Angela Hill is still quite certain she did enough to beat Claudia Gadelha in a controversial split-decision loss to the former strawweight title challenger in May. But afterward, Hill trained as though she had lost — and therein lies the silver lining.
Hill (12-8, 7-8 in the UFC) will face Michelle Waterson (17-8, 5-4 UFC) in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night inside the promotion’s Apex facility in Las Vegas. Many felt Hill should have won her last bout, which would have put her on a four-fight win streak. That result still stings, she says, but it’s undeniably made her better.
“Nobody is going to have sympathy long for someone who gets robbed,” Hill told ESPN. “It sucks, but it also gives you drive. I believe most successful fighters get about three times better after a loss. So I’m going into this fight with the confidence of a winner but the drive of a loser.”
Surprisingly, confidence might be the most important thing Hill took from the Gadelha fight. After going back and studying the contest — trying to pick out what she might have done to get the nod from the judges — she found she could have been more aggressive. In the moment, she had been confident she was ahead on the scorecards, so she hadn’t taken certain risks.
Going into Saturday, she’s willing to take those risks.
“I’ve learned, don’t underestimate your cardio, your ability to recover, your ability to get up or take a punch,” Hill said. “I have all those things. There really isn’t anything anyone can do to me that I should be afraid of. Knowing in my head I beat Claudia Gadelha, that’s a big deal. And even though the night didn’t go the way I wanted, I feel it’s done so much for my presence in there, how much I’m willing to take risks and deal with whatever happens.”
For a long time, Hill admits, she didn’t think she would ever become a UFC champion. By making her professional MMA debut in 2014 at age 29, she had just started in the sport too late. It was too much ground to make up … and a 3-5 skid from 2017 to 2019 reinforced that self-limiting idea.
But over the last year, Hill has come into her own. This will be her fourth fight of 2020. She’s got a chip on her shoulder to erase the result of her last fight, fueled by a momentum typically reserved for someone coming in on a win streak. Not a bad combination of emotion for her first main event.
By the numbers
0: Black American women who have headlined a UFC event, prior to Saturday. Hill will be the first. (Read about the significance of that in Hill’s own words.)
0: Finishes by Waterson since December 2016. Over her career, she has had finishes in 12 of her 17 wins (nine submissions, three knockouts).
12: Fights for Hill since 2017, tying her with Donald Cerrone for the most in the UFC during that time. This is Hill’s fourth fight of 2020, tying her with Irene Aldana, Cynthia Calvillo and Hannah Cifers for most in a calendar year by a woman.
1: Women who have not been champions who have defeated Waterson in the UFC. Her four losses have come against Tecia Torres as well as onetime UFC titlists Rose Namajunas, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza.
52: Percentage of Waterson strikes that hit their target, making her the second most accurate striker among active UFC strawweights, behind only Tatiana Suarez (65.8%). Hill is No. 3, at 49.6%.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Michelle Waterson’s most recent results
Loss: Carla Esparza (SD, May 9, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Joanna Jędrzejczyk (UD, Oct. 12, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UD, March 30, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Felice Herrig (UD, Oct. 6, 2018)
Win: Cortney Casey (SD, April 14, 2018)
Angela Hill’s most recent results
Loss: Claudia Gadelha (SD, May 16, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Loma Lookboonmee (UD, Feb. 23, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Hannah Cifers (TKO2, Jan. 25, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Ariane Carnelossi (TKO3, Sept. 21, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Yan Xiaonan (UD, June 8, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
And the winner is …
As much as Hill’s skill set has caught up to the best in the division, it’s still fair to ask whether it’s caught her up to Waterson. Waterson is a very underrated grappler and a tricky opponent on the feet, one who can be difficult to find with strikes. She doesn’t tend to engage her opponents on their terms. This is a stylistic challenge for Hill, and if she gets frustrated at any point or overcommits, Waterson has the ability to end her night, particularly with a submission. But I like Hill’s momentum going into this one. Hill by decision.
Saturday’s fight schedule
ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Michelle Waterson vs. Angela Hill | Strawweight
Ottman Azaitar vs. Khama Worthy | Lightweight
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Andrea Lee | Women’s flyweight
Ed Herman vs. Mike Rodriguez | Light heavyweight
Billy Quarantillo vs. Kyle Nelson | Men’s featherweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Matt Schnell vs. Tyson Nam | Men’s flyweight
Julia Avila vs. Sijara Eubanks | Women’s bantamweight
Matt Frevola vs. Roosevelt Roberts | Lightweight
Bobby Green vs. Alan Patrick | Lightweight
Frank Camacho vs. Brok Weaver | Lightweight
Bryan Barberena vs. Anthony Ivy | Welterweight
Sabina Mazo vs. Justine Kish | Women’s flyweight
How to watch the fights
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
What to look for … beyond the main event
The co-main is a winner vs. winner matchup
What is more unstoppable, heavy equipment from a construction site or a “Star Wars” superweapon?
Saturday will reveal the answer.
Ottman Azaitar, a 30-year-old lightweight from Germany who goes by the nickname “Bulldozer,” is 12-0 in his professional career, most recently scoring a second-round knockout over Teemu Packalen in his UFC debut last September.
He faces Khama Worthy, who is 33 and fights out of Pittburgh. Known as “The Deathstar,” Worthy is 2-0 in the UFC, including a huge upset victory over Devonte Smith in his promotional debut in August 2019, and has won seven in a row overall.
Whose run of success will come to a halt?
Five more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Roxanne Modafferi and Andrea Lee, both of whom only recently fell out of the ESPN women’s flyweight top 10, will be looking to get back in the win column — each following a loss to No. 7-ranked Lauren Murphy. Modafferi dropped a unanimous decision to Murphy in June, and Lee lost to her by split decision in February. Lee, in fact, has lost her last two fights by split decision. The record for most consecutive UFC losses by split decision is three, set by Dennis Bermudez and Jesse Ronson.
2. Ed Herman will make the walk for his 24th UFC fight since debuting in 2006 at the Season 3 finale of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Herman will become the fourth fighter to have a UFC fight in both 2006 and 2020, joining Andrei Arlovski, Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida. Herman faces Mike Rodriguez, who fought (and won) as recently as Aug. 22. If Rodriguez wins, it would mark the fifth fewest days between wins in UFC modern era history (21 days).
3. Julia Avila will be putting her four-fight win streak on the line when she faces Sijara Eubanks. In her last fight, Avila recorded the third fastest knockout in women’s bantamweight history at 22 seconds.
4. Bobby Green will make his third appearance of 2020. If he wins, Green would be the fifth fighter and first lightweight to reach three wins this year. Angela Hill could also join this list Saturday.
5. Saturday’s card features 24 fighters, all of whom have at least one UFC fight. The only other events this year that had no debuting fighters were UFC 249 in May and UFC 250 in June.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this report.