EXCLUSIVE (Part 1) | TUF18’s Raquel Pennington Talks Modafferi Fight at TUF Finale
Raquel Pennington’s fight at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale marked her official debut for the UFC, a fight in which she would go on to earn the unanimous decision victory over fellow TUF18 competitor, Roxanne Modafferi. Pennington spoke to BJPenn.com’s Late Night Cageside Radio about what it was like to finally fight inside the UFC’s Octagon and the long road she took to get there.
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
Coming off a semi-finals finish on ‘The Ultimate Fighter 18’ and a unanimous-decision victory in her UFC debut at TUF Finale last weekend, Raquel Pennington is looking forward to a long career inside the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division. But first, the 25-year old fighter out of Colorado says she needs to take a break and rest her body.
“I mean, it’s been a long six months to say the least,” Pennington told BJPenn.com’s Late Night Cageside Radio Monday night, “going from ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and sustaining the injuries that I sustained there. Coming out, we only really had a short time period to just relax, all the fighters. Then right away we had to jump right into fight camp. It just seemed like one thing after another was going on. My injuries were getting worse, I was going to physical therapy 4 times a week, it was really frustrating. This fight was camp was very different from my normal fight camps. In the five months since the house, I only sparred two times going into this fight. It was a little frustrating, because I know I have so much more potential and a lot more to offer, and I think that fight could have been a lot different. But I think overall, every fight’s a learning experience. I was still happy with the way I performed: I feel like I showed a lot of my precise fighting in there, and I showed great technique as far as sprawling, different things on my ground [game], escaping armbars, you know? So, I mean, I can never really sit here and truly beat myself up about how I performed. I went in there, I got the job done, and I still achieved my dream of fighting for the big show and getting the ‘W.’ That’s all that matters, so now it’s just going to be taking time to recover from all of this and then get back at it strong.”
All that hard work certainly paid off as Pennington was able to earn a victory in her UFC debut.
“It’s still surreal for me actually, still kind of soaking it all in,” she said. “It was definitely different being in front of the big crowd and what not; but, I mean, for the most part going from being in the house, having just your small [group of] teammates and everything, and then being back in front of thousands of people, I mean, I was actually really, really calm and just felt in my comfort zone.”
As for the fight itself, Pennington’s opponent Roxanne Modafferi put up a challenge. The two fought the whole three rounds with Modafferi threatening Pennington with a couple submissions, but Pennington was ultimately able to control much of the fight.
“You know, I know that Roxy, she moved to the States,” Pennington said, explaining her expectations for a tough fight, “we told her at the end of the house when we were leaving that if she wanted better training and stuff, she kind of had to make a transition in her career and probably move back to the States for better training. I know that she’s been training in Las Vegas for the past five months really preparing. You can see on all the social nets – I mean all of us, our friends, and we kind of keep up with each other – she’s been having girls from all over the place training with her and everything. I knew she would probably pick up a lot more and come out a lot different; but at the same time, it didn’t surprise me a whole lot, just given the fact that she’s been kind of set in her ways for years. I mean, it wasn’t anything that really threw me off guard, it was something that I’m prepared for: it’s exactly what I train for in this sport.”
And Pennington’s training paid off when Modafferi caught her in a couple armbars in the second round – Pennington was able to escape both rather easily and without sustaining any damage.
“No, you know, in the house, even when Roxy was pulling her armbars and stuff,” she explained, “I think overall with me, just my overall strength: I’m pretty strong compared to a lot of the female fighters and stuff, and I mean I train to get out of the different submissions and everything. When it came to ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ everybody kind of gave me that headline of being this big old brawler, but my comfort zone is actually the ground. When I go on the ground and everything, I’m actually really comfortable there when it comes to things, when I get into submissions I don’t panic, and I tend to just do my thing. It wasn’t anything I was worried about, I was just trying to set myself up, seeing how she was going to work her body a little bit to where I can get a couple hits in and pull myself out of the situation but set myself up better and maybe do a little bit of ground and pound.”
Of course, Pennington was not without her own submission attempts in the fight. To end the third round, Pennington had locked a guillotine choke on the neck of her opponent, but the time expired before she was able to secure a submission.
