Jessica Penne Campaigns For Title Rematch At Invicta FC 7Former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion Jessica Penne is on a mission to regain her title. The inaugural Invicta FC champ has put forth a challenge to the woman who defeated her for the belt on April 5th, Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson, for Invicta Fighting Championships 7 later this year.

Penne overcame injuries and won the title in October when she submitted Naho “Sugi Rock” Sugiyama, but her decision to forego surgery in order to defend her new belt in April proved to be a costly one. Now healthy, Penne wants a second chance to prove that she is MMA’s top female atomweight.

On November 19, 2010, three months to the day after she had suffered the first defeat of her career in the Bellator 115-pound women’s tournament, Penne (11-2-0) opted to drop down to 105 pounds for her atomweight debut. The division had long been one of the most prominent women’s weight classes in Japan and it was beginning to develop in North America as fighters moved down from higher weights.

Penne’s first fight at 105 was one of her most dominant performances to date, and she forced veteran striker Amy Davis to submit to a rear-naked choke in the final minute of round one. Penne’s impressive win made it more difficult to find willing opponents and she sat out all of 2011. During her unplanned hiatus from MMA, Penne travelled across the Pacific and upset Japanese superstar Rena Kubota in a shoot boxing match.

After Invicta FC formed in early 2012, Penne signed on with the upstart all-female promotion. Injuries quickly began to take their toll, however, and Penne fought through a dislocated rib suffered in training en route to a third-round TKO victory over Lisa Ellis at Invicta FC 1. The rib eventually healed, but Penne’s brush with injuries was far from over.

“In August, while I was training for my fight with Sugiyama, I was injured in wrestling practice,” Penne informed on Sunday. “I had a small cartilage tear on my patella and I spent that whole training camp icing and resting. I was not able to train much for that fight at all. I worked around it and did everything that I could to get my cardio in shape because there was no way that I was going to pass up that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

In spite of a limited training camp, Penne was successful in capturing the Invicta FC atomweight title. She handed Sugiyama her first defeat with a second-round triangle choke, but further aggravated the knee injury in the process. Despite the added setback, Penne opted to persevere for one more fight in order to defend her title against top contender Waterson.

“When [Invicta FC] asked me in January if I wanted to fight in April, I didn’t know how bad my knee was at that point because I had been resting and rehabbing and trying to make it strong enough,” she says. “I had sustained a much worse injury in my fight with Sugiyama and then [again] in training trying to train for the fight with Michelle.”

Waterson got off to a fast start and she appeared to take the first two rounds on the scorecards. Penne rebounded with a commanding third round that many observers scored 10-8 in her favour, but she ultimately succumbed to a fourth-round armbar and relinquished her title in the process. After suffering the disappointing loss, Penne knew that she would have to get her injury taken care of if she wanted a chance to regain her title.

“I ended up having surgery a week after my fight with Michelle,” Penne notes. “My doctor told me that I would definitely need surgery. I didn’t know how bad it was and I’d never had an injury like that before. I really thought that I could just train through it, but at that point I couldn’t run, I couldn’t jump rope, I couldn’t squat. I really couldn’t do anything except for specialised training and everybody in my training camp had to treat me like I was fragile because I was.

“I hadn’t been able to kick since August. I had to wear a brace and really heavy knee padding in order to do any kind of work. I wasn’t able to do jiu-jitsu since before my fight with Sugiyama. I was only able to do boxing and a bit of wrestling, but everything was just really specific. Sparring was challenging, but I don’t feel sorry for myself and I just tried my best to work around it.”


Following her surgery in mid-April, Penne began the road to recovery. She was not able to rest for too long, though, as another fight opportunity soon presented itself. Penne was matched up against Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc in a battle between top atomweight contenders at Invicta FC 6 on July 13th. Penne was able to slowly add more and more elements back to her training camp, and the result was a first-round tapout victory over Rivera-Calanoc that earned Penne a Submission of the Night bonus.

Penne notes that Rivera-Calanoc was offered a shot at her championship back in April. Because Rivera-Calanoc was already seen by Invicta FC officials as a title contender at that point, Penne feels that her quick victory over the Oklahoman should be enough to warrant a second fight against Waterson and she is eager to prove that she is a better fighter than the one who faced Waterson three months ago.

“When [Invicta] was talking about whom my opponent would be for my first title defence, Nicdali and Michelle were my options and I said yes to both of them. Michelle ended up taking the fight. So, by process of elimination, Nicdali was in line for a title fight and I took her out in the first round in a very dominant fashion. In my head, and I think rightfully so, that should have been a title elimination fight, and that win and the fashion that I won in should put me in front of everybody else.

“I know that my fans and supporters want to see a rematch [with Waterson], which I really appreciate,” Penne continues. “They know that I had an off night. I badly needed surgery, and I’ve never come out and said that before because I don’t want it to be an excuse, but I just want my belt back. I was injured and I did need surgery, and I felt an obligation to the promotion because I was the headlining fight and in my head it was never an option to back out.

“Going into a huge fight like that with an injury that required surgery affected my confidence. I tried to just train through it and remain focused on my goal, but in the end I should have been more forthcoming with my injury and I should have realised that it was going to affect my performance. I took my loss as a great learning experience, and now that I’m healthy I am able to train harder than I have in a very long time. This is a goal that I have and I’m not going to rest until I get my belt back.”

During the Invicta FC 6 post-fight press conference, company president Shannon Knapp hinted that Penne may have to wait for another shot at the title until after Waterson has faced a yet-to-be-named opponent. Penne hopes that her 4-1 record at 105 pounds can sway Knapp into granting her a second fight against Waterson at Invicta FC 7, which is currently targeted for October or November.



(Photo Credit: Esther Lin, /

  1. Everyone fights injured. Everyone. Stop trying to discredit Waterson’s win so you can get a rematch. Wait your turn. Last I heard, Waterson was sick at the time, and nobody cares. I”d worry more about the fact a white belt in BJJ armbarred a brown belt.

  2. Just an observation, but how can Nicdali be considered a top contender in the weight class? She has a barely 0.500 record. I would consider her an average “gatekeeper” at best. No idea why she has much of a fanbase.

  3. Penne is only one win away from a title shot if she is not next in line for one.

  4. Personally I don’t like the automatic rematch most of the time but on occasion it can warrant it for things like controversial decisions but this was not the case for their first fight as it was a finish.

    Think both these ladies are incredible fighters but since Invicta is still fairly new and trying to showcase as many fighters as possible I think it would be in their best interest to match up Michelle with another fighter first instead of an immediate rematch with Jessica. Jessica is definitely tops in the division so nothing taken away from her but maybe grant her the winner of the next fight between Michelle and whoever.