Changing Course - Match Made

By: Tristen Critchfield
Sep 4, 2014
Julie Kedzie is settling into her role as Invicta FC matchmaker. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

Julie Kedzie’s apartment in Shawnee, Kan., is a work-in-progress -- a home that does not quite yet feel like home because three quarters of the boxes she transported from Albuquerque, N.M., two months ago have yet to be touched.

That anti-IKEA look might suggest Invicta Fighting Championships’ new matchmaker is not planting roots too deep, but truth is Kedzie’s one-track mind is an employer’s dream. The less settled Kedzie is in her domain, the more committed she is to her new gig. Besides, controlled chaos has always kind of been Kedzie’s thing. In fact, it runs in the family.

“My mother is a brilliant scientist, but she can’t find her glasses when they’re on top of her head,” Kedzie told “My sister is the same way, [and] she’s got two PhDs. We’re all running around, and there’s trash in our purse and we can’t do this and we can’t do that because there’s this task in front of you and you get it done, but everything around you falls to craziness.

“I’m staying on top of the fighters, contracts and matches, but at the same time, my apartment’s in shambles,” she added. “I’m maybe not the most balanced person in the world. If I were to bring a date home, they would be like, ‘Damn, why haven’t you unpacked?’”

No matter how unruly it might get at home, there are some things one never loses track of, like Greg Jackson’s socks, for instance. Kedzie might be nearly 800 miles away from her adopted fighting family at Jackson-Wink MMA, but she still has her finger on the pulse of more than a few things in the Southwest gym, including the whereabouts of the renowned trainer’s foot apparel.

It might seem simple enough to conjecture that Jackson puts his socks in his shoes when he changes for a workout, but on one particular day, no one in New Mexico -- Jackson included -- could solve that mystery. When you have private sessions, appointments, travel plans, seminars and fight cards swirling inside your head, missing socks are no joke, which is why Kedzie had to come to the rescue. Order was eventually restored, at least until next time.

“I’ve had a couple of those calls,” Kedzie said with a laugh. “It’s knowing people and knowing their personality ... seven years of staying within 10 feet of my employer at all times.”

Old habits die hard, even when Kedzie is in the midst of starting what she calls the Mary Tyler Moore phase of her life, that of a single, working woman in her 30s. Sometimes, Jackson cannot help but place a call to his former assistant. Despite her own upheaval, Kedzie is still the best when it comes to providing him some sense of order.

Kedzie first met Jackson in 2007 at an EliteXC event in Southhaven, Miss., where the trainer cornered Joey Villasenor to a victory over David Loiseau. Kedzie, meanwhile, lost a historic fight to Gina Carano that same night; it was the first time a mixed martial arts bout between two females was televised by Showtime. Jackson mostly remembers her as a “super sweet” person who loaned Villasenor a sauna suit. Shortly thereafter, Kedzie asked Jackson to corner her for a fight in Russia. To earn his services, Kedzie had to make the trek to train at his camp.

Kedzie spent much of her first year in New Mexico living with Jackson and his wife, Stephanie. They meshed well, and it was not long before Kedzie adopted a dual role within the gym, as a professional fighter and Jackson’s assistant.

“She was able to transition to that role because she was following me around anyway, and she was hanging out with me and Stephanie,” Jackson said. “It was just a natural transition.”

Jackson calls Kedzie the most universally liked member of the entire Jackson-Wink MMA franchise. Her ability to leave a positive impression in a variety of settings would eventually open new doors. The same intuition that led Jackson to believe Kedzie could balance training for fights with managing his own demanding schedule also struck current Invicta Fighting Championships President Shannon Knapp a few years back.

Formerly an executive with Strikeforce, Knapp admittedly only knew Kedzie in passing from the retired fighter’s short stint with the now-defunct promotion. When Knapp began her new venture as head of Invicta, she knew she needed a strong female presence for the organization’s announce team. Despite not having much concrete evidence to support her theory, Knapp could not help but think Kedzie was the right fit.

Photo: D. Mandel/

Carano once played second fiddle.
“I thought it was strange in the first place because I really didn’t know this girl,” Knapp said. “I didn’t know anything about her. I’ve never heard her, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind in terms of thinking she was the one for the job.”

