SATURDAY, JUNE 24
VYSTAR VETERANS MEMORIAL ARENA
JACKSONVILLE, Florida — On Saturday, June 24th at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, Tabatha "Baby Shark" Ricci picked up her fourth consecutive UFC victory against Gillian "The Savage" Robertson to reinforce her famous declaration from March that "The Baby Shark Era has begun!" That statement was made inside the Octagon to Joe Rogan after she submitted Jessica Penne via armbar at UFC 285.
However, her win against Robertson was different from the others, mostly due to how it came about. One month after Ricci defeated Penne, she traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to corner her friend and training partner Piera "La Fiera" Rodriguez. Robertson would hand Rodriguez the first loss of her career via submission in what was also the Canadian's debut in the UFC strawweight division. The former flyweight standout then called out Ricci in the post-fight press conference noting that she saw her cornering Rodriguez and wanted to take her place in the strawweight rankings.
This was the first time in Ricci's ten-year career that someone had called her out. It was also the first time in her career that someone had disrespected her coaches and teammates. Ricci had just made the official UFC rankings at #15 with her win over Penne and was hoping to fight someone above her in the rankings, but when she heard the call out and disrespect delivered from Robertson, she happily accepted the fight and made it happen.
Robertson is the current UFC women's record-holder for the most submission wins with 7 for the promotion. This happens to have her ranked ahead of both UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey and ADCC world champion Mackenzie Dern. This is something the Canadian continued to mention in the lead-up to her fight with Ricci, while also claiming to be the best grappler in the division. Robertson's confidence was buoyed by the fact that she also holds UFC women's records for most bouts in the women's flyweight division (13), fastest submission in the women's flyweight division (2:12), and the highest submissions per win percentage (77.78%).
This created plenty of debate online amongst fight fans as Ricci happens to hold the rank of black belt in two grappling based martial arts. Ricci is the daughter of Carlos "Trovão" Salto, who is a renowned Judo master from Brazil and her first instructor. She would later be promoted to the rank of black belt in Judo at the Kodokan in Japan, which is the birthplace of Judo. Ricci then received her black belt in Jiu-Jitsu from Ricardo "Franjinha" Miller, who is the founder of the famed Paragon Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. She also trains with former NCAA Division I wrestler Carl Fronhofer, which gives her a unique and highly-technical style of grappling that blends Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling.
This set the table for the first grudge match in Ricci's career and happened just after her arrival as a star in the sport was minted in March, when she became the first person to submit Penne in the UFC, and made her debut in the official UFC rankings. The fight was booked at UFC on ABC 5, which was the first UFC event of its busy summer schedule. This was also the fifth time an MMA event was broadcast on ABC and the event saw nearly 15,000 fans pack the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, which is the premier multi-purpose arena in Florida's most-populous city.
The main event featured a featherweight showdown between former UFC interim featherweight title challenger Josh Emmett and top undefeated prospect Ilia Topuria. The dynamic Georgian-Spaniard kept his undefeated record intact with a one-sided Unanimous Decision win just like Ricci was able to do earlier in the day by becoming the first woman on the fight card to secure a victory.
Ricci made her presence felt immediately throughout the arena with what is now one of the most recognizable walkouts in women's MMA. The Brazilian spreads her arms wide to embrace her fans that are sitting cageside, while she walks to the Octagon to Lathan Warlick's hit song "Tellem That Im Comin". The song continues to serve as a reminder that the Biriguiense is coming for everyone in the division... and Robertson just happened to be featured on the day's menu. After hugging her coaches "Franjinha", Joseph "Hoss" Janik, and Alex Jamora one last time before entering the Octagon, her warm smile quickly turned to a confident glare, which was followed by her signature shark fin salute. This let everyone watching know that the next shark attack was imminent on the shores of northeastern Florida.
Ricci would then execute a profound response to an attention-seeking callout that was followed by two months of online taunting and trash talk delivered on social media from Robertson, the Robertson coaching staff, and Robertson fans. While Team Robertson spent their time making incoherent memes and insulting videos about Team Ricci, "Baby Shark" opted to train and move in silence, but once the cage door closed, she responded... in violence.
The game plan that Ricci and her coaches concocted was scintillating and the Brazilian executed it to a tee. The masterclass included a display of striking that had cageside commentators Jon Anik, two-time UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, and UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier clamoring with their approval. Cruz is noted as having some of the most intricate footwork in the sport and Cormier is a two-time Olympic wrestler. Those happened to be the two areas that Ricci excelled in throughout the fight, which did not go unnoticed by the legends calling the fight.
In the lead up to this showdown, fight pundits kept emphasizing the size difference between Ricci and Robertson due to the Canadian fighting in the UFC for 6 years as a flyweight. Robertson's 4-inch height advantage and 2-inch reach advantage was also pointed out the day before the fight, when the two faced off during the official ceremonial weigh-in. However, Ricci completely flipped the script and used this to her advantage.
Once she found her rhythm, the Brazilian's footwork and speed took over and Robertson's size turned her into a bigger target for Ricci to hit... and she hit that bigger target early and often with such fluidity, that the Canadian appeared to be moving in slow motion at times with most of her punches connecting with nothing but air. Ricci, on the other hand, unleashed an incredible output on every part of her bigger opponent's body.
In the end, Ricci threw 92 more strikes than Robertson, while landing 24 more significant strikes. The final tally saw Ricci land 111 strikes with 108 of them being recorded as significant blows. 65 of those blows were to the head, 12 were powerful shots landed to the body, and another 31 were chopping strikes to her opponent's longer legs.
While the onslaught of strikes surely made her striking coaches "Hoss" (Boxing) and Julio Trana Jr. (Muay Thai) happy, Ricci also made it a point to show who the better grappler was as well. Ricci secured three times more takedowns than Robertson, while also tallying a dozen more seconds of control time, thus effectively putting an end to the pre-fight debate on who possessed the better grappling chops. More impressively, was the way Ricci used her wrestling and grappling to shut down Robertson's distinct grappling prowess that has allowed her to secure several UFC records.
The win kept the young Brazilian's record perfect at strawweight, where she is now 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the UFC, while competing in her natural weight class of 115-pounds. The 28-year-old also won her first UFC fight outside of the UFC's hometown of Las Vegas and saw her move up in the official UFC women's strawweight rankings to #14. The fact Ricci got to display her rapidly developing striking skills, while once again showcasing a brilliant Fight IQ, now has the fight world wondering what's next from the grappling phenom as we take another step into "The Baby Shark Era".