Champ Jessica Penne Focused On Strength As Title Fight LoomsInvicta FC Atomweight Champion Jessica Penne makes the first defence of her title on April 5th at Invicta Fighting Championships 5 in Kansas City, Missouri. The California native puts her 105-pound belt on the line against popular Jackson’s MMA standout Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson.

Already one of MMA’s most well-rounded female fighters, Penne has added new components to her training in order to become an even better fighter for her main event title bout. She recently spoke with about her focus on strength training and on the future of the atomweight division.


Penne (10-1-0) became the first ever Invicta FC titleholder in October when she submitted previously unbeaten Jewels champ Naho “Sugi Rock” Sugiyama at Invicta FC 3. The impressive win was Penne’s third straight victory since dropping down to 105 pounds in 2010; a move that came after she suffered her lone career defeat at the hands of a much stronger opponent, Zoila “The Warrior Princess” Gurgel.

Throughout her career, Penne has held an edge in technique and athleticism over many of her foes, and she prides herself on putting an equal emphasis on developing her skills in all disciplines of martial arts in order to remain a step ahead of the competition. However, strength training has been one aspect of Penne’s fight preparation that has not been focused on quite as much as other areas. Until now.

Penne is working diligently to increase her physical strength as she gets ready to defend her Invicta FC title for the first time. When competing at 115 pounds in years passed, Penne found herself at a strength disadvantage against some opponents who cut a large amount of weight to compete. Now that she sits atop the 105-pound division, Penne wants to be the one with the stength and power advantage in each fight, and she has already begun to notice changes and improvements during training.

“I’ve always been athletically inclined and I take up sports pretty easily,” Penne says. “I’ve been super technical in the things that I do, but I’ve never learned how to throw around my weight properly or really felt that I was strong. I’ve been working at it and I actually feel different with certain things like punching and kicking and kneeing. I’ve just never had that strength awareness.

“I feel that technique is always a big factor,” she adds. “If I’m not technically sound in everything that I’m doing, it will show and it will get me into trouble. I just want that extra confidence that I am strong and physically fit, and to just know that I have that extra power behind my punches when I need it.”

Both Penne and Waterson are proven finishers, with eight stoppage wins apiece, but Penne believes that it is important to be ready for any scenario and she is prepared to fight for 25 minutes if needed. She meticulously studies her opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, but feels strongly that sticking to a set game plan for any given opponent is a mistake. Being fully prepared and willing to adapt to any situation during a fight is key.

“I’m training for a long fight. If it goes long, I’m ready for it, and if it doesn’t, great,” Penne says. “I always train to be ready in all areas. I think that I would be a fool not to. I don’t train specifically for someone because I think that you limit yourself when you do that and I’m not huge on game plans, [but] I’m always very aware of what my opponent’s tendencies are, what they do and how they’ve won and lost.

“A lot of times, if you go in there and think, ‘Okay, I’ve trained this and I have to do this,’ you’re going to forget things and you’re not going to see openings. I know what I like to do and I’m prepared for the fight wherever it goes.”


Another bout on the Invicta FC 5 card has also received a considerable amount of attention. This past month, former Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos signed with Invicta FC and faces Ediane “India” Gomes on the April 5th card. Penne is not sure whether Santos’s signing will have a significant positive impact for any other fighter on the card, but she believes that those tuning in to watch Santos compete will also take note of the two title fights that headline the event.

“[Cyborg] is obviously the biggest name on the card. I think she will draw a lot of attention to Invicta, but it may or may not draw much attention to the other fighters,” Penne says. “Sometimes if I’m watching a card specifically for one person, I just kind of wait for that person to fight and the other fights are sort of an afterthought. I think it would be hard not to notice the other fights and fighters on the [Invicta FC 5] card, though, because the card is really stacked and there are lots of great fights.”

The Cyborg-Gomes bout will be featured prominently next month, but for the second time in three events, atomweights headline an Invicta FC card. The 105-pound division, which was once limited in terms of top-level talent, has blossomed under the Invicta FC banner during the past year. Penne believes that Invicta FC will continue to line up even more contenders for her title in the coming months.

“105 is kind of the newer weight class to start developing,” Penne says. “I think [Invicta’s] doing a good job and they’re making good matchups that build fighters up for possible title matches.

“I think that there is a lot of stability with the organisation, and it’s still a new organisation,” she adds. “They’ve already done a lot. This event will be just about their one-year mark. For being a new show, they’re doing a great job. They’re having consistent events, and there are always ups and downs with new projects, [but] I think that they’re finding their stride and everything is working out well.”


The Invicta FC 5 card features two additional fights in the 105-pound division and the winners of both bouts could soon find themselves on Penne’s radar as future title challengers. Strong undercards have played a key role in developing new contenders in each of Invicta FC’s five female weight classes and Penne feels that instating world titles – like the one that she captured in October – at each weight will give all fighters on the roster an added drive as they fight their way into championship contention.

“I think that it would be very helpful to have a belt holder in each weight class so that all of the preliminary fights on the undercard all have something to build towards. That way, fans can get more involved and follow fighters on their paths towards a title shot. I think it will be more exciting that way.”

In just over four weeks’ time, Penne steps back into the Invicta FC cage, and she plans to assert her dominance over the women’s atomweight division with another key victory. Against Waterson, who has won eight of her past nine fights, she faces a credible challenger with a well-rounded skill set and a strong team behind her, but Penne is more than ready for the challenge.

In order to be the best, one must train accordingly, and Penne is one of the hardest working fighters in the sport. Her busy training schedule includes time at Reign Training Center, Kings MMA, Checkmat BJJ and Black House. An elite stable of training partners has prepared her for the fight ahead.

For Penne, who is now five months into her Invicta FC title reign, this is just the beginning.