Diamonds. You can’t listen to contemporary radio without hearing about them. You can’t watch television without celebrities wearing them or commercials praising them. “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs,” Malcolm Forbes once said. Diamonds, for those of you who aren’t into geology, are formed over time when certain elements of the earth’s core are exposed to extreme temperature and pressure.

Raquel Pennington is one of the earth’s diamonds. Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colo., Pennington was a gifted athlete who loved and played a variety of sports at hyper-competitive levels. Basketball, softball, volleyball and cross country filled her life from an early age. As did snowboarding. And then, the unthinkable happened. She broke her back while riding.

Pennington (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Pennington (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

One might assume that the pressure of rehabbing a broken back would keep Pennington from pursuing a career as a professional athlete. One would be wrong. Pennington had always wanted to try boxing (which helps explain why the nickname “Rocky” stuck) and while at the gym working out with her mom, she saw some folks training in MMA and decided to give it a go to “try to stay active.” But, like so many fighters before, she was hooked after just a couple of months. She took her first fight only four months into training and went 7-1 in her amateur career.

Pennington has shown that she excels under pressure. The bigger the fight or challenge, the better she performs. The flip side of that, though, can be difficult to overcome. Miesha Tate, Pennington’s coach on The Ultimate Fighter 18, said that Pennington has a tendency to “fight on [her opponent’s] level.”

“I am focusing more on bringing the fight to them,” Pennington told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I love the challenge and I love to compete, and I have recently re-found my passion for fighting.”

While it’s clear that Altitude MMA, with coach Marc Fiore, is Pennington’s home, she has also been out to train with Miesha Tate and work with Ricky Lundell in preparation for her fight.

“I have the reputation of being a brawler now, because of my fight with Jessamyn [Duke] on TUF, but really I love the ground game,” she mused. “I love chokes, and most of my wins have actually come from them.

“I have been honing my wrestling skills. I get to train with world-class wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center.”

Did you know that only diamonds can polish diamonds? Pennington does.

A diamond in the rough is valuable, but not as valuable as a diamond that has been cut, polished and shaped by an expert. Diamond cutting is an art as well as a science, and so is training a pro fighter.

“My coaches and partners are pushing me to be the best, pushing me past my limits,” Pennington said. “I am training with both guys and girls to mix it up. Sometimes they break me. I think because I am more comfortable in my own skin that I am going to be successful in dictating how my next fight goes.”

Speaking of her next fight, it’s approaching fast. Fellow TUF alum Julianna Pena had to bow out of her fight with up-and-coming Brazilian fighter Jessica Andrade. The UFC opted to replace Pena with Pennington for the UFC 171 match-up. Pennington was revealed as Andrade’s new opponent for the fight, which takes place on March 15 in Dallas, at the end of January.

“Normally, a good fight camp is six to eight weeks. For this fight, I have about five weeks to prep,” Pennington explained. “But I have been staying in shape and training, so I still feel ready. I train in Colorado. The altitude really does help. Our strength and conditioning coaching is top notch. My muscles are continually pushed past their limits.”

Pennington has seven pro fights under her belt, and her record sits at 4-3. Andrade, meanwhile, has won 10 fights in 13 outings. Thus far in her UFC campaign, Andrade is 1-1 with a loss to Liz Carmouche and a victory over Rosi Sexton.

Pennington (L) connects with a punch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Pennington (L) connects with a punch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“She has great striking. She is a hungry fighter, a real firecracker, and that is great for me,” Pennington said. “I feel like I am mellow and laid back and think too much in the first round, and she will bring out the fire in me. I anticipate this being one of our best performances. But I am the better-rounded fighter. I plan to dominate on all levels. And with my gas tank, as we get into the later rounds, I will get stronger and stronger. Once I get my second wind, I can fight all day!”

When a diamond catches the light just right, it’s true beauty is difficult to miss. It wouldn’t be possible were it not for all of the edges and angles that shape the jewel. Pennington isn’t just a fighter. She has more than one dimension to her character. She goes out of her way to help polish other diamonds, helping those rough crystals find their own beauty.

“Back in high school, I knew lots of people that were depressed and were making bad decisions. Being a lesbian, being open-minded, I can take a stand. One of my friends in high school committed suicide because she was lesbian and didn’t feel accepted. It’s nice to know that I can inspire and stand up for other people. It’s very exciting for me to contribute. I work with organizations here in Colorado, and I am very involved with Redemption Martial Arts,” she enthused. “I want others to know that, sure, life gets rough, but there are folks who care and want you to succeed. I want to bring comfort to those kids, especially my own people.”

Not only does she want certain kids to know it gets better, but she has some words of wisdom for those ladies about to enter The Ultimate Fighter 20 house.

“It’s a tough experience. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize and enjoy the journey. It’s a once in a lifetime milestone, and you’ve got to fight your heart out,” Pennington preached. “Fighting in the TUF house is different. I’d fought before good-sized crowds before for Invicta and in Hawaii. To fight in front of 15 people when you can hear everything is quite disconcerting. You have to be able to focus in the quiet. The quick turnaround with constant weight cuts and no time to heal injuries can be tough, but you have to find your passion and what drives you.”

Diamonds are a symbol for love, and it’s clear that Pennington has that in spades.

“I’ve had the support and love of my fiancé for over seven years. We’ve been engaged since September of 2012. I’ve got great support from her and my family. My family, especially my mom, have always been supportive, but they are starting to realize where my career is taking me. I think they now see me as a fighter. The TUF Finale seemed to have made that more clear to them—the crowds and the whole experience. Now, they are all banding together to inspire me and keep me eating healthier. They won’t even let me have a cheat meal now,” she laughed.

At the end of the day, Pennington is a professional athlete on her way to the top of her craft. But what she would really like to be known for is her passion, her drive for fighting, and her ambitions. She hopes to inspire others to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.

Diamonds that are especially well-cut are said to have “great fire.” Let it be known that Pennington possesses this fire, too.

Raquel would like to offer sincere thanks to Dr. Tiffany Graham of Cascade Family Chiropractic and Maximized Living and her physical therapist, Don Bost of Action Potential Physical Therapy. She would also like to thank her sponsors: Enigma Fight, Revolutus, The Bullet Proof Executive, Zon Gear, Revgear and Integrated Lab Technologies. Finally, she would like to thank her teammates and coaches at Altitude MMA, especially Marc Fiore. Follow Pennington on Twitter: @RockyPMMA

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.