Substance Over Style

By Brandon Cadiz

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 11:54 AM PDT

Photo: Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA)

Photo: Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA)

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fighter Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger let us into her life, sharing her experience as the only married openly gay fighter on the UFC Roster. She described her journey to making it to the UFC. Being a UFC fighter requires a rigorous schedule, and Jones-Lybarger does this while being a wife to her partner, and mom to her children.

Jones-Lybarger, 31, became a Women’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter in the UFC’s Strawweight Division (115 lbs.)

On her way back home, after an intense training session from the MMA Gym in Glendale, Jones-Lybarger talked about her career through facetime. She wore thin black shades and a gray hoodie as she rode in the car. Enthusiastic, she had a welcoming smile, and was happy to share her story.

Jocelyn made her debut in the UFC against Tecia Torres on the biggest fight card of 2015, UFC 194: Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor in Las Vegas. She talked about getting the phone call from UFC fight maker Sean Shelby, and the emotions she felt.

Q: Can you talk about that moment you got signed by the UFC and how you felt?

A:  (She recounts she heard the voice on the other end of the line) “‘Jocelyn it’s Sean …’ and I was like OMG. I pulled over while driving and he was like, ‘Do you want this fight against Tecia Torres?’ Hell YEAH I do! Then I filled out 100 pages (of paperwork) that night. It was a dream come true. I was crying, I was happy at the same time. I went to my kids’ school, pulled them out of school and told them the news. We were planning a party for the McGregor fight, and to get a phone call that I have 14 days, 14 days, fighting on the largest card of the year.”

Jocelyn’s hard work payed off, as she got the call that she would be fighting under the UFC.

Before getting the call to the UFC, fighters go through lesser known MMA organizations. Jocelyn was the title holder in the Strawweight division for Tuff-N-Uff, an amateur organization, as well as the Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA). She compared the call to the UFC as a path similar to what Baseball players go through in the Major Leagues.

Q: Can you talk about the lower organizations, and the differences between them and the UFC?

A: “I would have to say RFA is really good. I’d like to compare it to the Minor Leagues. They put on a great show live on TV, but when you get on the UFC, nothing compares to that. It’s like playing in the Minor Leagues and getting that call to the Big Leagues, like the stadiums are bigger. Like fighting at MGM that night it was like a movie. Being back there, seeing 20,000 people, it was crazy. I’m happy I came from the RFA cause everyone I’ve worked with for a year and a half before I got the call was great. I respect all of them.”

Jones-Lybarger attempted to try out for the UFC TV show “The Ultimate Fighter,” which is how fighters usually get discovered by the UFC. A group of fighters live together and battle it out against one another. The end goal is getting a contract with the UFC. She explained her experience and the result.

Q: Did you ever try out for the The Ultimate Fighter, and try to get into the UFC through that process?

A: “I tried out twice. The last time I tried out was before I won the RFA title and I was on the alternate list. I mean that was a cool experience too. But to be honest, I’m happy I didn’t go that route because living with the girls for 6 weeks, cutting weight in there, it’s not something I wanted to do. I’m glad that I won fights to get that call.”

Jocelyn’s daily routine shows the amount of work MMA fighters go through in a single day. She puts in numerous hours of training, her body sore, yet she goes to multiple practice sessions a day. In addition, once she gets home, she takes care of her family.

Q: Could you take us into a typical training day: how many hours do you put in, what’s your schedule like, do you get time to hang out with friends and family, and rest days?

A: “A lot of people don’t understand what we do. And look at it, it’s 3:15pm on a Saturday afternoon and I just left the gym 45 min ago and stopped by the stores. And then before that, I had to be up at 7 AM because I had to be at the gym by 8 AM cuz I had mitt work at 9am-10am. Then I get a 2 hour break to go home and go watch Kennedy, my oldest, swim. Then I gotta be back at the gym at 12:30 for sparring, so it really doesn’t end you know? And Mon-Fri we’re training 2x a day. In the morning we start as early as 7:30am and we get done by 10:30am or 11:00am and then you get to rest and eat. Then you’re back at it from 3pm-5pm. And if you’re in a fight camp, you probably have something to do at 7pm at night. Then you’re doing three a days. So you know, it’s training hard, training your techniques, everything depending who you are fighting, thinks like that, making a game plan, watching video when you’re at home, watching your rounds on Sundays, it just doesn’t end you know? You don’t even count the times your grocery shopping, cooking, so it’s a family affair. Whoever your support system is, and I’m sure that there’s many that do it alone, like Jana supports me 110%, the kids they know what I do, you really need everyone on board around you, pushing you in support of you, knowing every day. It makes it a tad bit easier.”

