When you think of Nebraska, what comes to mind? It probably depends on where you’re from. If you’re an American, your first thought goes to corn. If you’re from the coasts, you’ve probably flown over it and wondered at the flatness and amazing amounts of rectangles. If you’re from Oklahoma, you probably shudder at the memory of the mid-’90s Cornhuskers’ dominance of college football. And if you’ve ever had to drive across the state, you think every road is straight, flat, and surrounded by corn.
Think of a Nebraskan. Your first thought is likely to be a farmer, rancher or buffet employee. Hard-working, straight-shooting and fast-driving might come to mind, too. Well, I don’t know how she drives, but Nebraska native and MMA fighter Jozette Cotton sure is a hard-hitting, no punch-pulling, four-on-the-floor kind of girl. A real poster child for the modern Nebraskan.
The undefeated Cotton hasn’t always been an MMA fighter, but she’s always been a fighter.
“I was always beating up the boys,” she laughed in an interview with Combat Press. “My whole life, I have always been just a part of the crew, a tomboy. If we got into an argument—I actually owned boxing gloves before I started training—but if we got mad at each other, we would just throw on the gloves or wrestle it out.”
Like a lot of other women who fight, Cotton never even thought of competing professionally until she saw a women’s bout.
“I was working at a Walmart overnight and had the worst days off, Sunday and Monday nights,” Cotton recalled. “I was up at like 3:30 or 4 in the morning and saw an MMA fight between some white girl and some Asian girl. And the white girl hit with some power, and I got so excited that I ran upstairs. I don’t know why, but I woke up my mom and told her, ‘They’re fighting! These girls are really doing it!’ And she told me, ‘That’s good. Now, go back downstairs.’
“Well, two years later, it was summer and we were at the pool swimming, and this girl tells me, ‘Aren’t you tired of whipping people on the streets?’ She told me that there was a promotion looking to pay females to fight and they needed more girls to fill their shows. I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds good.’”
Cotton decided to get in touch with the promotion, a local Nebraskan outfit called Disorderly Conduct. The promotion suggested she go to a jiu-jitsu gym, and she followed the advice. She started training and fell in love with it. Just months after entering the gym, she took her first fight with Disorderly Conduct, a promotion she would call home for her amateur career and her first two professional fights.
She won both of her amateur fights and has won all four of her pro fights. Six total MMA fights. Six wins. Four knockouts.
“I definitely fought some tough girls, but my toughest so far was Kate Bloomfield,” stated Cotton, recalling her first pro fight. “I started training at a jiu-jitsu school, so I thought I was OK. She got hold of my neck and I was about to pass out, and I thought to myself, ‘Can you punch? Can you fight? This is for real.’ I’ve been punched and kicked, so I thought I was prepared for everything, but not really for someone who was going to go straight for the submission. All I knew is that when the second round started, I did not want to end up on the ground with her again or let her anywhere near my neck [laughs]. I just didn’t want to lose.
“Brenda Rodriguez was tough, too. I enjoyed fighting her. She just keeps going and going hard. I was hitting her hard and she just took it. I like her style. We banged. We were going so hard and I was hitting her so much I got tired, and I knew she was going to keep coming at me if I let her, so that’s when I took her down. Her wind was better than mine, and I knew I had to end it or she would just keep coming.
“Kate taught me the most, though—to be ready for anything, to prepare, ya know? There are lots of people who don’t like to get hit and they will do anything they can to take the fight to the ground. I knew I had to work on my defense, and I have.”
Skills improve the more a fighter trains, but sometimes it seems fighters are surprised when they realize the power that martial arts can have on the rest of their lives. Cotton, the straight-shooter, explains that well.
“I just wanted to get in the game and fight,” she admitted. “I love combat and I am a violent person. Getting the discipline, going to classes, prepping for future fights when there isn’t one scheduled, weight loss—all this has made me a better me. I used to walk around at 190 [pounds], just eating whatever I wanted.
