Tabatha Ricci (@tabatha.ricci/Instagram)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: The Ladies of LFA 98

There is not a UFC event this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we are without female fights. I decided to do a poll on my Twitter account and see which fights you wanted me to go over. The top two selections were both from the Legacy Fighting Alliance 98 card, so let’s dive into those contests.

Tabatha Ricci vs. Vanessa Marie Grimes

Before we get into this fight, let’s talk about their records. Ricci checks in at 3-0, while Grimes is a dismal 1-5. It is easy to say this is just a way to get Ricci another win against a so-called “safe” opponent. First off, I promise you that Ricci is not looking at it like that. She is taking Grimes seriously. Second, when you see a fight with records like this, it’s not always the case that it’s a hand-selected “safe” fight. Sometimes, with someone with Ricci’s resume outside the cage, it is hard to match her — people don’t want to fight her — so don’t be quick to judge. Plus, while Ricci did fight in September, her previous two MMA outings took place across 2013-14.

Ricci’s 2020 bout with Kelsey Arensen was her first appearance under MMA rules since 2014. She has had special-rules bouts in Japan, but we’ll stick to her MMA fights here. She is a judo black belt, so it’s not hard to deduce what she’s looking to do. Before we get there, though, let’s look at her striking. She has some power and aggressiveness, but this leaves her open for counters. She will at times leave her body open, too. She is fighting an aggressive opponent in Grimes, but Ricci has more technique.


I suspect Ricci will at least want to feel things out on the ground. When you come from a specialty, your goal in the gym is to bring up the other areas. She has surely been working on her striking, but training and sparring does not fully replicate a fight. She will likely want to try to implement what she’s been working on, but her goal in doing so will be to avoid a wild slugfest. She’ll use technique, mix up her strikes, use head movement, and utilize good footwork to give different angles. While I don’t have the reach measurements of either fighter, Grimes, who stands five inches taller, will probably enjoy a reach advantage. Therefore, Ricci will want to work her way in close. If she’s not having success and she is in close, then the clinch or takedown will be there to bail her out.

Let’s work under the assumption that Ricci will eventually want to get it to the ground. She is good at forcing and initiating the clinch. This seemed to be the game plan against Arensen. The clinch will be great for Ricci, who is great at getting underhooks quickly and also does well with her head position. As I’ve previously written, head position is important, as it’s a great way to control an opponent and dictate what is happening. The five-inch disparity in height will actually help her in this area. I spend a lot of my time in the clinch, and being the shorter fighter makes it so much easier to just nestle my head in there right under the chin.

Unless Ricci wants to clinch, it probably won’t be necessary. The takedowns will be there any way she wants them. Grimes comes forward very aggressively and leaves herself open to be taken down. Ricci can very easily just come in under the punches and find the double leg or perhaps wrap up Grimes for a throw or trip takedown.

Ricci is patient on the ground. She doesn’t rush anything. Grimes has been submitted in three of her five losses, and she also has suffered a defeat via ground-and-pound. Grimes will not take chances off her back against Ricci, so Ricci doesn’t have to rush to advance or attempt to force a submission. She can just take her time. She might even be sneaky and appear to be setting something up while really using it to get Grimes to commit to defending it and instead snatch something else. An arm-triangle is the submission I would put my money on in this one.

Grimes has lost her last five bouts, but a deeper dive shows that she hasn’t been fighting easy opponents. Her setbacks have come against a list of foes that includes Hannah Goldy, Danielle Hindley and Hannah Guy. The loss to Guy came in August in Grimes’ most recent outing. Grimes is very aggressive with her striking and is going to try to make this fight into a brawl. It is her best chance at a win.

Ricci does leave herself open for counters and shots to the body. Grimes should be aggressive in her attack, but not overly aggressive. If she gets overly aggressive, then she’s gonna end up on her back. Grimes will want to use her jab — not just single jabs, but double and triple it up. From there, she has to follow up to the body. With those jabs, she should try to get Ricci to overextend in trying to return the punches. When Ricci does this, Grimes can try to counter, whether it be to the head or body. Grimes shouldn’t throw a lot of kicks, either. If she does, then she needs to throw them low. She can’t allow her kicks to get caught, because that also will lead to her being put on her back. Not a lot of detail is required to Grimes’ strategy: make it a brawl, but a smart one.

