The incredibly entertaining DeAnna Bennett returns to Invicta FC later this month in Salt Lake City, Utah. Before that, she took time to discuss her experience on TUF 26, fighting Karina Rodriguez, and “Big Country Abs.”
DeAnna Bennett entered The Ultimate Fighter 26 as the fourth ranked flyweight on the show. Drafted to team Alvarez, she finished Karine Gevorgyan by TKO within a round on the second episode of the season, before eventually falling to Sijara Eubanks. And if you don’t remember her from those bouts, you might remember her monkeying around in a tree at the TUF house. Literally. DeAnna Bennett, in a tree, making monkey sounds.
Bennett’s energetic and quirky personality shone through on TUF 26, making her one of the more memorable fighters in a season brimming with standouts. Yet after a less than stellar fight at the finale against Melinda Fábián ended in a draw, she was cut from the promotion. It’s safe to say she felt the criticism afterward — but then, admittedly, she’s her own worst critic.
Later this month at Invicta FC 28, Bennett will look to bounce back when she takes on Karina Rodriguez. The card takes place in Salt Lake City — and though born in California, Bennett lives in Utah, which puts this right in her back yard. We spoke Bennett about the upcoming bout, and her time on The Ultimate Fighter 26, among a wide range of topics. And if there’s one takeaway, it’s that just like on the show, DeAnna Bennett is wildly entertaining.
“I’ve actually seen her last couple of fights,” she told us in regards to opponent Rodriguez, adding that “it’s definitely going to be a test to me, because she’s a tough fighter. She pressures, she has slick combinations, real quick hands. Everything you would expect coming out of that Lobo gym there in Mexico, with the partners that she has there.”
Lobo, of course, is home to UFC athletes Alexa Grasso and Irene Aldana. So Bennett certainly has a good idea of the quality of training partners her opponent has. Which has led her to expect “a knockdown, drag out fight honestly.” One the flyweight is anticipating to be both aggressive and entertaining.
Even better, it’s in her “fighting home” in Utah. “It’s like a dream come true. I never thought I would say it, but the last couple years I really missed fighting in Utah. Utah is my fighting home. I’m originally from California, but I started fighting in Utah. That’s my fighting home, that’s where I grew up and had my amateur fights, started my pro career. So the opportunity, that I get to be on this card for Invicta, in my fighting home town, is amazing.”
She told us, in fact, that she’s more excited for this fight than for any she has had in a long time. Yet she may not necessarily hear the crowd once she steps in the cage. “I don’t really hear them too much, I don’t know if that’s selective, or I’ve got too much cauliflower ear built up — these days, I don’t really hear much of anything,” she joked. However, she recounted that in her last fight in Utah, against, Colleen Schneider, “I was super nervous for that fight. I remember getting into the cage, doing my little warm-up thing, and not even trying to look out into the crowd but I kind of looked up, and I saw a table full of my co-workers at the time, some of my teammate’s and everything, and seeing them there, it gave me even more motivation, honestly.” Seeing her supporters there gives her “even more fuel.”
Of course, “every once in a while I hear somebody in the crowd,” she pointed out. “In fact my last fight, with Melinda, I remember, I was against — of course pushing her against the cage, because that’s what I did, ninety percent of the fight, but I was really out of it after that head kick in the first round. It was Maia [Stevenson], actually, she helped me snap back into it. ‘DeAnna, pull your head out of your ass!’ And I was like ‘What?! Maia? Oh, I’m in a fight still! I probably should do something about that!'”
“So sometimes it’s a good thing to hear the crowd,” she finished.
After that grinding affair, Bennett wasn’t quite sure where she stood with the UFC. “I was concerned that they were going to cut me after that. I remember talking to somebody and they’re like ‘no, no, we talked to them, you’re okay.'” It turns out she wasn’t.
“The next thing you know,” Bennett continued, “a couple days later, it was like ‘so you’re gonna be cut.'”
“Obviously it sucks,” she added, but she understands the move. “I wouldn’t say I’m bitter about it, but it definitely tore into my heart a little bit. I don’t blame them, that performance wasn’t my best. I’m my number one worst critic, which is horrible if you think about all the things that got said about that last fight.”
“Somebody tagged me in a Facebook post where it was thirty people just basically calling me fat,” Bennett recalled. “Leave it to the Internet trolls to make me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Thanks Guys!” she laughed.
There were reasons for her performance, including driving across the country to train in New Jersey, but she’s not making any excuses. And she has kept her sense of humor. “I don’t blame the UFC for cutting me after that one, especially, you know, all those ‘boos’ in the crowd — apparently the building was full of ghosts.”
Then there’s those aforementioned Internet trolls. “They’re so mean! I was like ‘guys, I would never say— how dare you! Never in a million years could I ever say the mean things [they do],” she told us. “I remember one of my favorite ones was ‘this bitch needs to lay off the cheeseburgers.’ And I’m like ‘I’m lactose intolerant and gluten intolerant, I couldn’t even have a cheeseburger if I wanted to!'”
