How embracing risk has paid off for UFC’s Angela Hill

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·6 min read

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Angela Hill was jokingly posting photos of herself in a bikini, begging UFC matchmakers to get her a fight.

And though she’s plenty busy these days — her co-main event Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, against No. 6 Claudia Gadelha will be her seventh fight in the last 14 months — it’s almost never enough.

She so loves to fight that whenever a woman drops off a card, Hill takes to social media and volunteers to step in.

All of that experience she’s gotten has made a marked difference. She’s won her last three and four of her last five.

Once she learned to relax, her results were dramatically better.

“I used to feel less comfortable when I hadn’t been in there in a while, but now I’m to the point where it’s just another day at the office,” Hill said. “Everyone always says that, but it’s true. I know exactly how weigh-in day is going to go. I know exactly how fight day is going to go. The random different things in between aren’t that big of a deal, so I feel more comfortable.

“The more I get in there, it just feels like another day at work doing my job. The secret to me is that I’ve forced myself to take every day one day at a time. When you build up fight day to be this massive event that could be life-altering, then it could really mess with your psyche and mess with your confidence.”

Her metamorphosis came following a loss to Randa Markos on March 23, 2019, when she was submitted late in the first round by an arm bar. She left the cage that night worried her job might be at risk.

She had one fight left on her contract and only had to look around to see how tenuous her situation was.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - MAY 15:  (L-R) Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill pose for media during the official UFC Fight Night weigh-in on May 15, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
(L-R) Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill pose for media during the official UFC Fight Night weigh-in Friday in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“I was so down on myself,” Hill said. “At the time, a lot of good fighters, really good fighters, were getting cut. Well, not getting cut, but their contracts were up and they weren’t getting renewed. I thought I might be in that heap, the heap of talented fighters who because they had a spotty record were going to get let go.

“So going into that last fight, I just said, ‘[Expletive] it.’ That’s the best way to describe it. If I was going to get cut or let go, there was nothing I could do. I just decided that I wouldn’t hesitate and not overthink anything. Basically, I just said to myself, ‘Don’t worry about anything; just go in there and throw down.’ ”

She fought Jodie Esquibel in her last bout and fought freely and without concern. She admits she was confident going in, but she didn’t hesitate like she’d felt she’d done so often before.

She won a unanimous decision and earned a new contract. And she’s been freer ever since.

“I wish I could be a Charles Bennett or a Tony Ferguson in there, someone who can do whatever the [expletive] they want in there with no fear of the consequences,” Hill said. “I feel like I’m working my way toward that. It’s been hard for me because I do have a technical background and I am a very technical fighter. Opening up is always hard for me because I’m like, ‘Well, if I do this, I might be off-balance. Or if I do this, that could happen.’

“But sometimes, that can hold you back. So I’ve been more open to taking risks and believing in the fact that even if I [expletive] up, I can probably fix it so I shouldn’t hesitate to go. So now I just try to hit, try to score and try to hurt them. It’s been working and fights have been going my way.”

The bout with Gadelha is an important one, particularly given how much higher Gadelha is ranked than Hill. A win over No. 6 would probably push Hill into the Top 10.

Don’t expect Hill to freeze up. Not only is her new attitude helping, but she had an edge during the coronavirus pandemic that many haven’t had. Her husband, Adam Blair Pryde, is also her coach. Hill and Blair Pryde were able to work out a lot together at home during the pandemic, so she was able to not only get into shape but fine-tune things she felt she needed to improve.

There have been a lot of father-son combinations in the fight game and they’ve had mixed results. It can be difficult having your significant other or your spouse as a coach, because in the fight game, the athlete is the boss and that can impact the dynamic of a personal relationship.

But their pairing has worked seamlessly so far.

“We have a very healthy relationship,” she said. “Of course, like all couples, we have our moments and our arguments, but I’d say we joke and laugh with each other more than anything. And he’s as passionate about coaching as I am fighting, so we kind of bond over that.

“Breaking down fights, working on techniques, it’s really nice to have someone who is focused 100 percent on me. We’re together 99 percent of the time and I know it doesn’t work for a lot of people, but I feel I married my soulmate. We got into MMA after we got married and I think that probably helps, too, because we came up together.”

Their years of work will have been worth it if Hill can pull out the victory. It will make her a legitimate title contender and prove Blair Pryde’s bonafides as a coach.

She’s not thinking about anything other than what she needs to do to win.

“There was a point when Gadelha was really scary to me [as a potential opponent],” Hill said. “When I first got into the UFC, I looked at her as one of those girls. But I’ve got this streak going and I have my newfound confidence in my grappling and I feel confident that I could stop her, or at least outpoint her. I’m going to do what I have to do to win this.”

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