In just a few days, rising atomweight sensation Stephanie Alba (3-1) will step into the cage for the fifth time as a professional mixed martial artist. You can catch the 34-year old Texas native’s fight on UFC Fight Pass, but before you do, we caught up ‘The Cyclone’ to talk about the whirlwind process leading up to the Combate Americas produced ‘Combat 13’ event.
You are taking on Alesha Zappitella at Combate 13, Thursday in Tucson Arizona. The fight was officially announced just two weeks ago. Can you tell us how and why the fight came together so last minute?
“I actually had a change of opponent, so I think a couple of weeks ago they (Combate officials) said they had changed my opponent to Alesha. I was training for the other girl (Sheila Padilla). I know it’s fighting, and I needed to be prepared for the opponent change, and I am.”
What do you know about your opponent and is there anything that stands out to you that you feel you need to be careful of?
“I actually trained with her before. I went out and trained at her gym a couple of years ago when she was an amateur. They are trying to build her up as undefeated but I fought a lot girl. I have triple the fights she has. It’s just another fight, another stepping stone in my career.
Your last fight was close to a year ago, May 9, 2016, a split decision loss to Paulina Granados. Can you detail what transpired resulting in nearly a full year away from the cage?
“I wanted to fight more. I just was waiting for Combate to give me that opportunity. Just trying to get better, trying to improve all around. I had some injuries that held me back a little. I’ve taken time off for fights before, not more than a year but things happen and it doesn’t mean that I’m away from the gym. I’m constantly training and I don’t ever take a day off. I’m always training, so it’s not like I wasn’t training. I just didn’t have as many opportunities come about last year.”
You train with Jeremy Mahon and Invicta FC bantamweight champ Tonya Evinger on the regular. Can you walk us through a typical day of training for you, and what the preparation has been like leading up to this fight on April 20?
“So, Tonya just had her fight and I was kind of in camp with her as well. We basically do strength and conditioning. We’ll have a morning session, it could be BJJ, MMA, wrestling, and then we’ll take a break during the day and come back at night and kind of do the same thing again. But you know, two or three hours of training a day, and taking a day or night off when our bodies need it. We don’t have a set day where we are like, ‘Ok, let’s take Sundays off.’ We just kind of go with how our bodies feel and if we need time off, we’ll do that. The atmosphere in the gym is really gritty and a grinding style, so we definitely push each other, and it’s good vibes.”
Has it been difficult, especially in the amateur rankings where fights kind of just fall off and never happen after they are scheduled, to train for a change in opponent?
“No, you kind of expect that to happen, you don’t want it to happen, but it does happen. I’m always trying to improve my game, every aspect of it, so it can be difficult, but not really cause we are training everything. Even when I’m not training for a fight, I’m training every aspect, so opponent change or not it’s pretty much the same, I just work on doing me, I don’t care what anyone else says I’m gonna do what I do best and that’s it.”
As we said that loss was to Paulina Granados, a fighter you were very familiar with. You also fought and loss to her twice during your tenure as an amateur mixed martial artist. She never put you away, never submitted you, rather, all three losses were decision. Can you describe the history between you and Paulina and how close those fights were?
“We’ve actually compete a lot against each other. We were friends after our first fight, so the opportunity for us to fight again kind of, I don’t turn down fights, so whoever they give me, and it being so close….. I don’t really know. I honestly don’t even feel like our last fight was a fight. I felt like it was a sparring session. And I feel like that’s why it was so close. Maybe because we were friends before and that’s what we do in the gym. We match up pretty well. It’s like two girls going at it that know each other pretty well, it can go either way depending on how you look at it. I learned a lot from those fights. I’m happy that it was her. I feel like if were to go again, it would be the same outcome. Maybe the judges would see it my way this time. Maybe I’ll finish her. It’s just a good matchup. I don’t think she’s better than me or anything.”
How many fights do you have left on your Combate contract?
“I think I have one more fight.”
Has Invicta reached out to you at all?
“Oh yeah. They’ve reached out to me a couple times. It’s always been like a last minute thing, so I want a full fight camp. I don’t want to go in there and try to cut 15 or 20 pounds in a week. That’s been the big thing, the weight thing. Asking me to fight and I can’t make that weight. The one time they asked me to fight, I think the first time, I was like ‘Yeah, of course, it’s Invicta,’ but I asked for a higher weight, a catchweight, and they said, ‘No.’
Currently there is no atomweight division in the UFC or Bellator. Do you feel that you are at a disadvantage that if you did want to sign with one of these organizations that you would be forced to move up to strawweight?
“I think the atomweights opening up a lot more. There’s Invicta, Combate, and I think King of the Cage. And nothing against King of the Cage, but I wish I could fight those girls. I could be everyone there, I could be the champion there. I don’t see anybody in the organization that’s a really tough competitor. I don’t know if they go for looks or what, but I look at their roster and I know I can beat every single one of those girls. Combate has tougher girls. They have top-notch girls. It’s just like Invicta, same thing. I think there is competition out there. I’m not saying I’m gonna go up in weight just to make the UFC, that’s just not something that I’m thinking about at this moment. Maybe later on I’ll change my mind but at this moment I think there’s definitely enough girls to fight at atomweight.”
With a win here this week, is there anybody on your radar?
“I want to fight the girl (Sheila Padilla) I was originally scheduled to fight just because I had already been training for her. I want that fight. We had a contract in place. Nothing against her, I don’t know her, but I was training for her already.
Lastly, any sponsors, teammates, coaches, you want to give a shoutout to or social media you want to plug?
“Just my coaches, Jeremy Mahon, Tonya Evinger, Aaron Pena, Mike Moore, all my teammates at W4R that help me out. Affliction, Relentless, St. Michael’s Emergency Room.
Combate Americas produced video