The Ultimate Fighter
As a pop culture afficionado, I’m sure Angela Hill will appreciate that I thought of her while watching the classic mob film Donnie Brasco. Or maybe I’ve just been in the fight business too long but bear with me.
Just before the credits rolled on the 1997 Johnny Depp / Al Pacino film which told of Joe Pistone’s undercover work, there is a recap of what that work produced in terms of arrests and convictions. Then it mentions that at the time of the film’s release, there was an open contract out on Pistone.
Boom, Angela Hill. Why? Well, in my romantic notion of things, I imagine that the strawweight standout who never turns down a fight has an open contract of a different sort with the UFC, one in which they call her up to fight, she says yes, and that’s the end of the conversation. No discussion of opponents, location, time to train, nothing. Just sign her up.
Any accuracy to that, Ms. Hill?
“Yep, exactly,” she laughs.
That attitude has turned Hill from a fighter finding her way through a tough division in the UFC without the experience her peers possessed, to a cult hero of sorts to fight fans around the globe who throw her name out on social media whenever someone at 115 pounds needs a fight. And the internet being what it is, Hill will see her name mentioned when anyone in any division, male or female, is without an opponent.
Zhang Weili needs a fight? Angela Hill
Amanda Nunes needs a fight? Angela Hill
Francis Ngannou needs a fight? Angela Hill
Get the picture? But all the memes and twitter comments have surfaced for a reason, and it’s down to Hill’s performances on fight night and willingness to take on anyone. And when she steps into the Octagon this Saturday to face Claudia Gadelha in the UFC Fight Night co-main event in Jacksonville, it will be her seventh fight in 421 days.
Nothing more can be said to follow that fact up.
“It's always been the thing that I wanted to do in the UFC, to fight over and over again,” she said. “When I got in there, I didn't have that much experience, so I felt like it's better to just keep jumping in and racking up that experience than to stay out for too long and over think each fight. So I always wanted to be this active, and I'm happy that they're finally letting me being as active as I want to be.”
A firm believer that you get better in fighting by fighting, Hill entered the UFC in 2014 with a 1-0 record that was supplemented by a stint on The Ultimate Fighter 20. She won that debut by defeating Emily Kagan. Two up, two down.
But then the fun began, or actually the lack of fun. Not she was in the biggest show in the world facing opponents who had years and years of MMA experience on her. There’s really no going back from there, so Hill hung in and used her talent and determination to try and close that experience gap against fighters like Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas.
By the end of 2015, Hill was out of the UFC and looking forward to getting back on track in the Invicta FC promotion. She did, going 4-0 with two stoppages, three Performance of the Night bonuses and a strawweight title which she successfully defended once before being called back to the UFC to face Jessica Andrade in February 2017.
Hill lost to Andrade that night in Houston, but she was a different fighter as the pair picked up Fight of the Night honors. Then came a 2-3 stretch and the questions began again. And this time, Hill even wondered what was going on when she was submitted by Randa Markos in March 2019.
“I was overthinking a lot about that matchup and I almost felt like I willed the fight to end that way,” Hill said. “I was obsessing over something that might happen so bad that it happened. And I think after that fight, I started trying to be more in the moment and not try to let any of my past experiences or what I think's gonna happen in the future be in my head while I'm fighting and just getting into that flow state a little faster. And I started trusting in myself a little bit more.”
The Markos fight began her current run, one in which she’s 4-2, with the only losses coming against Markos and Yan Xiaonan. More importantly, the 35-year-old Maryland native is on a three-fight winning streak in which she’s defeated Ariane Carnelossi, Hannah Cifers and Loma Lookboonmee. And if Hill was a different fighter when her second stay in the UFC began, she’s even more different now.
“If I get the itch to throw a punch, I'll throw it instead of hesitating or overthinking it and I've been feeling so much more comfortable now that I've focused on doing that,” she said. “It's hard to get in there when you're always thinking about what if this happens, what if that happens. That's the beauty of being an undefeated fighter. You haven't felt that fear of a loss yet. So yeah, for a fighter with a mixed record, it's hard to push yourself past that, but I really felt like I figured that out last year and I chalk it up to being able to get in there so many times as well. It started taking the anxiety out of it.”
Along with being more comfortable in the Octagon, Hill has also been a lot more comfortable in stepping up to the plate to face all comers. Case in point, this bout with Gadelha. When this interview was conducted in mid-April, it was simply to catch up with “Overkill” during a time with no fights going on. By the beginning of May, she was signed up to fight the former world title challenger.
That’s Hill, who hasn’t let a 12-7 pro record slow her down.
“It's super difficult, but I think it definitely hardens you,” she said of growing up (in an MMA sense) in public. “I see a lot of people who get an easier path into the sport, and when they hit that wall where you're suddenly dealing with people who are as talented as you but have that experience over you, that's always really hard to take if you didn't have to deal with that adversity yet. I've seen it take a lot of people out of the game early just because of the timing when they finally got their first hard fight in their career and it can break you. So I think I definitely went through that whole process of being on the big stage, being seen at my best, but then also at my worst. It makes you make that decision early on, like how badly do I want this? A lot of people, when it's easy up until they get to what they think is their goal, they don't realize how much work it takes. So to be able to put yourself in that position and keep bouncing back, I think that proves I'm a lot stronger than any of my doubters thought I was in the beginning of my career.”
Doubt Angela Hill? As Donnie Brasco would say, “fuhgeddaboudit.”