective, but there’s a lot of tension, a lot of stress in camp,” she revealed. “It’s nice when you’re having one of those days where everything is going wrong, crying in the cage but don’t want to show it to anybody, and you realize the person you’re sparring with is in the same spot. Guys are like, ‘yeah, whatever man.’ Girls are like, ‘yeah, I’ve had that same kind of day.’ I think only girls can understand that.”

The picture of fight camp that Kedzie paints isn’t far from reality. After being out of action for almost a year, she’s had to juggle multiple jobs to keep her journey from hitting an unexpected dead end. Between serving as Greg Jackson’s assistant and Invicta FC commentator, Kedzie’s focus has been tested many times in recent months.

Kedzie (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

“This fight camp has been the hardest of my entire life in terms of what I’ve had to balance and everything that is going on. It’s been extremely challenging,” she admitted.

“Greg [Jackson] puts the fighter first, even when the fighter is his assistant. He always puts me and my needs ahead of that, but I don’t want to be shitty at my job. I still want to do the things for him that he needs done every day. With Bellator’s reality show, he’s leaving all the time.

“With Invicta, it’s been fun to prepare for, but it’s been hard as well. Maybe it’s because I’m older; I don’t know. It’s a tougher road this time around. Hopefully it will make it that much more worth it when I win on the 27th.”

Compounding Kedzie’s stressful schedule is the financial burden of her absence from competition. With the recent controversy surrounding the UFC’s “of the Night” bonuses, the Illinois native is thankful that the promotion hasn’t done away with them.

“I’ve seen what my teammates make and I’ve yet to get there,” she quipped. “It would be really nice not to pay a student loan. Or have a house. Just a down payment on a small condo somewhere. Two bedrooms…I don’t care. I’m 32, I don’t want to scramble anymore.

“I was supposed to go to Chicago to train with Israel Martinez, but I couldn’t afford it. This camp has been the most expensive camp of my life. Because I haven’t fought, I didn’t save enough. I’ve had to take stunt jobs to make money, which is great, but that meant I was working and missing opportunities to go wrestle.”

Despite her struggles, the revealing look into Kedzie’s career is tempered by the fighter’s unwavering positive outlook. In fact, she’s not content to simply set the cruise control and coast in the UFC. She’s got her eyes on the fast lane…and UFC gold.

Kedzie (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

“As sure as I was that I was going to be in the UFC, I’m sure at this point I’m going to be the champion,” she boldly declared. “Looking at me on paper, I have a shitty record, ups and downs in my career, inconsistencies, this and that, but I just know it’s going to happen. I’m absolutely sure that I’m going to be the champion and I’m going to retire the champion of the world.”

With such an optimistic viewpoint on her future, how does Kedzie feel her skill set matches up with current UFC champion Ronda Rousey?

“Nobody can really sum me up. ‘Oh, she has poor submission defense,’ or ‘she’s just an okay striker,’ this, that. I can’t say that I’m going to rip Ronda’s arm off or anything,” joked Kedzie. “[But] it’s not what Ronda hasn’t seen, it’s what I haven’t displayed. What I really bring to the table is that no one can get a read on me.”

Whether anyone can figure out Kedzie inside the Octagon remains to be seen. With a trip to a title fight set as her final destination, the late bloomer is hoping that a win in Seattle over de Randamie will put her one step closer to making her championship assertion a reality.

Julie would like to thank her team and all of her sponsors. Follow Kedzie on Twitter: @julesk_fighter

Top Photo: Julie Kedzie (Bryan Henderson/The MMA Corner)

  • Burles Cooks, Jr.

    Julie,

    You are a true pioneer of Women’s MMA, I just love you, but, honestly, please wake-up from your dream of beating Ronda. Call her up and kindly apologize now.