For some, going a few rounds in the ring sounds like a perfect way to blow off some steam after a rough day. For UFC bantamweight MMA fighter Raquel "Rocky" Pennington, it’s a way of life. We had the chance to chat with Raquel about some of her greatest professional challenges, working on a reality TV show, and what it’s like to be part of an MMA couple.
How did you get into boxing? How did this all begin?
I got into MMA at 19 years old. I broke my back in a snowboarding accident and I couldn’t take any athletic scholarships to college, so I took an academic one, then through recovery I became really curious about MMA and once I was cleared physically, I started training.
Tell me about your first competitive fight.
I fought my first fight four months after I started training. Coach told me I was a natural so we drove from Wyoming to Colorado where I attained my first win in 1:43 of the first round!
What challenges and barriers did you overcome on your way to the pros?
There’s been a lot of “this is a male sport” attitude throughout my early career. I wasn’t treated equal sometimes in training. The guys took it easy on me, so I wasn’t getting the quality of training I desired. I had to learn to deal with the media and social networks and people having all their opinions. My teams fell apart and there were no gyms to train at, so I trained myself in a back room for months. I dealt with managers taking advantage of me, using my name to get money from sponsorships—but I never saw a penny of it. The list goes on. It definitely hasn’t been an easy road.
How would you describe your fighter style?
I’m a freestyle fighter who is comfortable anywhere the fight goes, but once I get warmed up, I like to brawl.
What’s been your most challenging fight to date?
My most challenging fight to date was my world title shot in May 2018. I returned, back-in-action, from an 18-month layoff from surgeries. I had also just recovered from a broken leg and severe nerve damage. Doctors told me I was lucky—barely avoiding foot drop or amputation. This was my biggest fight to date but it also took a mental, emotional and physical toll because I found out in the fight my leg wasn’t ready for competition. I pushed it too soon. She landed a solid kick 30 seconds into the first round that led me to be defensive and in pain the entire 23.5 minutes we fought. Needless to say, I took a whooping and had to live in physical therapy for weeks to get my leg back to somewhat normal. It had created even more nerve damage.
Photo by Reinhold Matay.
How was being on the Ultimate Fighter reality show different than regular competition?
The show is definitely a challenge. It takes you out of your comfort zone, your everyday life and routine. It puts you in a place where you’re allowed no interaction with anyone outside of the house or the production team. You live with 15 other athletes. You’re fighting in the mornings or even midday. You can’t talk to family for weeks. You have to be ready on any given day to make fight weight. You’re basically living your daily life with your opponents. You’re building friendships but then fighting one another. It’s a crazy experience but I’m grateful for it!
Tell us about meeting your fiance, fellow MMA fighter Tecia Torres.
I met Tecia back in 2012 at Invicta Fighting Championships where we both were scheduled to fight. She was making her pro debut and I was fighting my fourth or fifth pro fight. I’d always thought she was a little hottie but her feisty fight style really caught my attention and I became a fan! We’d see each other at meet and greets and other fight events, then in 2016, we were at fan week doing meet and greets and hanging out, and something was different with our connection. It became a flirty weekend and the next thing I knew, a week later she came to Colorado to visit me for the first time. That’s where our relationship really started. We did ten months of long distance, then she moved to Colorado to be with me. I bought us a home and proposed.
What’s it like to be part of an MMA couple?
Being an MMA couple is not as simple as everyone thinks. It gets challenging living and “working” together. We’re together literally all day! We wake up, go to the gym, come home and have lunch, sometimes nap, head back to the gym, dinner, errands in between, family time etc. It can get exhausting for me because I very much so love quality “me time.” On the flip side, it’s also nice being with someone who understands your life—the toll this sport takes on you mentally, physically and emotionally—as well as having a flexible schedule to travel or hang with family.
How have fans reacted to your engagement?
Just like anything we do, there will always be the lovers and the haters. Tecia and I both have amazing support systems and many incredible “true” fans. We’ve had nothing but support from everyone surrounding us, but from time to time we’ll get the people who feel the need to judge and speak their minds—sending us Bible clippings, writing negative [comments] on all our posts together or even making their own posts just to be negative. But the way I see things, we’ve all been given one life to live, so live it the way that makes you the happiest. At the end of the day, you’re in control of your own happiness and everyone is meant to be different and unique in their own ways—that’s what makes things beautiful and people interesting.
Your official Facebook page lists camping and hiking (and about a million other things!) as some of your interests—where are some of your favorite destinations in nature?
I’m a very spontaneous and adventurous person. I love doing or trying anything and everything. I love the outdoors the most, and finding healthy things that give me an adrenaline rush. Colorado fills my soul—being lost in the mountains, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, relaxing at the hot springs, rock climbing, cliff jumping, snowboarding, mountainboarding, off-roading, dirt biking, four-wheeling, cave exploring etc. Some of my favorite destinations in nature have been natural hot springs: Machu Picchu in Peru, cave diving in Mexico, natural cold springs in Florida, waterfalls in Hawaii. Nature fills my heart.
What’s your favorite cut/style of TomboyX?
It’s hard to pick an absolute favorite because I love it all—it’s extremely comfortable and goes hand in hand with my style. I will say, I do stick to the boy shorts cut and have noticed my recent favorites are the drirelease® and Micromodal. The material is absolutely amazing!
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What’s the thing in your life that makes you feel strong? Let us know in the comments below.