With that, Knapp cold-called Kedzie, conducted an impromptu interview and essentially hired her on the spot. At the time, Kedzie was still an active mixed martial artist. She fulfilled a dream by fighting twice for the Ultimate Fighting Championship after the Las Vegas-based promotion added a women’s bantamweight division in 2013. Before her final bout against Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night “Hunt vs. Bigfoot,” Kedzie decided, win or lose, it was time to move on.

That decision ultimately sealed her exit from Jackson-Wink MMA. In a fighting gym where most all conversation revolves around punching people in the face, it can be difficult to graduate to the next phase of one’s life. Kedzie saw the bigger picture ahead. It did not hurt that Knapp had another hunch that her color commentator might be well-suited to a matchmaking position.

In Kedzie’s mind, a change of address was essential to the transition, in order to fully realize the “ex” in ex-fighter and to completely immerse herself in her new duties. Hanging out in the gym with no fight on the horizon is not the best way to maintain sanity.

“I think if you’re here every day, everybody’s talking about fighting all the time,” Jackson said. “When you’re done with it, it’s not as fun as when you’re not done with it. That can get old.”

Leaving family is hard. There are plenty of times when Kedzie catches herself thinking of what she might be missing. A video from Michelle Waterson’s daughter, Araya, recently brought Kedzie to tears. Never mind that she will see Araya when Waterson defends her atomweight title in the Invicta Fighting Championships 8 main event on Saturday in Kansas City, Mo. When word broke that Kyle Noke hurt his knee training for a fight in Japan, Kedzie’s sisterly instinct took hold. The Aussie could have used someone to walk his dog or cook him dinner, she thought.

“It breaks my heart sometimes to think I walked away from my family,” she said. “I had to because I had to figure out what I can do, as well, because I was done fighting and I really need to be in another fight; I need a fight in my life. I need something where I’m working hard and I’m struggling.”

Of course, Kedzie’s presence is missed at Jackson-Wink MMA for far more than her ability to locate laundry. Much of the organizational duties she had as Jackson’s assistant have fallen on gym general manager Ricky Kottenstette, while Stephanie Jackson assumes some of the load, as well. Eventually, Kottenstette expects to hire a full-time assistant for the entire operation, but that position will be nothing like the one once held by Kedzie, who was assigned only to Jackson. Kottenstette does not mind the extra work, but he does miss the back-and-forth banter he shared with Kedzie. Often, their exchanges served as comedic relief for a stressed-out Jackson.

“She’s so gullible that it made it really easy,” Kottenstette said. “It was like taking candy from a baby.”

Kottenstette’s favorite story involving Kedzie includes a night at an Albuquerque country-western bar, a longtime Jackson student affectionately called Crazy Steve and, interestingly enough, Carano, who trained in New Mexico for a brief period approximately four years ago.

“His name is Crazy Steve because he’s really crazy, and he’s about 60 years old,” Kottenstette said. “So one night we’re in the country bar; it’s myself, Donald Cerrone, Julie Kedzie and Gina Carano. Since the ’80s, Crazy Steve goes to [the bar] every Thursday night. He comes in there with his nice jeans, his collared shirt, his glasses and his noise-blocking headphones that cover his ears like earmuffs.

“We’re sitting at the bar and Steve comes toward me,” Kottenstette added. “I said, ‘Well Steve, Julie would really love a dance with you.’ She looks over at me and gives me this evil eye like she’s in the cage and they’ve locked the door; and Gina felt horrible [that Kedzie refused], so Gina said, ‘Steve, I’ll dance with you.’ Steve looked at Gina and looked back at Julie and goes, ‘No, I want to dance with Julie.’ He turned Gina Carano down for a dance. That’s when we found out that Crazy Steve had a crush on Julie, and Gina Carano wasn’t going to fulfill that.”

Finish Reading » “Believe me, I have been guilty of many a boring fight. I’m not going to lie. I’ve been bored during my own fights. Any mistake that’s been made in the sport, I’ve made it.”

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