Originally scheduled to face Irene Aldana at UFC 273, Aspen Ladd will now take on UFC veteran Raquel Pennington in her return to the octagon.
Most recently coming off a loss in her first UFC main event, Ladd will be coming in looking to return to winning form, and while Aldana provided both an opportunity to do so and to make her way through the top of the division, Pennington does the same, plus some. One of the staple names at 135 pounds, Pennington has almost done it all in the sport, from being a young prospect in Invicta to challenging to consensus greatest female fighter in the UFC via Amanda Nunes. Through it all, Pennington has stayed competitive with the best fighters and offers a massive feather in the cap for any young athlete able to trade blows with her.
Although a short-notice replacement, Raquel Pennington will still come in as the favorite at -188.
- Pennington: -188
- Ladd: +158
Aspen Ladd is a very aggressive fighter. Her bread and butter game plan is usually to take her opponents down and work towards a finish by way of massive ground and pound. Her striking has come along nicely over the years but ultimately if she can use it to pressure her opponent to the cage and towards a takedown, all the better. Her best weapons on the feet include her left hook variations, which she can attack with short and in close but also utilize as a long strike, mixing it somewhere between an overhead and jab while still cutting it on an angle like a hook. She almost exclusively fights behind her left arm as it both comes over her opponents shoulder while consistently hiding her centerline defensively. She also usually ends her combinations with it, such as the fundamental 1-2-3, of jab, cross, hook and uses it as a go to counter punch.
Whatever she throws, it’s typically boxing based and from a high guard as she maintains a tight arm position moving forward and walking her opponents towards the fence. From there she likes bodylock trips as she can often bully her opponents in the clinch, notably one of the areas Pennington has had trouble with in the past. On top, she has a very heavy half guard game and engages both her shoulder pressure and hips to maintain a lot of control, which in such tight quarters can make for awkward ground and pound position sometimes but her aggressiveness makes up for it and allows her to generate quite a lot of power in her shots.
Ladd is still relatively young in her professional career, although she has spent much of it in the UFC. Some of the tendencies she is still working towards breaking include not over committing when she lets loose. In the past we have seen her transition from powerful position to powerful position only to lose it due to committing to strikes and giving up her solid control. Yet, her ability to hunt a finish is stunning, so that balance is key. Her striking is still often a means to wrestling as the goal but when that doesn’t work, most recently Norma Dumont exposed holes in her long range striking.
This latter issue is one that bodes well for Pennington. Raquel Pennington has been around at an extremely high level for quite awhile and in her latest fights has shown an increasingly methodical game. She does not really possess any standout physical advantages over most women in her weight class, but the upside is she has developed both wicked combinations, a variety of entries and tactical prowess on top of her doggedness to counter this. She isn’t particularly explosive yet she doesn’t have the reach allowing her to stay comfortable at range, so in order to get in she utilizes a burst from the stance switch, often landing the rear hook, as well as a long superman punch. She uses the jab, often to the body and leg kicks to maintain pressure outside the pocket, but bursts in, slipping under her opponents boxing and landing combinations as she comes up in short sprints.
In general, on the feet, neither woman necessarily holds a great speed, range, or power advantage, and both use relatively fundamental toolkits of attacks, however the range of ways in which Pennington knows how to engage gives her the edge. In the clinch is where she likely holds the greatest disadvantage, she sometimes eats knees and struggles against the cage in order to dirty the box, but landing a few uppercuts and hooks over the top rarely makes up for some of the devastating elbows and knees that come in response. Furthermore, Pennington’s ground game, like her striking, isn’t especially explosive, but she does take her opponents down to slow down the pace of her fight, and she knows how to remain safe from submission while peppering with ground and pound, which has been a great veteran strategy to edge out close scorecards. What’s dangerous in this fight however, is the risk attached losing the scrambles is far greater as thats where Ladd’s greatest advantage lays, so although Pennington has solid grappling, it’s the least smart battle to put herself in.
I believe that on the feet Pennington wins. On the mat, whoever gets top position wins, but the ability to scramble and win in the clinch makes it more likely that person is Ladd. However, with her ability to set up her exchanges from a step further and crisper combinations, I think that Pennington will be able to stay on her bike, avoid the cage as much as possible and outland Ladd. She will definitely be put into dangerous positions throughout the fight, but it’s up to her to lean on her experience, whether those storms and go back to picking Ladd apart and making those exchanges worth more in the end.
Prediction: Raquel Pennington to win via decision.
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.