Bennett doesn’t let it get to her, however, which isn’t surprising given her demeanor. “Most of the time it doesn’t bother me too much,” she said, before admitting that “it cut a little bit, the combination of that and getting cut and everything, but for the most part it’s fine. Like I said, I probably say worse things about myself.”
On the move back to Invicta, where DeAnna Bennett fought from 2014 to 2017, the fighter said that “I’ve always loved being part of Invicta in the past, and fighting for them. The fact that they scooped me right up, the day I got the call that I was released from the UFC, I talked to Shannon that day. That’s just how great they are.”
“I’m excited,” she continued. “I’ve been training hard and getting weirder by the day. So we have some fun conversations with the Invicta staff and they’re probably like ‘hmm, about that, I don’t know what she’s going to bring…'”
On just how exactly she’s so weird, she offered in way of example the pre-fight video packages pretty much every promotion produces. “Basically you’re on there for like two minutes. Mine takes like twenty minutes,” she explained. “Because I get off topic, I start talking about other things, I say inappropriate things that they can’t use, I talk with my hands. I don’t even know how we got there at one point, we were talking about something and the poor the guy doing the interview was horrified, because bacon covered penises came up, and somehow our conversation went to that.”
In case it wasn’t clear, “you never know what’s going to pop out of my crazy mouth!”
As talk turned to her experience on The Ultimate Fighter 26, Bennett made it clear that she wouldn’t trade it for the world. “If they didn’t kick me out the last day, I never would have left,” she said. “It was the best. All I’ve ever wanted to do is fight. That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do. So the fact that I got to live in a mansion — granted it was like white collar prison, because you couldn’t leave anywhere, like yeah it’s a mansion, but they trap you in and you can’t go anywhere, so Martha Stewart experience kind of prison — but it was great, getting top of the line training. Opening my eyes to different methods. And you have all these girls from different camps all across the the world. The opportunity to train with the best out there was awesome. It’s definitely not an experience I would take back.”
“It was a good time for personal reflection too, because we couldn’t listen to music,” she told us. That’s because the production didn’t have licenses for the songs. It was to the point that Bennett was even told not to sing aloud. “So I had a lot of internal talks with myself.”
“I met some really awesome people on the show. If they ever did a female Redemption season, they can call me up, because I will gladly do it” she concluded.
Bennett has fought some of the best names in the weight class (and outside it). Roxanne Modafferi. Julianna Pena. Jennifer Maia. Those experiences help drive her. “Just seeing where some of the people that I’ve fought have gone is great.”
“I know that I can get up there to the top again. Things kind of hit a little rough patch there for a second,” she said, “but you have to take everything from each fight. Win or lose, every fight is a learning experience for the next one.” That knowledge is why “I’m really excited for this one coming up in a few weeks. I’ve had a lot of time for reflection, I’ve had a lot of hard hours in the gym, and it’s going to be a good performance. I can feel it.”
Despite her confidence, Bennett isn’t about to make a prediction. Other than “I’m going to get my hand raised in the end. And not like last time when both of our hands got raised. Because I’m like ‘Yay my hand gets raised! Oh wait hers did too. Oh crap,'” she said with a laugh.
She added that she’s been working hard and hopes to silence some of the trolls who were unduly harsh on her. Not that she’s doing it for them. We suggested she visualize the trolls when working the heavy bag; Bennett was all in for that, but “definitely not when I’m with my training partners, who are like ‘why are you trying to kill me?!?’ ‘This person called me fat!!'” Actually it wasn’t just this person, it was like millions of people,” she joked.
Bennett has a way of finding the funny side of just about anything. “I’d almost rather you tell me my fighting skills suck. You went for the low blow on that one,” she continued. “I thought I was just trying to market myself as the female Big Country, but apparently there’s not a niche for a female Big Country. So I decided to not shave my hair into a mullet, and we’re working on the gut. We will get there.”
The Big Country comment, she explained, “came because Barb Honchak has the perfect abs. Always. She’s just like ‘well yeah but then I re-hydrate and then it kind of puffs out’ and I’m like ‘yeah but you still have abs though, it’s just like Chuck Liddell abs. Yeah it puffs out a little bit but you still have abs. You have Chuck Liddell abs, I have Big Country abs.’ She’s the Chuck Liddell to my Big Country.”
Looking forward to the rest of the year, Bennett told us that “I’m there in Invicta, the belt for Invicta is vacant. I’m not looking past this fight, you’ve got to take one fight at a time.” Yet having said that, “I’m going to go win this one, put on a good performance, go for the next one. If they happen to give me a shot at the belt next, that’d be great. Something to cover up those Big Country abs I’ve been working on.”
Catch DeAnna Bennett take on Karina Rodriguez at Invicta FC 28, March 24 at the Union Event Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The card airs exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.