SATURDAY, MARCH 4
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — On Saturday, March 4th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Tabatha "Baby Shark" Ricci picked up the biggest win of her career against Jessica Penne and immediately declared that "The Baby Shark Era has begun!" That statement made inside the Octagon to Joe Rogan after her win was a big one, but not as big as the statement she made with her dominant performance over a former UFC title challenger.
This fight was originally agreed to back in August and was scheduled to happen at UFC Vegas 61 on October 1st, when Ricci's original opponent Cheyanne Vlismas withdrew from the bout in the final weeks leading up to the fight to to medical issues. Penne agreed to step in and take the fight on 4 weeks' notice, but then on the morning of the weigh-in, she withdrew with an illness. However, one month after the fight cancellation, the bout with Penne was back on and it was re-booked for one of the biggest UFC events of 2023.
UFC 285 featured the long-awaited return of former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who is widely considered the greatest fighter of all time. He fought and submitted the former UFC interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane for the vacant UFC heavyweight title in the main event with Ricci and Penne fighting on the preliminary card.
This set the table for Ricci's arrival as a star in the sport and true contender in the UFC's best women's division. UFC 285 saw roughly 20,000 fans pack the T-Mobile Arena, which is one of the premier venues in all of combat sports. Ricci then got the crowd going by securing the first finish of the night in what was seen by many as a complete performance by the young Brazilian in every aspect of the fight.
Ricci possesses a complete skill set for Mixed Martial Arts that began in Judo with her father Carlos "Trovão" Salto at the age of 6 in her native Birigui, São Paulo, Brazil. She would later receive her black belt at the Kodokan in Japan, which is the birthplace of Judo. Those Judo roots were on full display in the second round when she threw Jessica Penne with a textbook Harai Goshi (Sweeping Hip Throw), which is one of the original 40 throws of Judo developed at the Kodokan.
While that was one of the most viral moments of the fight, the fun didn't begin or end there. It started with her epic walkout to Lathan Warlick's hit song "Tellem That Im Comin". It served as a stark reminder that the Biriguiense was coming for Penne after training 6 months for this fight. Moreover, it is an anthem she had pumped throughout the arena for each and every strawweight tuning in to watch, that she is coming... for everyone.
In the end, Ricci gave each of her coaches something to smile about. Not just with the win, but with how she did it. Ricci scored 4 takedowns much to the delight of her wrestling coach Carl Fronhofer. She also out-landed Penne in the striking department 36 to 6 that surely pleased her striking coaches Joseph "Hoss" Janik (Boxing) and Julio Trana Jr. (Muay Thai). The frenetic pace she kept throughout the fight, that was visibly paying a toll on Penne after the first round, is something her strength and conditioning coach Alex Jamora surely noticed. Then finally, she finished the fight with one of the prettiest far side armbars seen in MMA in years. This is something the BJJ black belt learned from her BJJ coach Ricardo "Franjinha" Miller through endless hours of technique drills and repetition.
The game plan was drawn up perfectly and Ricci rose to the occasion and delivered in what was her first fight in front of fans in nearly a decade. The 28-year-old also accomplished her first goal of 2023 with the dominant win. That is because Ricci is now found on the official UFC women's strawweight rankings for the first time in her career. The fact she has never lost in the division and continues to develop exponentially between fights is a fascinating proposition for everyone to ponder as we now enter "The Baby Shark Era".