“You know, the guillotine was in there pretty tight,” Pennington said. “I was actually talking to my mom and a couple other people today; it’s interesting being a fighter, all the emotions that you go through and stuff, and when you’re in the cage and you’re fighting your opponent – especially with this experience in the UFC and then ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ fighting Jessamyn Duke first off and just going to town with each other in a war, I really felt her heart in that cage – and the same thing with Roxy. When I got that choke, I mean, even from standing up I was just kind of cranking her neck. I could feel her neck pop and what not, and when we fell on the ground and when I got on top of her – that’s not a fun position to be in at all, it’s more of a neck-crank, and it really hurts. I could have swore she was going to tap, I could feel the lactic acid just kind of building in my arms, I was really cranking. Just to see her heart in there and feel that she was just not going to give up, she was going to survive through it. Her coaches were telling her not to tap, just to keep doing different things. I mean, she really did it, she pulled out her heart in that moment.”
Coming into this fight, Pennington had a friendship with Modafferi from their time together on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. However, while she admits it was a new experience preparing to fight a friend, Pennington said that at the end of the day it’s business.
“I will actually have to admit, it was a little different going into the fight with Roxanne just given the fact that I know the potential I have as a fighter and everything; and when you go into the cage it’s business first, you shouldn’t have too much respect for your opponent and everything. But Roxy’s just kind of hits a sensitive area for, I think, many people and what not. So I did what I had to do to get the job done. It wasn’t so much of the fact that I didn’t want to hit her in the face, it was just kind of, on the ground, I was postured up and she still had her guard up, so there was no reason for me to want to lean into her to punch her face to where she could possibly pull me in with her legs and stuff. It was just more of [me] being technical on the ground, so I had the open shots to the abs, and I love to do the hammer-fists there.
“The whole experience with ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ actually living with your opponents and getting to know them outside of the fight-space and stuff, it’s definitely different. I mean, for the most part, it’s not one of those situations where you got to sit there and have – you all have that competitive mind frame – but you don’t have to carry it 24/7. You can still be friends on the outside and then handle your business inside the cage, which is the really neat part about MMA.”
Another complication leading up to her UFC debut was Thanksgiving coming just one day before Pennington would have to weigh in for her fight. As she explained, however, she has such great support from her family that they delayed the holiday celebrations until after the fight.
“It wasn’t that difficult,” she said of the weight-cut. “My whole entire family was going out to Vegas to support me and stuff, so it wasn’t like they were going to have a Thanksgiving, and I was just going to be left behind. My family was dieting with me and doing everything that I was doing. It became an easy situation, and we all agreed that we would just have a late Thanksgiving, so it just kind of gave me something to look forward to.”
Even more incredible is Pennington’s mother’s willingness to cut weight with the fighter, joining in the ritual of dieting and restricted intake before every fight.
“Yeah, this one was a little bit different,” Pennington said of her weight-cut for her UFC debut. “She was still there, I did an Epsom salt bath for this weight cut, and she was just kind of bummed out, because I mean, being in the house and going through that whole experience and having to be so close to weight and just doing things, I really just got to grow as a fighter and the whole situation; so now when it came to that, I just liked to do my own thing this time around. She sat in the bathroom with me and kept me company and talked to me and everything. She was just like, ‘Scoot over! Let me jump in there with you and hang out!’ It was just like, ‘No, just keep me company!’ I think she had a little bit of a hard time with that, but as far as diet and everything, yeah, she diets with me too. She usually tries to make around 135 with me as well, it’s like a little competition for her.”
And with all that behind her, Pennington will only look forward. For the immediate future, that means relaxing and recuperating from injuries sustained over the last few months.
“I fought my fight with Jessamyn and jacked up my hand, had a messed up my forearm, and just really took some injuries in that fight,” Pennington said of her fights on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ reiterating a complaint many contestants have voiced in the past. “It was just from that fight, I had ten days to prepare for my fight with Jessica. It was hard. You’re so used to going into fights where you could have a little time to recover afterwards and you can kind of do whatever going into a fight camp and slowly progressing into it or what not – I mean, every fighter is different. But it’s just like, in ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ you got to sit there and constantly be prepared and it takes a lot on your emotions mentally and physically, emotionally and everything.”
But that effort earned Pennington a $25,000 bonus for “Fight of the Season” for her bout against Jessamyn Duke. It’s a well-deserved reward for sparking national interest in the women’s division on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ For Pennington, it also means time to relax, heal and take in some of her passions, like snowboarding and getting some long awaited tattoos.
But not too much time, she says. If the doctor gives her an all clear, “and it will be a fast recovery, then I’m looking for March or April” for her return to action inside the Octagon.
Be sure to catch the second part of Pennington’s interview where she weighs in on ‘The Ultimate Fighter 18’ coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.