Q: How much time do you give your body to heal up?

A: Between training sessions, anywhere from 2-3 hours. Morning time is intense: you’re getting your one on one Jiu-Jitsu time, wrestling, your strength and conditioning, depending on what day it is. And then you have that rest between 11pm-2pm. Then you gotta go back at it at 3’oclock. Then it’s non-stop 3pm-5pm with the team together. But yeah we get enough recovery. Rest, it’s important. Us fighters do different things on our own time. Ice Baths, to Therapy, or Chiropractic, whatever you need.”

Another hour taken from her life, yet she is not bothered by it. Jocelyn sees it as part of the process, which in turn puts her towards becoming the best and striving for her goal.

Jocelyn was the only women fighter initially on the fight team at the MMA Lab in Glendale. Everyone else was a man. She had to earn the respect of her coach John Crouch. Their relationship has grown since the beginning, but he didn’t open up so easily.

Q: What was the process like in gaining your coach’s (John Crouch) trust?

A: “Man, you really have been researching (ha-ha) So when I decided to go pro, I was still working for Verizon Wireless. I had a corporate job. When I knew I wanted to do this to be a professional, I decided to quit at Verizon and I knew I had to make the move to the MMA Lab and I made my Pro debut for Invicta. So when I showed up to the MMA Lab, so John Craugh, I remember him telling me, this was 3 months before my pro debut. He’s like ‘I don’t know if you’re ready. I don’t think you should be turning pro.’ Like he straight up told me that.”

Q: That must have given you more motivation to push harder?

A: “You know, when you hear that, you’re just like… well, heck, what have I been doing then? When other people are telling you how great you are and then you get to a gym like that and you hear that from one of the top coaches in the game, you’re gonna listen to him. So I really did, I busted my butt, told me to stay off Social Media. His key quote to me was something I’ll never forget is ‘Substance over style.’ So forget about the whole twin thing, cuz Jillian and I at the time were wrestling, we were the first twins, it was cool, BUT we sucked. So coach was like you gotta worry about what you’re doing in here, stay off your phone. Who cares? Let’s get 1% better every day in here and let’s show ‘em what you’re gonna do. And he’s never, NEVER ever cornered a female. I was his first female to ever corner, to ever coach and I remember that night it was a fun night and I remember him sending a tweet out that night saying “‘he first ever female, we’re 1-0 in the female division at the MMA Lab.’ That was super cool, and yeah, I just go in there tryna bust my butt and I still do it, I’m still doing it.”

In addition to all of her hard work and training Jocelyn is a family oriented person. She is an openly gay athlete in the UFC and devotes her time to her two kids and to her wife Jana. Jocelyn is involved with the LGBTQ community in Phoenix area with her twin sister Jillian who is also openly gay and is also an MMA fighter.

Q: Can you talk about how you are a role model to the LGBTQ community in that area?

A: “Luckily, it’s not that hard to be Out, and the reason I say that, for me, is because Jana and I are legally married. I’m the only legally married gay athlete on the roster, who also has children. So I think that says a little more, and not bashing anybody else who’s not. But you know, it’s a big deal to get married. But you know, I think it’s about you being you. And I’ve known a lot of people and I’ve known a lot of friends who have struggled with either coming out or being them. Jana and I tell our kids that love is love. If people don’t accept us that’s okay. It’s not our job to tell them they need to accept us or they need to be friends with us because everyone has their own opinion about it. Do we go around wanting it or anything like that? No. We are us and we are a family.”

Q: How was the process for your family, and were they accepting initially?

A: “Yeah you know, cause me and Jill both are married. So I came out in High School, Sophomore year, Halloween night, and I remember it like it was yesterday. And my Mom and Dad always told us, be with who you’re happy. If you’re happy with a boy, be with a boy. If you are happy with a girl, be with a girl. And I’m just happier with girls (ha-ha).”

