Raquel “Rocky” Pennington knows that when she steps into the Octagon against Bethe “Pitbull” Correira on Saturday, April 16, at UFC Fight Night: Texeira vs Evans, that many people will have already counted her out of the fight. But to hear her tell it, those people don’t know who she is and what she’s been through in life.
“I’m proud of myself (and) where I am right now because I’ve never had one person who has truly helped me build a career,” she said. “I’ve been through so many different coaches and had so many ups and downs and I think people would be truly amazed at my story if I were to write a book. If a lot of people rode the journey that I’ve ridden, I think many would have given up. So as far as Correia being the favorite, I’ve always been the black horse in women’s MMA. I’ve had to work for my place in it, nothing’s been given to me at all. It’s all hard work and dedication. Bethe has been in the Top 10, she’s had that title shot so, of course, I’m going to be the underdog, but it comes down to April 16th and I’m ready to show the world who I am and what I’ve worked for.”
Anybody would be remiss to sleep on Pennington. Her last fight at UFC 191, a rematch against Jessica Andrade, earned the Coloradan a Performance of the Night bonus, as she won a hard-fought battle by way of a rear naked choke submission with just seconds remaining in the second round. The fight was a fast-paced back and forth matchup that saw much improved Muay Thai skills from Pennington and also improved submission defense on the ground.
It was the kind of performance that put the entire division on notice.
“I’m constantly breaking my training down,” she said. “I think it showed in my last two fights that I’ve improved. As an athlete, I have to train each aspect instead of focusing strictly on MMA. One day is straight boxing, the next day is kickboxing and the next could be straight wrestling. It’s a repetitive thing for me, and I’ve gotten better mentally, physically, emotionally, and then one day a week we put it all together in an MMA day and it has just been working great for me.”
“Rocky” knows she’s going to have to dig down and be prepared to go into some deep waters with Correira, but focusing on her opponent is something she says she’s grown out of as she obtains more and more experience.
“At this point in my career I don’t really worry about what my opponents are going to do. I
jumped on that bandwagon for a little while and it kind of distracted me. I know the athlete that I am and I’ve learned to focus on me and believe in myself and know that whatever position we end up in I’m going to dominate there,” she said.
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Pennington says when she watches Correia fight she sees someone who is more bully than mixed martial artist. “She’s more about being loud and using her words to try to intimidate people, but that doesn’t always work out for her. I’m excited to fight her, she’s definitely a good stepping stone for my career,” she says.
Indeed, a win over Correia, who is ranked No. 8 in the bantamweight division will be a big step forward for the No. 12-ranked Pennington.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “You want to go in there and put on a phenomenal performance and sometimes it doesn’t always work that way. For me, I try not to think about that kind of stuff leading up to the fight. I have to take things one step at a time and focus on what’s in front of me. I go in there to compete, and it amazes me because while I’m doing it, it feels one way, but when I go back and watch it, it looks completely different than how I felt in the moment. I’m always learning and I’m always growing, but when it comes to bonuses and things like that, I can’t really think about that. I have to focus on me.”