Raquel “Rocky” Pennington may not be one of the biggest names on the women’s scene just yet but she is certainly on the right path. “Rocky” was ranked as the #1 bantamweight fighter on the amateur circuit after compiling an impressive 7-1 record before joining the pro ranks earlier this year. I had a chance to catch up with Raquel ahead of her fifth bout in seven months when she takes on top five ranked flyweight Cat Zingano at this Saturday’s Invicta FC 3. She spoke about what got her into the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I was always a tomboy, I always wanted to box, but my mom and dad said no, I was too pretty and that my teeth were too nice. That kind of blew it out of the window for me, so I just did basketball softball and volleyball growing up and then I would go out and play tackle football with the guys. I was just always into extreme sports and stuff.”
“My senior year I actually had some scholarships, but I ended up breaking my back snowboarding so I couldn’t take them. When I was going through rehab I saw the first team that I started training with working out and I told my mom that I wanted to do that as a joke because it seemed more intense. I think that she thought it would be a good thing for me to get going again so she went in there to speak with the coach and I just went from there.”
Raquel spoke about the importance of an amateur career before crossing over to the pro ranks.
“Racking up some amateur fights is very important. I think that you need to get full experience in different situations and with different opponents. You need to test the confidence that’s within yourself and test your skills. There are some girls that jump into the pros either right away or after one or two fights. My coach wanted to do that with me, but I wasn’t comfortable. I wanted to get at least ten fights. I didn’t get up to ten, but I got to the point where I felt comfortable and felt like I was ready for more, that’s when I made the transition.”
“I finished my amateur career at 7-1 with five titles and I was ranked number one in the United States at 135. That was a good achievement and with that it helped me believe that I could do better and do more. We decided to go pro in March when I fought Kim Couture and the pro world has been hectic, let me tell ya.”
Already 3-1 this year as a professional with her lone loss coming in a 143 pound catchweight bout with Tori Adams this past June, I asked if the plan was always to stay so active right out of the gate.
“Not really, as an amateur I wanted to stay really active and I was fighting one or two times a year. I thought that was really active but once I went pro it’s like I’m getting so many different opportunities thrown at me left and right that some of them just seem really cool to accept. I want to be a top fighter and with all of these different opponents being thrown at me I’ve never been the type to turn down a fight. Every time that I have been offered a fight I’ve said yes, I love it.”
Like many bantamweights before her, Pennington has taken a few fights at featherweight but feels that she is at her best when competing at 135.
“I prefer bantamweight, I love the bantamweight division. I feel stronger, faster and at home in this weight division. Featherweight is just too heavy. I felt sluggish and slow. I fought two of my amateur fights at 140 and then I fought the one with Tori Adams at 140. It doesn’t seem like the five pounds would make a difference, but the one with Tori was at 143 and just those pounds alone made a huge difference to me. I still feel that I have my strength and stuff, but I don’t feel the way that I do at 135. That’s not something that I would continue to do I mean it was kind of a dumb move but like I said, I don’t turn down fights.”
This Saturday’s bout with Zingano will be Raquel’s fifth fight in seven months. She talked about her reaction when she got the offer to face then Kim Connor-Hamby, one day after capturing the Destiny Bantamweight Title.
“I told myself after the fight with Raquel (Pa’aluhi) that I needed to let my body relax because it’s been go, go, go. I’ve been in fight camps since last September and it’s just been hectic. When I got the call and they offered the fight I was like, man, I really loved Invicta and everything that came with it. I told my manager let’s do it and he was like ‘Are you serious?’ So I told my coach and he looked at me like I was crazy at first and then was like ok, let’s do it.”
Last week Raquel got the word that Kim would have to pull out of the bantamweight contest due to an injury suffered in training and that she would now be facing Strikeforce’s Cat Zingano. While many would feel that preparing for a boxer is much different than training for a grappler, in a short notice situation Pennington doesn’t seem to mind.
“It wasn’t a huge transtition for me because I’ve been working everything for the last year. It didn’t really screw up my game plan going into this fight. It was more like ok cool, I have a more extreme opponent that the whole world knows about so I have to go in there as the underdog which gives me more motivation. I’m ready for this fight, it’s going to be fun.”
Zingano is currently ranked in the top five at 125. “Rocky” took time to think about what a win would mean for her career at just 24-years-old.
“I think with her having such a high profile and being where she is will only help my career on the way to the top. I’m coming into this fight as the underdog. I don’t have a perfect record as a professional, I’m still a young fighter on the rise. Cat has a perfect record and has a lot more to lose than I do. I have everything to gain off of this fight. Wherever it goes I feel that we are stepping stones in each other’s way and I have a hunger to be one of the top fighters. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.”
“Rocky” has her mom, girlfriend, coaches and the rest of her family to keep her on the right track. People seem to forget sometimes that these athletes are not robots and Raquel thanks her family for helping to deal with the stresses of the fight game.
“It’s very important, you have to have a great gym life and feel comfortable with your place in that gym and with that team, then when you come home you have to have a great home life. You have to be mentally right in every aspect because then it makes you feel free as a person and it makes you feel like you want to be the best that you can be, at least it does for me.”
Check out Invicta Fighting Championships this Saturday, Oct 6th, live from the Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. The event begins at 7pmEST/4pmPST and streams live on the promotion’s website, InvictaFC.com.