Fully committed to MMA again, Tabatha Ricci is making up for lost time

Tabatha Ricci (3-0) has dedicated most of her life to mixed martial arts.

Her involvement began as early as six years old. Countless hours of watching her father compete in judo tournaments around Brazil left Ricci enamored by the sport, and she ultimately decided to follow in his footsteps. He got her into training, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Judo was only the beginning for Ricci, who found herself exploring other disciplines in mixed martial arts as time went on. Her first true love was always judo, but she could not help but to show signs of interest in Muay Thai and jiu jitsu.

“My dad has a background in Judo, so I started Judo when I was little,” Ricci told MMA-Prospects. “I was six years old, so I started getting into martial arts. Then, I got into Muay Thai around 15 years old and later I started doing jiu-jitsu around 17 years old. Since then, I fell in love with all of the martial arts and I always knew this is what I wanted to do. I started doing MMA, and my first fight was when I was 18 years old in Brazil, and it started from there.”

Becoming a fighter was ideal for Ricci because she could utilize all of the disciplines at the same time if need be. The thought of having to choose one over the other was simply not an option for her, so Ricci figured she was meant to be a fighter and set out on her journey.

“It was perfect,” she explained. “I always did all of them anyway, so I had a schedule for each one and it was easy. I loved them all at the same time, so it is hard to say which one I liked more.”

Her inspiration for the start and continuation of her career stems from two people — her father, and former UFC champion and trailblazer Ronda Rousey. Seeing how both of them made strides throughout their own careers as judokas made the dream of Ricci’s that much more attainable.

“My dad is a big inspiration for me in martial arts because I grew up watching him compete in judo, so he’s a big inspiration for me,” said Ricci. “Inside of the sport, I really like Ronda Rousey because she comes from the same background as me and she’s always inspired me since I started.”

Despite it not being recorded, Ricci did compete in the regional scene of Brazil as an amateur for a few years before making her professional debut at just 18 years old. At FMC 1: Macaco vs. Galeto, Ricci met Danielle Cunha, who she made quick work of, stopping her at the midway point of the first round with an armbar.

Once she had her first win as a professional mixed martial artist, Ricci hoped to keep her momentum going, but it would be temporarily halted as her next fight would not come for almost a year. In 2014, Ricci finally got her second fight — this time under the Brazilian Fighting Championship banner — and defeated Graziele Ricotta by unanimous decision at BRFC 4.

The Ricotta fight would be the last time Ricci stepped inside of a cage for a while as her career went dormant again due to the inability to schedule a fight. She was briefly linked to a fight against current top-ranked UFC flyweight, Viviane Araujo, at Jungle Fight 90 in 2016, but that was canceled for undisclosed reasons.

The forced break in her mixed martial arts career was not something Ricci wanted, but it paved the way for something else.

“I got a great opportunity from my Muay Thai team in Brazil to go to Japan and then I practiced some different styles of MMA with Sumo and Sambo,” said Ricci. “It’s a lot of rules, and it was team versus team.”

Ricci had her most active year to date in 2017, when she traveled to Japan and competed as part of a team for the budo-centered SEIZA tournaments. She fared well, winning six out of her seven matches between January and October of that year. Once the year came to an end, so did her time in Japan, and Ricci traveled to the United States in pursuit of a blossoming career in jiu-jitsu. Although she does miss it sometimes, leaving Japan was not hard for Ricci.

“I was not worried. I loved living in Japan, but I was there for a year and I think that was enough,” she laughed. “I was very excited to come to the United States.

“I decided to come to the United States to focus more on my jiu-jitsu, so I took a break for two years to focus on that part of my career. I competed a lot in tournaments and I was a world champion in no-gi. I got second place in gi and then I decided to come back to MMA. But I never thought of it as leaving MMA because it’s always been a part of my life. I just took a break to get better on my ground.”

Ricci arrived in California and found Black House MMA, one of the premier mixed martial arts gyms in the country. Ricci settled in rather quickly, and it was not long before she garnered the attention of a few fight promotions.

One of those was Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), which is well-known for the prospects they sign. A meeting with the LFA brass took place with Ricci and her managers present, and she was signed on a multi-fight deal to compete in the strawweight division. The news of her signing was met with much excitement, and Ricci herself could not wait to get back to work in the mixed martial arts sphere.

“LFA is great,” said Ricci. “I started training at Black House MMA, so people started seeing me more. Shortly after, I got a great opportunity to sign with LFA because of my managers, and I was very excited to sign with them, especially for a big event on UFC Fight Pass. So, for me, it was a very big deal.”

Her first appearance for LFA was at LFA 90: Lazishvili vs. Steele, where she fought fellow promotional newcomer, Kelsey Arnessen. At the end of three rounds, Ricci earned a unanimous decision victory over Arnessen, which saw her overall record extend to 3-0.

Ricci admits she went into the fight with enough nerves to last a lifetime, but that was more so because of the opportunity to compete under the bright lights of LFA.

“I was pretty nervous,” said Ricci. “Actually, I was more nervous for this debut than my first fight, but it was good nerves.”

She knew some big names were more than likely watching, so she had to go out and put on a solid performance against Arnessen — and she did.

After the fight, Ricci said that she wanted to have a quick turnaround. Her wish was rewarded, as she is now gearing up for her second fight in LFA. She meets Flore Hani at LFA 95: Browne vs. Estrázulas on Nov. 20, and is aiming for another fight she can walk away from unscathed so that she may return again soon.

Ricci wants to make up for the time she spent away from MMA, so she does not mind having fights close together like this.

“I would like to fight as many times as I can, so this turnaround was great,” said Ricci. “I just kept training and I thank God that I don’t get any injuries, so this fight was perfect.”

Preparing for the Hani fight has proven to be much easier for Ricci, who said her last opponent was slightly difficult to prepare for considering she did not have much fight footage to study.

“For Kelsey, I think I watched just one highlight because there was not a lot of footage of her,” said Ricci. “For Hani, she does have some fights on YouTube, so I could see a little bit more and we can work more on strategy. I feel better because now we can plan better. She looks like a good striker. I think she comes from a boxing background, but I am looking to strike with her as well and see where the fight goes.”

Ricci expects to do a lot more winning in her career, beginning with Hani on this upcoming LFA card. She wants to remain as active as possible, and if all goes well, then she plans on taking her talents to the big leagues.

“I want to win, but I really want to inspire people and show them martial arts more deeply instead of just the cage,” said Ricci. “And of course, I have a goal of getting into the UFC one day, but I’m not in a rush. God has a plan for me and everybody has their own time, so I’m just going to focus on myself in these next couple of years and work hard to achieve my goals.”