“I knew that’s not how I wanted my story to end.”
After a long and decorated career in Invicta that included a run as the two-time Atomweight Champion, Frey intellectually knew she had to goods to compete in the UFC. Her talent obviously wasn’t the issue, but there was the mental hurdle of getting that first win. Kay Hansen and Loma Lookboonme served as roadblocks to that end, but Frey finally got that monkey off her back this past March with a unanimous decision over Gloria de Paula.
“It was pretty incredible. So many people have a dream of getting to the UFC, but the real battle is getting that first win. So I finally passed that milestone.”
The milestone was achieved with some changes to her preparation, changes that she carries with her into her prelim meeting with Ashley Yoder Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Hall vs. Strickland.
“I switched camps and started spending my time at Fortis and I also employed the use of a mental coach. I was just kind of in a dark place. I had never lost two in a row. It being my first two fights in the UFC, it was a huge letdown for me. So I started working with this mental coach and he helped me change my perspective on a lot of things; the way I frame things, not letting little things get to me or stressing over the small things anymore.
“You hear so many people say that 90% of the fight game is mental. If we put such a huge emphasis on it being mental, how many people actually work that mental muscle? Or go through therapy or talk to someone about the things they have going on mentally? Very few people do. Even I was like was like ‘I’m tough, I’m mentally tough, it’s fine,’ but the way I feel coming into this last camp, the fight week and this fight week is just like night and day compared to the pressure and anxiety that I felt coming into my first two.”
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Working that mental muscle is something 36 year-old has always done in one form or another. The Arkansas-born, Texas-bred Frey boasts three post-secondary degrees she collected along the way to becoming a pro fighter.
“Associates in Nuclear Medicine, a bachelors in Radiologic Sciences and a masters in Business Administration,” she confirms. It’s knowledge she still puts to good use.
“When I finished high school, I finished early, I finished in three years and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I had a friend who was like a mentor to me and she was in the nuclear medicine program and she kind of talked me into it. It’s a pretty interesting field. I still work part time at a hospital, I still practice nuclear medicine. I was actually on call all last week for the hospital. I still work for them a couple days a month.”
It’s a fascinating dichotomy for a high-level MMA fighter, balancing technique, advanced intellect and raw animal instinct.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she admits. “Sometimes [my education] makes me extremely analytical. Sometimes you just have to go with your feeling and your intuition and not just sit and break everything down. You just get lost in your own head. So sometimes it comes back to bite me. I like to think that it does make me strategic and I look at things in a more objective manner. But like I said, sometimes you’ve just got to go with your intuition and go with the flow.”
Still, she employs a slightly analytical approach on fight night when the Octagon door is locked.
“To make sure that I’m winning every single exchange; it’s winning the fight 15 seconds at a time. When you first get in there you’re like ‘Wow, 15 minutes is a long time.’ But when you start breaking it down to 15 seconds at a time, like ‘all I have to do is win this 15 seconds…now I’ve got to win this 15 seconds,’ it makes it a lot more manageable and less ov
It’s a bit like the old rhetorical question: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Veteran Yoder is all but certain to put this formula to the test. With a five inch height advantage and five inch reach advantage, Yoder embodies the challenges Frey was bound to face when she stopped waiting for the UFC to add an atomweight division and opted to compete at strawweight. The move from her natural 105lb to 115lb might not seem paradigm-shifting to the layman, but when it accounted for a nearly 9% change in the entire bodyweight of the 5’2” and slight-of-frame Frey, it wasn’t as simple as eating a few extra slices of pizza.
“I think that the talent pool is a little deeper and just getting used to the [fact] the girls are a little bigger, a little stronger. I’ve spent a lot of time working with Bo Sandoval at the UFC Performance Institute just working on my strength and conditioning and try to fill in to strawweight a little more. My first fight I came into the fight at 122lb on fight night; still a little bit small compared to what some of the other strawweights are.”
Like her opponent, for instance.
“She’s got great grappling but she’s also very long and rangy, so that plays to her advantage to keep it on the feet as well. So I was really sure what her game plan is going to be, so I just trained for everything. I’m going to be ready everywhere.”
Frey’s win over de Paula certainly showed that she was putting the strawweight puzzle together, dominating with the skillful ease that once made her a champion. And now that’s she’s settling in, would she ever consider returning to 105 if the magical day came where the UFC added an atomweight division?
“I don’t know, it’s a tough call. I’m getting older and it’s hard to make that weight—I’ve obviously put on weight since then—so it would be really hard to get back down. But since I was the Invicta champion, if that immediately puts me Top 5…one to two fights away from the title fight? Now we’re starting to talk about title fight money. It makes it an interesting question that I would need some time to think about, for sure.”
For now, there’s no time or need to focus on fantastical hypotheticals. There’s just the task at hand and the wild celebration certain to ensue when she notches her second straight victory.
“I spend a lot of time with my dogs. The last couple weeks of camp you start getting a little worn down, you don’t have as much energy, so they haven’t gone hiking or running. I usually run them all the time. I’ve had to cut that out, so definitely a lot of dog time. I’m pretty boring. I garden and I run with my dogs. That’s it. So that’s probably where you’d find me.”
Gardening? The more you talk to Jinh Yu Frey, the more wonderfully surprising it gets.
“I have a bunch of vegetables, but I have a pretty large collection of really exotic orchids. It was kind of a pandemic thing. I always loved orchids and I never was very good at keeping them alive. It was my pandemic project, but now it’s like a full-time hobby.”