If Grimes does get into the clinch, then she should get out as quick as she can. She must try to get the underhooks before Ricci does and then spin out of there. When the fight hits the ground, Grimes knows she doesn’t want to be there and won’t be successful there. There’s no need for her to try to prove something. Often, when someone says we are not good in an area, we aim to prove them wrong. A bit of advice for Grimes: Do not do that! Instead, she has to hold Ricci close, pull her down, and just wait it out. She has to try to force the ref to stand them up. If Ricci gets lower on her body, then Grimes should see if she can get her feet on Ricci’s hips and push her off. The more Grimes tries to engage with Ricci on the ground, the happier Ricci is going to be. Grimes must avoid making Ricci happy.

Marisa Chavez vs. Marisol Ruelas

In the other women’s bout from the LFA 98 card, Chavez makes her pro debut opposite ruelas. Chavez went 4-1 as an amateur, but her last two wins were over quality opponents in Amber Jones and Julie Russell. The victory over Jones was a nine-second knockout. In fact, three of Chavez’s four wins have come in the first round via her hands. Why? Because the girl has power in those hands. That is going to be a big benefit in this fight, because she’s fighting someone who can be hit.

Chavez will enjoy a height and reach advantage over Ruelas, and she is very good at using her reach. She is good at keeping opponents at the end of her punches and putting them on the defensive. Chavez is very aggressive, and I expect we will see her come out firing right away. Most likely, she’s facing someone who will look to work in the clinch with her. She will want to avoid this, though. While her takedown defense is good and she will have the strength advantage here, she will also be doing five-minute rounds for the first time. Chavez’s cardio looked good in the Russell fight, but five-minute rounds are an entirely different animal than three-minute rounds. Who knows how her cardio will look if this fight goes into the later rounds.

Chavez also has a very nice kicking game. She throws her kicks often, and it’s never the same one twice. She will want to watch the eyes of Ruelas. If she sees Ruelas getting desperate and looking low, then she might know the takedown attempt is coming and throw a head kick. In the clinch, Ruelas, while strong there, gives up underhooks pretty easily. If Chavez finds herself in the clinch, then she has to seize the opportunity to get those underhooks, spin, and break away. Don’t entertain it. Ruelas’ best chance to win will be in utilizing the clinch and looking for takedowns. There’s no need for Chavez to be there if she can avoid it.

The problems Chavez might face are the same problems that everyone has to face: the pro-debut nerves. Some handle them better than others, but they are always there. The wins and the losses count now. I think Chavez will handle it well, helped by the fact that she is from Kansas and the fight is in Kansas. There’s no travel involved, and she can enjoy the comforts of home. However, especially with her overly aggressive style, the adrenaline dump is always a real possibility. If Chavez can’t get the early finish and is balls-to-the-wall like normal, she might become very tired very quickly once the second round starts. Ruelas can pounce on that. Ruelas has prior pro experience, including big-promotion experience fighting for Combate Americas, so this isn’t new to her. If Chavez slows, then that is where Ruelas can try to implement her game.

Ruelas comes in at 1-2 after dropping her last fight to Criszaida Adams in September. Both of her losses came via TKO, and she’s now fighting someone who has knockout or TKO finishes in three of her four wins. Furthermore, Ruelas has her next bout already scheduled for five weeks later. I am never a fan of that. It can be seen as a sign that you are looking past your opponent or that you’re overly confident you will come out of the fight with no damage. I had an opponent do that to me, and I was even a bit insulted by it — it gave me some extra motivation.

Ruelas is pretty easy to break down. She needs to get the clinch and avoid getting into a kickboxing match. In the first round, I would like to see her use a lot of movement, circling from the outside and making Chavez use energy while chasing her. This might even frustrate Chavez. From there, Ruelas should make Chavez start reaching and overcommitting. Chavez may use her reach very well, but a frustrated Chavez could start to overextend or be more reckless in chasing Ruelas. This would open up striking opportunities or, more importantly, make potential clinches and takedowns available.

If Ruelas can get the clinches, then it is important to not give up underhooks so easily. If Chavez gets those underhooks, then she can easily turn it and put Ruelas’ back on the cage and do damage. Chavez could also use this opening to break away. If Chavez breaks away, then she can flurry. Ruelas has to hold the outside position in the clinches and try to do damage with her knees. Knees to the leg can slow down Chavez’s aggression and also maybe limit her kicks. Ruelas can get takedowns as well, but she will want to be active on top. She has some decent submissions, and she can maybe force a mistake from Chavez and seize the opportunity. If Ruelas isn’t active, then she will let Chavez remain calm and patient.

No matter what, the biggest thing for Ruelas is to not engage for any length in a striking affair and not drop her hands as she has in the past. These mistakes would give a power puncher a free target.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the fights!