Jessica-Rose Clark says she's feeling better than ever after recovering from a knee injury which kept the Australian out of the UFC Octagon for more than a year.
The Queenslander will return against Panama's Joselyne Edwards in a bantamweight duel on Sunday (AEDT) in Las Vegas on the undercard of the middleweight bout between Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori.
Clark, who is based outside of San Francisco, won her last fight in September 2020 with a third-round TKO over American Sarah Alpar but suffered an ACL injury which required surgery.
Apart from a foot ligament injury in 2019 which sidelined Clark for nine months, it was the longest she had ever spent out of training but said it could have been a blessing.
"My recovery went really well - I was lucky to have an amazing team helping me through it," Clark told AAP.
"They all pushed me to stick to my time-frames and not rush back and they helped me to do as much as I possibly could within the physical limitations of my knee.
"I really worked a lot on flexibility, mobility, athleticism - all that sort of stuff that I tend to neglect when I'm able to train full-time - so I feel like it was tough year off but it's also been a blessing because I feel like a whole new athlete."
One of nine children, the 33-year-old from Innisfail in Far North Queensland says she initially planned to be a lawyer before kickboxing and the UFC caught her eye.
"We didn't have much money growing up so my mum was initially pretty disappointed I didn't get a regular job but she's come around now," Clark said.
She's had some lean times - in 2020 tweeting a photo of her $17 bank balance with a message for UFC boss Dana White that "a bonus would have been nice Uncle Dana".
But the fan favourite feels brighter times are ahead, starting with Edwards, who is the first fighter from Panama to have a win in the UFC with a 10-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC record.
"I didn't know who she was when I was asked about the fight but I've watched some vision and it's going to be an entertaining fight," said Clark ((10-6 MMA, 3-2 UFC).
She was ringside at fellow Australian Alex Volkanovski's epic win last month over Brian Ortega and said she could draw on his fighting spirit.
"I try to get to Australian fights when I can and we keep in touch online," Clark said.
"All Aussies fight the same, he's like an Aussie dog, so I will do what I can."
Australian Associated Press