Make no mistake, there is an impressive origin behind Brazilian Strawweight Tabatha Ricci’s seemingly innocent nickname “Baby Shark”.
Despite being the smallest girl in her Jiu-Jitsu gym, Ricci would exclusively train with the men. As such, the nickname was ultimately bestowed upon her by her Jiu-Jitsu coach, who would refer to her as the ‘baby shark’.
Born in Birigui, São Paulo, Tabatha Ricci has lived and breathed combat sports since taking up Judo at six years old, having been inspired by her Judoka father.
Indeed, her combat sports accomplishments are truly astounding. A black belt in both Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, she has won two world titles in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and secured second place in both the gi and no gi World Championships.
Residing in California, working as a Jiu-Jitsu instructor at Paragon BJJ alongside her fight career, Ricci was propelled into the UFC through opportunity.
After building a 5-0 professional MMA record, Ricci was asked to step in for Maryna Moroz at UFC Vegas 28, to face Manon Fiorot.
It was a formidable undertaking. On less than one weeks notice, Ricci would fight at a heavier weight class than usual, against a surging Flyweight talent in Manon Fiorot; Ricci lost the bout via second round TKO.
Her second fight with the promotion at UFC Vegas 41, however, showcased the true potential of Tabatha Ricci. Following a full training camp, and competing at her natural weight class of Strawweight, Ricci defeated Maria de Oliveira Neta via unanimous decision.
Now, Ricci is set to face Polyana Viana May 21st at UFC Fight Night 206.
Ahead of her bout with Viana, Tabatha took the time to answer some questions for Danny Jones of MMA UK:
Tabatha, congratulations on your dominant performance over Maria Oliveira in your most recent bout. This was your first UFC bout in which you were able to dedicate a full camp, and fight at your natural weight class of Strawweight. Can you describe what it meant to you, to deliver such a strong performance against Maria Oliveira, after a challenging debut?
“It was so important to me because I was able to show everyone what I can do. I had the time to prepare and get ready and I fought in my weight class – I feel like I was able to show the world my work and what I love to do so it meant a lot to me”.
You have an extremely decorated history in combat sports, including winning the Muay Thai Brazilian Nationals as an amateur, winning two Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world titles, and earning a second-place World Championship finish in both gi and no gi BJJ. Where does earning that first UFC victory rank amongst all of your accomplishments?
“Fighting for the UFC has always been my dream and after my first victory I felt like I achieved one of the biggest dreams I have ever had so definitely that is the top one on that list. So far…”.
There were a huge number of factors against you for your UFC debut. You agreed to a bout with a Flyweight prospect in Manon Fiorot, on extremely short notice, at a heavier weight class than usual. How much did fighting at Flyweight, as opposed to your usual Strawweight, make a difference?
“I had never fought in any other weight class besides mine so that was one of the biggest challenges for me. I don’t regret it at all though, and if I had to do it again I 100% would. Fighting is my life, it’s what I love and I would fight anyone to get a contract with UFC. The size, the skills and power were the biggest difference especially because she’s the upcoming contender to fight for the belt. It was a good learning experience for me and I am thankful for that”.
You literally live combat sports. You were inspired by your father from a very young age, and alongside all the competitions, the training, and now the UFC career, you also work as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor at Paragon Academy in Ventura. What helps you stay motivated, and committed, to a life in combat sports?
“What motivates me the most is to become the best version of myself and improve everyday. I am my own biggest challenge, it’s me against me everyday, learning and working hard to constantly better myself. Besides that, I think about my family, friends and fans. I want to make the people I love proud. That’s what keeps me going”.
Your next opponent in the octagon, Polyana Viana, is an experienced UFC fighter; she has fought six times with the promotion, and currently rides a two fight win-streak. What’s your thoughts on your opponent, and are you excited for the challenge of an experienced UFC fighter?
“I am so excited to fight a huge prospect in the UFC. She’s been in UFC for 4 years and has two times the fights I do. She is a great grapple fighter, I respect her work but she’s gonna need a bigger boat because I am ready to take her to deep water”.
You are a partner with Never Give Up Organisation. Could you explain a little more about the organisation, and why it was important to you to be a partner with the charity?
“I met Victoria who runs the non profit through a friend and was so impressed with their work and how much they help the community. They help support families in need, SMA [Spinal Muscular Atrophy] patients, and are building inclusive playgrounds here in Santa Barbara. They are such wonderful people and I am so glad I get to help”.
Lastly, any messages you would like to share with UFC fans in the UK?
“First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who supports me and believes in my work. I have been getting so much fan mail from the UK, it makes me incredibly happy. I can’t wait to give you guys a fun and exciting fight on the 21st. I appreciate all of you”.