Jones-Lybarger commented on issues surrounding women in the UFC. She discussed how some fighters get more publicity than others and discussed if that was fair. One controversy involved CM Punk, a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler with no fighting experience, being given a shot by the UFC.

Q: What’s your opinion on other fighters getting more publicity, with TV ads, show, and movie offers, take for example CM Punk, getting that shot without having to work hard for it? What's your opinion on all of it?

A: “I think it’s great...I think it’s great for the sport because he (CM Punk) has that fan base for wrestling. I’m not a wrestling fan, but he brought over so many fans. Or like Brock Lesnar coming back, like when I was in Las Vegas, I went by the Las Vegas fight shop and they told me that in that weekend that he fought, that they SOLD $300,000 worth of his T-SHIRTS. That just shows you how big his fan base is. Yeah sure he’s on steroids and all that stuff, that’s a different story. You see people like Paige on Dancing with the Stars. One, the women can dance, and two, sex cells [speaking of her sex chromsomes], so that’s fine. That’s what it comes down to. Or Conor Mcgregor, he’s a superstar because he talks and he wins. I have no problem with it, I don’t.”

Jones-Lybarger talked about women starting to become as equally recognized as men. Also her opinion on Ronda Rousey being the pioneer for the Women. Rousey was the first women ever signed to the UFC roster and the first women’s champion in history and at the Bantamweight Division of 135 lbs.

Q: Can you just talk about Ronda Rousey being a pioneer for the sport, and do you think she paved that pathway and also do you think women will get as much recognition as the men?

A: “Yeah, and I think we’ll get a little more pretty soon……..I have so much respect for Ronda Rousey, I hardly know her. Because of her, it’s because of what she did, really why we’re here, why we are in the UFC.”

Q: A fighters’ union is being talked about. With fighters in boxing getting paid so much more is it time for an fighters union in the UFC?

A: “Yeah, I mean that’s the talks right now. There’s so many people pushing for it. I think a fighters union would be a good idea. I also think we should be getting paid a little more money. I’m happy with what we make. I mean I’m happy but then at the same time, you see other fighters who are getting paid like for example CM Punk. We’ve been fighting for so much longer and stuff, but again he brings that big fanbase and that name, but we’ll see. A fighters union is not a bad idea.    

Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger would take one more fight after the time I interviewed her. She fought in her home state of Arizona in January 2017 at UFC Fight Night 103: Rodriguez vs. Penn. She fought Nina Ansaroff at Strawweight, who is also an openly gay fighter in the UFC, and partner to the current UFC women’s Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes. Jones-Lybarger would be on the losing end of the bout getting submitted by a rear-naked choke in the third and final round, with 1 minute and 21 seconds left in the match.

Four days after her loss, Jones-Lybarger announced her retirement from the sport of MMA. She took to Facebook to announce her statement:

"Family, friends and fans, first of all I want to say thank you so much for all the love and support," the letter read. "It's something I can see and have felt throughout out my career and I'm very thankful for it all. I have been doing what I love for almost 9 years now and I can promise you I gave it everything I had. Tonight I'm so excited to announce my retirement from fighting. I'm ready for what's next. I'm ready to be with my wife and kids, to be the best wife and most of all to be the best stepmom to our girls. Kennedy and Ellie I love you both so much. I want to thank my coach John Crouch for always supporting me in and out of the cage. Thank you coach Eddie, Wil and Jarret! Thank you Mike Dolce for always being on my team. I owe everything to my brothers and sisters at the MMA LAB thank you. #mmalabelite #dolcediet #onepercentbetter #teamJJL"

Jones-Lybarger finished her career with a professional record of 6 wins and 4 losses. She was 6-1 when she was signed by the UFC in 2015; Jones-Lybarger would finish 0-3 in the UFC. She had attained the Strawweight championships of the RFA and Tuff-N-Uff organizations.  

Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger can be viewed as a living example of how being your true self should not hold you back. Jones-Lybarger is undoubtedly a pioneer in the UFC. Once again, in her words, “Love is love. If people don’t accept us that’s okay. It’s not our job to tell them they need to accept us or they need to be friends with us because everyone has their own opinion about it.” A kid struggling with coming out could look at Jones-Lybarger’s story and be inspired to show their true colors. Putting the fight game behind her, she is now focused on being a parent and doing what is best for her two children.