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Angela Hill Rides the Wave into Houston

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Angela Hill is well aware that on any given fight night in the UFC, she will likely be giving up the experience edge to her opponent. That’s a fact when it comes to the Clinton, Maryland native, who brings a 2-1 pro MMA record into her Saturday bout against Rose Namajunas.

Now Milwaukee’s “Thug Rose” isn’t exactly a 20-year veteran of the sport, with five pro and four amateur fights, but she has still made that walk more than Hill, and it’s a point of contention on social media that “Overkill” is more than aware of.

“Some fans are like ‘you only have three fights, blah, blah, blah,’” Hill said. “So that can get annoying sometimes, but in due time I’ll have enough fights under my belt and known names on my record so that people won’t disregard me for how many fights I have.”

They shouldn’t disregard her now. Not showing up on Hill’s record are the 16 Muay Thai fights (14 amateur, two pro) she had before moving to MMA. And once in the sport, she has competed twice in the UFC, defeating Emily Kagan and dropping a decision to Tecia Torres. She’s learning on the job, but she’s picking it up quick.

“I definitely feel like a legit competitor and I’ve never felt like my record has been padded,” she said. “I guess I don’t really have much of a record yet. (Laughs) But I never felt like I was misrepresented for what I am. I’ve gone in there and I’m fighting top level competition every time that I fight, so even though I only have three fights, my three fights are better than the first three fights half of the strawweights have had when it comes to experience and the level of my competitors. So I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming. I’ve just been thrown in the water and I’m teaching myself how to swim. I’ve been figuring it out.”

Going three rounds with the highly-regarded and unbeaten Torres is no easy feat. Even going back to Hill’s time on The Ultimate Fighter 20, she didn’t feel out of her depth in her loss to eventual season winner Carla Esparza. In fact, in the true style of someone who once made her home in Brooklyn, New York, she wanted to run it back right away.

“After I lost on the show, I was like ‘damn, I want a do-over,’” she laughs. “Because I still felt like I could have beat her if I had done a few things differently. That was probably the moment where I realized that I’m definitely in this for the long run. After that fight I definitely knew that I have what it takes to be the best.”

The loss, while not counting on her official record, hit home for Hill, who thought, “Wait a second. Am I dreaming? This isn’t supposed to happen.” But she did use it to realize that she had found a career in professional fighting, something she didn’t expect when she and her husband first began studying Muay Thai to stay in shape.

As for her lone official defeat to Torres, that prompted Hill to go out west to the renowned Alliance MMA gym in San Diego.

“I think what I was really missing in New York and North Carolina was a place with a lot of training partners,” she said of the move to southern California. “Being out here, I have a ton of people to train with who are my size or a little bigger who are at my level and who can actually beat me up, and it’s just going to make me stronger. It’s been awesome to train with all these different people and, of course, the coaches are so experienced and they know exactly what’s gonna happen on fight week and on fight night, as opposed to kind of winging it. So it’s definitely going to be an improvement when it comes to those things. It sucks, because I hate leaving gyms, but I felt like it was really important, especially since I don’t have that much cage experience.”

The 30-year-old Hill’s reality is every sports fan’s fantasy. Who hasn’t dreamed of being pulled from the stands and put into the big game with the entire world watching? Yes, Hill had plenty of Muay Thai experience and was making a move into MMA, but even she thought it was a long shot when she went to the TUF 20 tryouts.

“I didn’t even think that they’d consider me, but I was still gonna try my best to get on the show,” she recalled. “I thought I’ll network, maybe meet some cool training partners. (Laughs) But I managed to get my pro fight right before the show, and then I flew in and they liked what they saw.”

Did she believe she had what it took at that point?

“It happens in stages,” Hill explains. “I didn’t just throw a punch and automatically think I am going to knock out every opponent that I fight. When I started, I wasn’t even thinking about fighting; I just wanted to do it to work out. But after the first fight that I had, I thought ‘these girls are pretty good and I beat them,’ and then I found out that they had way more experience than me, and I was even more proud of myself. Fights like that kept happening, where I’d go up against someone who a lot of people thought ‘okay, this is where Angela loses, finally,’ and it didn’t happen. So it’s happened in stages. I just kept raising the bar until they announced that they were bringing strawweights into the UFC.”

And Hill was one of the first, making her debut on the TUF 20 finale card that brought the 115-pound division into the spotlight. Now, it’s not about being pioneers or introducing the weight class. The strawweights are here, and every fight has one purpose: to get closer to a world title shot. There is no turning back, and if Hill beats Namajunas and perhaps two more opponents, she will likely be in the championship conversation. Will she be ready for that call if it comes?

“Oh, hell yeah,” she says without hesitation. “It’s one of those things that I actually plan for. It’s like the tryouts. Even though my rational mind thinks that this will never happen, I’m still in there every day as if it’s going to happen. It’s always in the back of my mind.”

Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a formidable opponent for anyone though. Can we play Devil’s advocate and wonder if Hill would be ready if the call came tomorrow?

“Oh yeah, I’m definitely ready.”

Again, there’s no hesitation.

“She (Jedrzejczyk) has really good striking, but it’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. I’d love to fight her. I’d fight her tomorrow.”

Gutsy call, but Hill isn’t saying anything outrageous. If you step into that Octagon, you need to be ready for anyone at anytime, and even if the odds are against you, know in your heart that all it takes is a split second for you to win.

“I think it’s one of those things you need when it comes to being a fighter, just going in there with complete confidence,” she said. “Some people may not like that, but they’re not in the cage. If you’re not in there with confidence, you’re gonna look like it.”

Angela Hill looks like a fighter, talks like a fighter, and most importantly, is a fighter. Having less than ten pro bouts isn’t going to change that.

“Yeah, it might have been nice to get a few wins on my record against lesser competition, just so I could work out a few kinks and improve before I start fighting people who are really good,” she said. “But, at the same time, why wait? I’m not the youngest, but I just started competing not too long ago, so even though I’m 30, I can still hang with the kids just because I don’t have a ton of wear and tear on my body. And it’s not something you can do all your life, so just the fact that I’m already in the UFC after having my first pro MMA fight last year, I’m just riding the wave. I still believe I can be the champ at some point, and I have what it takes to be the best, but if anything, I’m in an ideal situation just because people aren’t going to know what to expect when they step in against me, and I’ll be able to sneak one on ‘em.”