On the night of September 10, 2016, UFC fighter Jessica Eye was in the bowels of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, getting her bottom lip sewn back together and sobbing. It wasn’t the pain from the stitches that brought on the tears. Eye had bitten through her lip during fights before. It was the disappointment of losing a very close decision. Again.

Her unsuccessful effort against Bethe Correia—a contest she strongly felt she won, and in front of her hometown Ohio crowd—was her fourth loss in a row. She wasn’t looking forward to what was coming next: the creeping self-doubt, the parade of well-meaning family and friends who would ask her to reassess her goals, and the inevitable phone call from her boss at the UFC.

Three consecutive losses is the unofficial Mendoza Line of the UFC. Only a few special fighters have been allowed to lose four fights and stay with the organization. That kind of employee loyalty had always been saved for ex-champions and future hall-of-famers, though, and was strictly the province of male fighters. So when Dana White called Eye the Monday after her fourth loss, she expected the worst.

“I was like, ‘You guys are going to cut me, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘No, but I want you to take some time off and get your mind right,’” says Eye. “My dad had died in July. I was dealing with a lot. I thought I could push through that. But I wasn’t fully me on that fight day.”

The UFC is filled with athletes who fight well, but Dana White has a soft spot for that rare specimen who has combat coursing through their veins, the type of fighter who lives to hear the gate of the Octagon click shut behind them. It’s a short list: fighters like Chuck Liddell, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, and, it seems, Jessica Eye, who would become the first UFC female to lose four consecutive fights and be offered a fifth, based not on W’s and L’s but on her heart and spirit as a fighter. It would turn out to be a prescient move by the UFC.

Eye took 2017 entirely off from fighting, to “get her mind right.” She sorted through her father’s estate and entered grappling tournaments to shore up her boxing-centric fighting style. Most importantly, she began to bring her weight down. In May of 2017, the UFC announced it would be adding a new female flyweight division. Dropping 10 pounds would be a game-changer for Eye.

“During fight week I saw myself in the mirror and I was like, ‘Who is this girl?’” she says. “I never had a six-pack like that in my life and I’m in my 30s!”

The results speak for themselves. Eye went on a tear in 2018, winning three straight fights and setting herself up for a title shot on Saturday night, June 8, at UFC 238 with flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, one of the most intimidating fighters in the UFC today.

“I love the Shevchenko fight,” says Eye characteristically. “I love everything about it. She’s a beast.”

Eye’s faith in herself, despite the deafening chorus of voices telling her to hang up the gloves, is epitomized in her line of “Eye Believe” t-shirts.

“I feel like I’ve shown what it’s like to be a comeback kid,” says Eye. “I want to teach girls self-belief. I want to empower them. If I can give them a little more strength to succeed in life, then I have done my job in society.”