“This is kind of like my first fight all over again. I really want to prove myself.”

Less than two weeks ago, 32-year-old Julie Kedzie was preparing for a bout inside the UFC’s Octagon. Following a controversial, split decision loss to Bethe Correia, the veteran of nearly 30 fights stepped out of the cage for what would be the final time—on her own terms. Yet, Kedzie had no idea what the future would hold beyond her commentary role with Invicta Fighting Championships and her job as Greg Jackson’s assistant in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I thought I would be doing the commentary gig, working for Greg and I’d be really, really poor,” explained Kedzie in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “That’s how it was as a fighter anyway. I’d get a fight and it was basically supplemental income to pay off some debts here and there, then start all over again.”

In a whirlwind series of events, the recently retired fighter quickly found herself with a new, somewhat unexpected job: Invicta FC matchmaker.

“It all came together with magic, I think,” said Kedzie with a laugh. “I don’t know how it happened so quickly, but I’m really happy about it.

“I’d spoken to [Invicta President] Shannon [Knapp] when she first signed me as a commentator and she said she wanted to bring me on in a bigger role with the company. She knew that I’m 32 years old and she wanted to make sure she could help me after my career. I don’t know if she’s psychic or what, cause I didn’t know when I wanted to retire, but I think she kind of sensed it.

“My manager asked if matchmaking was something I was interested in, because the position was open, and I said I was. Shannon and I didn’t even talk to each other about it until Sunday when we had a two-hour long conversation and she said, ‘You’re hired.’ It’s awesome. I’m overwhelmed.”

Kedzie will remain on the Invicta commentary team even after assuming the position previously held by Janet Martin. She’s hoping that the hard work she has put into her role behind the microphone will benefit her as she learns the ropes of matchmaking.

“With my broadcasting role, I wanted to nail it so well, I was reading pages and pages of notes and watching footage of the fighters before events,” revealed Kedzie. “I took it so seriously. I really wanted to prove myself as a commentator.

“I would go to the photo shoots and pay attention to how fighters interacted with their teams. It made me feel connected to all of them. I felt like I was more in the process. I’m hoping that work I put in initially—it won’t make things easier—but hopefully it will help build trust in me with them. I’d like them to trust me and know I have their backs.”

Building that trust and rapport with the fighters is one of the first challenges Kedzie will face as matchmaker. However, her decade-long career inside the cage is likely to help her with that task.

“I want to put the women first,” she adamantly declared. “There’s going to be a lot of people asking me for things. I have to make sure I respond to everything. I’m good about that right now, but this is a whole new level.

“I just want to get a clear message out to everyone that I am going to read everything that they send me and I am going to address it. I don’t want anyone to feel left out or that I’m forgetting them. I have to learn to tell people, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ve got you.’

“I want everybody to grow and do well. That’s something I admire a lot in Shannon. She’s never held anybody back. I’m using her as a role model in all of this. But I want people to know I’ve got them.”

One of the first orders of business for Kedzie to address as matchmaker was something that some may have overlooked when the news was first announced: her Jackson’s MMA teammates under contract with the all-women’s promotion.

“I’ve actually already spoken with Tara [LaRosa] and Jodie [Esquibel], and Emily [Kagan] is of course in the UFC now. I haven’t spoken with Michelle [Waterson] yet, because she’s on vacation with her family,” said Kedzie.

“I told them that I’m going to do things for the better of the company and they may not like some of the choices that I make. I want them to work for themselves and not see me as ‘Julie Kedzie, the training partner’ when we’re under the Invicta banner. They’re reasonable human beings, professionals. When it comes to them, I plan on keeping separation. I’ll speak with their managers or have Shannon speak with their managers.”

Despite having less than a week on the job, Kedzie is already hard at work for the promotion. But that doesn’t mean things are going to be easy.

“The full scope of what I’m going to be doing for the company is going to develop in time,” she declared. “Right now, I’ve been the matchmaker since Sunday night. I’m compiling databases and taking e-mails. Shooting out ideas. I don’t have a definite date for the next card.

“I’m learning the ropes. Be patient with me. A lot of questions will be answered in the future.”

Even with such a short time to begin adjusting to her new duties, Kedzie is already getting peppered with questions about her plans for the next Invicta card. But the wily veteran is remaining coy about what lies ahead for the promotion, even if she’s certainly thought about potential match-ups.

“I can’t show my hand too quickly,” she proclaimed. “For lack of a better term, we all masturbate about fighting to a certain extent, what dream things we want to see here or dream things we want to see there.

“I made a joke about Tara LaRosa against Amanda Buckner, and I got a bunch of crap about it. I just threw that out there; give me some credit here. I’m a very practical human being when it comes to this.”

Another challenge facing the 32-year-old is the UFC’s recent acquisition of 11 of Invicta’s strawweight fighters, including its champion, Carla Esparza. With the UFC now having both the 115- and 135-pound divisions, Kedzie has her work cut out for her.

“There are a lot of women in those divisions that want to be a part of Invicta. There’s so much talent out there, it’s kind of exciting to start from scratch,” she said.

“I honestly think the UFC getting the strawweights is one of the best commercials for Invicta you could ever have. It shows that it’s a really exciting product and platform for women to build themselves into stars and look where you can go. Shannon made it very clear—it was a business decision. It wasn’t like she was bullied or anything. It was a really good endorsement for her entire platform of putting the fighter first and allowing them to take the opportunities they need to take.”

The optimism Kedzie shares toward rebuilding the roster can be likened to her fighting career. She may not be the one stepping into the cage any longer, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be putting in long hours.

“I’ll probably be trying to find streams at three in the morning,” she revealed. “I’ll be scouring results and write-ups. That’s what makes it a really cool challenge. It’s a very raw endeavor.”

No matter what methods Kedzie uses to put together her fight cards, there’s no doubt that the fighters are her priority.

“I will put them first,” she reiterated. “I’m going to hold everyone to a pretty high standard. What Shannon has produced so far is so good, it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I want to live up to that.

“Any match-up I make at this point, I’m running by Shannon. There’s no way I’m not going to consult with her for a long time on any decisions I make. There’s a level of professionalism I’d like to follow.”

Given Kedzie’s track record of hard work and dedication, don’t be surprised if she thrives in her new role and puts together some of the best fight cards the sport has to offer.

Julie would like to thank Shannon Knapp for giving her the opportunity. Follow her on Twitter: @julesk_fighter

Photo: Julie Kedzie (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

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