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Tecia Torres punches Mackenzie Dern in their strawweight fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Tecia Pennington: Get Ready For A Sharknado

Returning Strawweight Wants To Show That She's Still At Her Best In Her First Bout Since Becoming A Mother

Tecia Pennington is back, and ready to show that she's still at the top of her game as she returns to action against Tabatha Ricci this weekend at UFC St. Louis.

It's a strawweight battle between two fighters with the most recognizable nicknames in the division, with "The Tiny Tornado" taking on "Baby Shark" inside the Octagon at the Enterprise Center on Saturday night.

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So, given their two nicknames, what can the fans expect on fight fight? Pennington had the perfect answer.

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"Sharknado fight!" she grinned.

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"I think it's going to be a very fast-paced fight, back and forth between both of us. I'd like it to be a lot of striking, but I would think that her idea of winning would be probably to take me down. But I welcome that, as well. I think I'm great everywhere. But I think it's going to be exciting one. Too little mini-pitbulls going at it!"

Tecia Pennington reacts after her battle against Mackenzie Dern in their strawweight fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tecia Pennington reacts after her battle against Mackenzie Dern in their strawweight fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

During her sit-down with UFC.com ahead of her return, Pennington's enthusiasm is clear to see. The 34-year-old was a mainstay of the strawweight division, having featured in The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned, the season that established the 115-pound weight class in the UFC.

Then fighting under her maiden name of Torres, Pennington amassed a career record of 13-6, and was a constant presence in the strawweight top 15. But in 2022, her career took a back seat as she started a family with her wife and fellow UFC athlete, Raquel Pennington.

MORE ST. LOUIS: Buckley Comes Home | Hooper Interview | Baby Shark Interview | Tecia Pennington Interview | Derrick Lewis Interview | Rodrigo Nascimento Interview

While Raquel chased her dream of capturing the 135-pound title – a dream that became a reality in January – Tecia went through a different challenge as she went through pregnancy, then childbirth, as she gave birth to their baby daughter in June 2023.

Now, after battling back to full fighting fitness, "The Tiny Tornado" is ready to return to action once again, and she can't wait.

Tecia Pennington punches Sam Hughes in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 256 event at UFC APEX on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tecia Pennington punches Sam Hughes in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 256 event at UFC APEX on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

"Very, very excited," she said. 

"It's been a long time. Although it hasn't felt like two years, it's been a long time!

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"I always thought I'd come back to fighting, but definitely there were moments, especially during fight camp, it was hard."

The difficulties were twofold, as Pennington worked tirelessly in the gym to get back to full fitness, while also taking those tricky early steps as a new mom alongside Raquel. 

Tecia Pennington celebrates after her submission victory over Juliana Lima of Brazil in their women's strawweight bout during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Tecia Pennington celebrates after her submission victory over Juliana Lima of Brazil in their women's strawweight bout during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

"When Raquel was in camp for her title fight, I kind of took over everything at that time. I was still breastfeeding, too, so it was normal for me to do everything," she explained. 

"And now with me being in camp, she's been 'Mama Bear' at home more than I have.

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"Outside of that, mobility and cardio were the biggest things for me. Even though I ended up having to have an emergency C-section, I was pushing for a good 26 hours trying to get her out of there! My hips were so tight! And I come from karate and kickboxing, and I like to kick, so that was hard. So, lots of mobility stuff and then cardio. 

"Halfway through camp, that's when I was like, 'Damn, I don't know if it's gonna happen,' and with the help of Raquel, my coaches, my sports psychologist, and then me just believing in myself, it all came together when it needed to and my cardio is on point."

Tecia Pennington (R) punches Michelle Waterson during the UFC 218 event at Little Caesars Arena on December 2, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Tecia Pennington (R) punches Michelle Waterson during the UFC 218 event at Little Caesars Arena on December 2, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

All the way through, Pennington had the perfect motivation to help her push through the difficult days. Seeing Raquel achieve her dream of becoming UFC women's bantamweight champion at UFC 297 proved to her that the long road can lead to the right destination. 

"One hundred percent," she said. 

"Being in this sport, we all want to be number one, we all want to have that belt and it took her 14 years of hard work and dedication. 

"Just seeing her reach the ultimate goal gives me even more motivation knowing that it's there for me, too. Now having my daughter, they're both a motivation. Yeah, you can't stop me now!"

Tecia Pennington of the United States kicks Angela Hill of the United States in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 188 event at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on June 13, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tecia Pennington of the United States kicks Angela Hill of the United States in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 188 event at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on June 13, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Pennington will be welcomed back to the Octagon by Brazil's Ricci, who has been on an impressive run since her debut in June 2021. She's 4-2 overall in the Octagon, with her last bout seeing her edged out by Loopy Godinez via split decision. Prior to that close defeat, "Baby Shark" had won four straight, including notable victories over former title challenger Jessica Penne and submission specialist Gillian Robertson.

Pennington has been impressed with what she's seen of Ricci but thinks that her skills and experience should put her a notch ahead of her this weekend.

"I like the fight for my return. I think it's a challenge for her and I both. For me, just to see where I'm at still. For her, I believe that I'm the most skilled opponent she will have faced," she suggested.

"She seems good pretty much everywhere. She's pretty fast, but not as fast as me. I think overall I'll have the will and the cardio over her. I don't know about strength – she's pretty strong. We're both tiny and mighty, so that'll be cool! I think it's going to be fast-paced fight, but overall, in terms of ring knowledge of fight intelligence, it's definitely me."

Tecia Pennington punches Bec Rawlings of Australia in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Toyota Center on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tecia Pennington punches Bec Rawlings of Australia in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Toyota Center on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

She may have been away from the Octagon for 25 months, but Pennington looks fresh, confident and happy as she prepares to re-enter the fray. As for the nerves, they're no different to any other fight. She just wants to get in there, win, and return to the strawweight Top 10 once again.

"Honestly, the nerves are just the same as before. It's like an excitement nervous," she explained. 

"I've been doing it so long, it's not like I'm scared. Not taking anything away from her skill, but there's nothing about her that scares me. I've seen it all. I've been hit by the best of the best in the division. It's just me challenging myself and showing myself what I can do.

"A win definitely gets me in the rankings again. I'm sad that they took me out and didn't put me back! But she's 11. For sure, I'd take her place at 11, but I think I deserve about eight. So I'd love to go back in as the number eight."

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UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento took place live from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri on May 11, 2024. See the final Prelim and Main Card results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass