Tecia Pennington is the UFC St. Louis fighter to watch

Tecia Pennington returns from a lengthy layoff to make her UFC return at UFC St. Louis.
Tecia Pennington
Tecia Pennington / Alex Bierens de Haan/GettyImages

UFC 301 may be over with Alexandre Pantoja retaining the flyweight title and Jose Aldo making a triumphant return on home soil, but there is more action to be had this Saturday. At UFC St. Louis, heavyweights collide as former title challenger and longtime fan favorite Derrick Lewis tussles with Rodrigo Nascimento in the main event. Meanwhile, Joaquin Buckley returns home to fight Nursulton Ruziboev, who enters the event on a monstrous 10-win streak.

But speaking of returns, there is one particular person in the prelims who is doing so after a lengthy absence, Tecia Pennington. Pennington is fighting for the first time since becoming a mother.

The strawweight formerly known as Tecia Torres is fighting for the first time since getting married to current women's bantamweight champion Raquel Pennington and welcoming their first child. But before getting to her opponent, how has her career progressed so far?

Pennington first entered the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter, where viewers got a preview of her fighting style: heavy on volume, but light on power, focusing on racking points without posing a finishing threat. That would be the story of her first five Octagon meetings, of which she lost just one, a rematch against future two-time strawweight champion Rose Namajunas.

Nevertheless, her fighting style served her well in a then-shallow division dominated by then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Then UFC 217 happened. Jedrzejczyk lost the title in stunning fashion to Namajunas. Suddenly, Pennington, then on a modest two-win streak that included the first finish of her career, had a chance to earn a trilogy bout with higher stakes. All she had to do was defeat Michelle Waterson (now Gomez).

Tecia Pennington will fight Tabatha Ricci on the UFC St. Louis card after lengthy maternity leave

Unfortunately, the promotion went a different direction, giving her Jessica Andrade. That fight began a brutal four-fight skid that included losses to Jedrzejczyk and another future two-time champion Weili Zhang. She would not win again until 2020, against newcomer Brianna Van Buren (soon-to-be Fortino), which began a three-win streak. Her next two fights were a corner stoppage against another newcomer Sam Hughes and a second unanimous decision over Angela Hill.

That put Pennington back in title contention ahead of a matchup against Mackenzie Dern at UFC 273. In a fun fight, she survived multiple submission attempts but ultimately dropped a split decision. That would be her last time in a ring, as she focused on creating and raising a family for the next two years. But this Saturday, that all ends when she fights another fan favorite Tabatha Ricci.

Ricci first entered the UFC in 2021 on very short notice, fighting Manon Fiorot at flyweight. The disparity in size proved just too much for her, and she was stopped in the second round. Returning to her natural weight class in her next outing, she defeated Maria Oliveira by unanimous decision, beginning a four-win streak that included an armbar over former title challenger Jessica Penne. But her momentum was halted when she dropped a split decision against another fan favorite in Loopy Godinez at UFC 295.

Almost five months later, Ricci is back, looking to pick up the pieces against a returning veteran who is eager to prove that she still has much left to give. The winner will certainly return to contention, while the loser will have to face questions about her future prospects in the Octagon.

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