UFC strawweight Tabatha Ricci will return to action at UFC 285 in March, where she meets former title challenger Jessica Penne.
Ricci (7-1) has been making waves of late, even picking up a sponsorship from 805 Beer. Closing in on her second anniversary as a UFC fighter, that level of support is significant — and a sign that the “Baby Shark’s” profile is higher than ever.
Heading into her first bout of 2023, Ricci believes she’s still improving as a fighter daily.
“I feel like I’m learning every day. There’s always something new I’m learning from everybody; I’m learning everything from white belts to black belts to masters,” Ricci told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “In martial arts, it’s consistent learning every day. Sometimes you feel like a white belt. It’s super fun, martial arts, because you’re able to share knowledge with everyone. I still have a lot to learn.”
After fighting four times in 2021, including twice inside the octagon, Ricci made the walk just once last year. “It was very frustrating for me, because I had a goal that I wanted to get to the rankings last year, and I wanted to have [as many] fights as I can, but I cannot control that,” she said of her inactivity. The fight with Jessica Penne itself was supposed to take place last year; an illness suffered by Penne scratched the fight in September. “So I just took that as [an] experience for me, and I just improved, I felt like I got even better. And now I have this opportunity again, and I’m more than ready to fight.”
As she prepares to tackle a former title challenger in Penne, Tabatha Ricci does so in a wide open weight class. The UFC women’s strawweight title has been a hot potato of late, passed between Rose Namajunas, Carla Esparza, and Weili Zhang. When it comes to who the best in the division is, Ricci believes it’s the current champ — but she also believes the title will continue to change hands a bit longer.
“Definitely Weili, and she has proved [it]. I think now she’s the best in the division, but the division is stacked with a lot of good fighters. So I feel like the belt is still going to be floating around for a little bit,” Ricci stated. “Amanda Lemos is coming in hot, a lot of girls like Carla Esparza, Mackenzie Dern, Marina [Rodriguez]. There’s a lot of top ranks there that can be changed, but I believe for now Weili is the best one.”
As for her UFC 285 match-up, “it’s an honor to fight Jessica,” Ricci told us. “She’s fought in the division, she went to the TUF house, she fought very tough girls, basically all the top girls that were in the ranks. So I’m very excited for that fight. I think it’s going to be fun, I think it’s going to be very entertaining.”
Ricci is also excited to show more than she was able to in her last outing. “I think people are going to see more from me, because my last fight with Polyana [Viana], I couldn’t show much. She was more a lay on the ground [style], so I couldn’t show what I trained. I feel like this fight will be a little bit more entertaining.”
Watch our full interview with UFC 285 strawweight Tabatha Ricci above. The event takes place on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.