At the UFC Training Center, Jessamyn Duke says her pro debut was supposed to be against Raquel Pennington; her opponent this week. Pennington adds that she has been hoping for this fight since their initial bout was canceled.
Pennington trains with two-time Muay Thai world champion Melchor Menor and their focus is on defending the clinch and getting around Duke’s height and reach advantage. “She hasn’t really learned how to use her reach yet. And when she does strike, it’s more like they’re peppering shots,” coach Miesha Tate tells Pennington, “If you close the distance and you’re cracking her and you’re being really aggressive it’s gonna completely shut her striking down.”
The teams take a well-deserved day off and visit the Green Valley Ranch Resort. While they watch a UFC fight and are catered to by Hooters girls, Duke stays home to collect her thoughts. A Texas native, Duke says that people back home are surprise to see a shy and quiet girl become involved in MMA. “I dabbled in modeling and acting when I was younger. Honestly, I really didn’t care for either one because when it came down to it I wasn’t allowed to be me. And fighting, that’s part of what I love so much about it, your encouraged to be yourself,” Duke said. She admits that she has never used her full reach advantage but will need it to advance.
As the first round begins, Duke lands most of her strikes while Pennington remains tentative. As Duke begins to tire, Pennington gets comfortable and starts connecting with right hooks. Duke wins the round but receives a bloody nose in the process.
A more confident Pennington begins the second round by landing heavy counter punches. Aware that this may be the final round, the two ladies stand and trade punches throughout, never taking to the ground. Duke begins to slow and Pennington takes full advantage by trapping her against the cage with a combination of strong rights and knees to the abdomen.
With each fighter winning a round, the judges decide that there will be a third.
Pennington continues her assault and continuous by landing solid combos. Duke busts Pennington’s face open as time winds down, but it isn’t enough to make up for two lost rounds. The judges score the final round 10-9 in Pennington’s favor.
“I think that fight right there is going to represent women’s MMA and put it on the map. I really think this is really gonna make a lot of girls out there go ‘wow that’s what I want to do.’ Kind of like Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar did to all the guys,” Team Rousey fighter Anthony Gutierrez said.
After the decision is read, Tate tries to shake Ronda Rousey’s hand and gets flipped off instead. “I don’t really hate her anymore. To me it’s really kind of funny.” Tate said.
Coach Tate chooses Josh Hill and Michael Wootten as next week’s fighters.