Tabatha Ricci is quickly becoming one of the most promising 115-pound fighters to watch in the UFC. She has just three fights in the promotion so far, having a rocky start in her debut but securing two big wins over Maria Oliveira and Polyana Viena afterward. However, as green as she is in the UFC, she will now take on a true veteran of the division.
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- Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
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Jessica Penne was one of the women who inaugurated the UFC’s strawweight class by competing on the Ultimate Fighter in 2014, which crowned the first-ever champion. Although she lost the season, it took her less than a year to earn her shot at the crown against then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Again, unable to earn the championship, Penne has stayed relevant in the division for the better part of a decade, beating back budding prospects and competing with the UFC’s best. She will now pose the greatest challenge yet in Ricci’s rising career.
Jessica Penne will come in as the underdog against Ricci. This is familiar territory as she has been the underdog in her last three fights, two of which she won.
Jessica Penne is a very long and rangy fighter. Her punches tend to land on the end of their extension, and he utilizes a particularly stiff jab. She will have a particularly long advantage in reach over Ricci at 67 to 61 inches. She also has a good teep kick which further allows her to maintain her preferred distance while striking, but like most of her kicking technique, there is not a major threat of damage there. Her kicks are primarily used to set up her hands which is where the real threat is.
However, while she has good technical striking that does somewhat lack explosion, she really wants to ultimately grapple. Penne is a slick jiu-jitsu artist who is great at dragging opponents down to the mat from clinch positions against the cage. She will pull guard as well to get it there, but the main point is her style of takedowns tend to depend on her ability to lock up a position and pull her opponent into a grappling exchange along with her, rather than shooting a traditional double leg or elevating them. More than often look for her to swivel to the back, lace the legs and drag them down while securing the back. In top position, she is very good at floating and maintaining control while allowing her opponent to work in desperation. She also has an educated leg lock game.
Tabatha Ricci is the more conventional style fighter. She has good technical kickboxing, and she is explosive. She needs to make the most of this attribute to get inside on Penne, which she had difficulty with in her last fight against the taller Polyana Viana, although Penne is less mobile, so we may see more success. She does tend to attack in bursts with a big lead hook and overhand to cover as she enters.
What is really interesting is how the two match-up grappling-wise. Ricci is both a jiu-jitsu and Judo black belt and should have the takedown advantage over Penne. Ricci has beautiful timing on her double-leg entry and finishes it uniquely. She likes to trip from the inside reap, which is common in traditional judo but rare in MMA. The downside to this is that it makes it easier for Penne to retain guard upon hitting the mat, but it is effective in getting that top position. Ricci likes to pass to side control and land short elbows in order to open up the armbar opportunity. Largely I expect Ricci to dominate top position, but the battle will be getting past Penne’s guard while staying safe from submissions.
I think that on the feet, both will have to deal with challenges. Penne is long and technical, and Ricci is short and explosive. I believe this will slow down some of the pressure and momentum for both of them, but if Ricci can establish her timing, she can find the opportunity to shoot and put Penne on her back. It will be a high-level grappling match from here, Ricci’s passing game against Penne’s guard and potential leg locks, but if Ricci can mount enough ground and pound to split Penne’s focus, I think we see Ricci advance.
Prediction: Tabatha Ricci to win
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.