“Now I find myself in love with it, the whole thing. It’s different. I love being a part of this world. I have a different mind frame now. I don’t have to prove who I am to anyone. I mean, my hands are registered now. And now my temper is down. I’ve grown as a person as much as a fighter, maybe more. Fighting has helped me become the woman I always wanted to be, but you know, distractions, temper, things just weren’t helping.”
If there is one thing Midwesterners are known for, it’s family. And Cotton is a Midwesterner through and through. Her smile beamed when she started talking about her brother.
“I am taking care of my brother right now as a day job while my shoulder recovers from a car accident,” she explained. “I was working at the meat-packing place, but had to go on leave and reduce my training. Now, I get to spend my days with him and in the gym. He is so sweet. He is non-verbal autistic, and he may be physically 23, but mentally he is five years old and he is going to stay that way. He is, well, I just love him. Sometimes he might get his frustrations, but most of the time he is just so gentle. But when he gets his tantrums, he can be a handful.
“He is sweet, but he is the laziest person in the world. I took him to the gym with me and he was just running laps all miserable and crying. No way he is going to train, but I love him.”
Farmers are living examples of the expression “You reap what you sow,” and it’s good to see a caring person get to compete on a big stage and to be part of a history-making event. Cotton will be taking part in the first women’s bout under Scott Coker’s Bellator. Coker was one of the first major American promoters to embrace women’s MMA with Strikeforce, and he is known for helping to develop the careers of Gina Carano, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Miesha Tate.
Cotton has a lot on her plate, though. She’s fighting for Bellator tonight, but she’s also preparing to compete for a trailblazing women’s organization in the near future.
“I am so blessed,” she said. “I signed with Invicta FC for their 155[-pound] division and I am really excited to fight for them. Working for Shannon Knapp and matchmaker Julie [Kedzie] is a dream come true. And I am so happy that they allowed me to do this.”
Cotton will face boxer Holly Lawson at Bellator 129. Lawson decided to try MMA because she was having trouble getting fights as a boxer. She sees the women in MMA making more money and being taken more seriously, too. Even though Lawson doesn’t have an MMA fight under her belt, this is an exciting match-up.
If you tune in to watch one fight this weekend, this is the one to watch. The card has some great match-ups, but this fight has all the makings of a war. Both ladies have dynamite hands and love to fight. Cotton is a straight-ahead puncher and Lawson is a technical striker.
“Every time I fight, I try not to prepare for the fighter. It’s important to stay true to myself and train for my fight and do what I do,” Cotton elaborated. “I watched tapes on Kate and knew what she was capable of, so I found myself looking for her left that she lands. I went into that fight aware of that and being aware is good, but it didn’t let me relax and be myself in that fight.
“I searched for tape on Holly, but can’t find any of her fights. Props to her and her team, but I am actually glad. I will be ready. I started boxing. That was what I wanted to do, but I was always overweight, and even when I did make weight, the girls would see me and say, ‘Well, no thanks.’ So, I am prepared for her. I am confident in my hands and confident that I can take a punch.
“I just take it how they give it to me. I am a strong striker, and if I can make this boxer look like she doesn’t belong in there with me, I will have done my job. But truthfully, I am not even trying to think of her right now. Just focusing on cutting this weight. I am not necessarily worried about her. I’ve got to focus on me. I will worry about her on Friday.
“I feel stupid strong, but this weight cut is tough. I am snapping at those closest to me, especially when they ask me questions they already know the answers to or are cooking really good food.”
Cotton was in good humor as she discussed her struggles to make weight. It was the day before weigh-ins and she was seeking to hit the contracted mark of 152 pounds for her catchweight bout with Lawson. It wasn’t to be, however. The 152-pound catchweight was adjusted to a 168-pound catchweight, with Cotton tipping the scales at 167.7 pounds. The fight is still on, though, and Cotton plans to make a statement in the biggest battle of her young career.
Direct, confident, not arrogant, pulls no punches—when you think of the heartland of America, you might think of these things. Hard-working, strong-minded, big-hearted people come from Nebraska. Cotton is no joke even though she is quick to make one. Lawson better bring her A-game and be prepared for war.