Jayda Bailey has never been in an official mixed martial arts fight, but the Hermon teenager already has felt the power of a former Ultimate Fighting Championship title holder.
Bailey, who will be a senior at Hermon High School in the fall, was 15 when she trained two summers ago at one of the top MMA camps in the country, Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
While working out with a bevy of other MMA practitioners, she came face to face with the first fighter to defeat UFC legend Ronda Rousey, former bantamweight champion Holly Holm.
“I went up against Holly and I’m 5-4 and she’s quite taller than me, and I was kind of sparring with her and she punched me in the face,” Bailey said. “it wasn’t like she was being a jerk, she was getting ready for a fight, but both my nostrils started bleeding at the same time.
“Shortly after that I ran to the bathroom and stuffed my nostrils and said, ‘All right, I’m fine,’ and I went back out there and she kicked me in the liver and I doubled over and thought, ‘Holy cow, I have a long way to go.’”
Bailey, whose martial arts studies began at age 4, is counting down the days until she turns 18 in October and can legally compete in mixed martial arts in Maine with an eye toward making her amateur debut in November.
There are many combat sports-minded people in the region who believe that will be only the beginning of a career filled with promise.
“She’s the future,” said Chris Young, owner and lead trainer at Young’s MMA, the Bangor gym where Bailey has been based since age 12. “She’s hungry. She wants it 100 percent. She devotes herself to it, she loves the sport, she loves all the process of the sport, the hard work, the training. She likes to learn.
“She’s got all those little attributes that can come together to make her a future star.”
Finding her niche
Bailey’s introduction to martial arts came through taekwondo, a practice she continued for several years.
“I was not a very athletic kid growing up, I joined various basketball and soccer teams and they just never really fit me,” she said.
Bailey grew comfortable with taekwondo, but she eventually found that lacking after one particular night of training that turned into a tournament of sorts where she dominated a succession of opponents.
“It didn’t feel like I was accomplishing a lot and I was wondering what if I got into a fight and someone took me down?” she said. “What would I do if I had no discipline on the ground?”
The answer was found largely in several locales, among them Young’s MMA.
Bailey gained access to a wider range of combat sports at Young’s, including the various elements of striking and grappling as well as jiu-jitsu that are at the core of a mixed martial artist’s repertoire.
“She’s been building the toolbox, but she trains a lot in MMA as well,” Young said. “She comes in and does all the classes and then puts it all together.”
It wasn’t long before Bailey began thinking about combining all those disciplines into a career.
“I switched over to Young’s and started learning martial arts and just fell in love with it,” she said. “And after I saw Ronda Rousey I thought, ‘Wow, this is something I can actually do with my life,’ and that’s when I started training full time.”
That regimen included joining the Bucksport High School wrestling team as a freshman because Hermon did not have its own squad.
“I had a lot of pent-up anger and didn’t know how to deal with it,” she said. “When I was 14, I was a pest and didn’t really take good care of myself and gained a lot of weight, so as a freshman I joined the wrestling team and after that wrestling season I just had a lot of fire in me.
“I said, ‘I need to do something with this, this is what I need in my life, this is where my potential is.’ Ever since then I’ve just had this burning fire.”
That fire was further stoked by her stay in New Mexico, facilitated in part by UFC veteran Emily Peters Kagan, a Bangor native who has trained at Jackson Wink with the likes of Holm and former UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.
“It was really overwhelming,” Bailey said. “I wish I had appreciated it a little more and understood how important it was but I definitely learned a lot there. You could see that they’re all supporting each other and trying to help each other get to the highest level possible. It was really inspiring.”
Bailey brought that inspiration back to Maine, where as a sophomore she won the state schoolgirl wrestling championship at 145 pounds after competing against boys throughout the regular season.
“Jayda’s extremely dedicated, one of the hardest workers I’ve coached, and her skills kept getting better and better,” Bucksport wrestling coach Dan Ormsby said. “When she goes against girls she destroys them. When she’s put up against somebody her size and strength she definitely out-matches them.”
Ormsby has felt that strength personally.
“I was joking with her one day, and I’m a 300-pound man, a big, strong guy, and I said, ‘Jayda, lock up an armbar,” he said. “She slipped that armbar over and I was tapping her leg within a tenth of a second. I thought she was going to break my elbow, I really did.”
Bailey missed her junior year of wrestling last winter due to a shoulder injury. Now fully recovered, she continues to refine and display her varied skills — most recently winning the overall girls title at last weekend’s Black Fly State Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Rangeley for the fifth straight year.
“I want to focus on well-rounding my game,” she said. “I feel like I have solid wrestling, striking and jiu-jitsu but I need to work on the in-between. I need to get more fluid with the transitions between each of them so I can put them all together and create an MMA fighter.”
One element of the sport Bailey apparently doesn’t need to build on is attitude.
“She’s been living in the gym training, boxing and wrestling since she was 12 years old and she’s got the temperament for it,” Young said. “We call her the female Aaron Lacey. Aaron [an undefeated MMA fighter from Brewer] has a really bad temperament and she has the exact same temperament. When she trains or competes it’s with bad intentions. She’s there to take you out.”
Bailey acknowledges that any lack of confidence she once experienced playing basketball or soccer isn’t an issue on the MMA stage.
“I feel pretty confident, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “This is not me being cocky, but I’ve had a lot of matches. I’ve had wrestling matches, boxing matches, jiu-jitsu matches, and I know the mentality of going out there. I get nervous leading up to it but I feel like I’m a performer and when I get out there it’s all serious.”
As Bailey approaches the finish line to the start of her mixed martial arts career, her goals transcend merely climbing into the cage for one official match.
“I’d like to get some good amateur fights under my belt and then turn pro and eventually get to the UFC,” she said.
Bailey met Hermon High School graduate and UFC president Dana White briefly during his visit to Bangor last August for the “ Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” webcast show at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
She’s now working to earn a more formal meeting with the MMA executive as her career evolves.
“I just don’t want to be another face in the crowd where I’m saying, ‘This won’t be the last time you see me,’ because I’m sure he hears that on a daily basis,” Bailey said. “At some point I want to make an impact on him so he thinks, ‘Wow, this is definitely someone I want in my business.’”
Bailey plans to move to New Mexico after graduating from high school next spring to train full time at Jackson Wink.
“In order to get to that level I have to train with people at that level,” Bailey said. “I’m never going to get there unless I put myself in position to be there so It won’t be just a visit for me.
“I’ll figure out the next steps later but for as long as my fight career is and as long as that place feels right for me that’s where I want to be.”
Bailey hopes to have two or three amateur bouts — and compete with the Bucksport wrestling team again next winter — before she heads west.
“I think she is going to be a fantastic MMA fighter,” Ormsby said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that girl will go far in MMA.”