Penco ready for EFC 76 headline bout
Cape Town - EFC women’s strawweight champion Chiara Penco insists she is ready for her maiden title defence against late-notice opponent Karolina Wójcik in Pretoria on Saturday.
Italian Penco (4-0) was initially slated to headline EFC 76 with Cheyanne Vlismas (2-1) at Time Square, but ‘The Warrior Princess’ withdrew two weeks out with poor health.
‘Polish Assassin’ Wójcik (3-1) stepped up as a natural replacement, having lost a split decision to Vlismas in their respective EFC debuts in October.
“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Penco tells mmaengage.com when asked about adapting to the new challenge ahead.
“I am ready for anybody. I am a professional and I come to fight. This is my job and my passion. I think Cheyanne had a better wrestling game, and for striking I’ll have to make a few strategic adaptations, but it is all fun and games now.”
Penco respects Wójcik’s abilities and heart, and believes she actually bested American Vlismas in their ‘Fight of the Night’ at Carnival City in Johannesburg.
“I think she is overall a good fighter and put up a great fight with Cheyanne. I actually think she had the upper hand on her as well. I think she is a tough girl, but that is that.”
However, Penco is adamant the words, “And still …” will ring out at the hexagon come tomorrow night.
“I believed and visualised fighting MMA, I believed and visualised becoming a champion. I still see myself being the champion.”
‘Beasty Barbie’, who has won all of her fights by submission, is unsure what game-plan Wójcik will favour, but feels she will dominate on all fronts.
“I am not sure, but I am prepared for both scenarios. If we stand I will outstrike her, if we wrestle I’ll overpower her. I am confident.”
She adds: “I am confident in my overall toolbox of skills in MMA. I’ll be happy to test my new knowledge against Wojcik and show more of what I can do.”
Penco also headlined EFC 67 when she won the belt by defeating Danella Eliasov (2-2) with an armbar in March, and expects to rise to the occasion once more with the benefit of experience and a subsequent win over Elena Andruschenko (1-2) at The Golden Cage 2 on home soil in June.
“Yes, it was [extra pressure at EFC 67] and of course the big stage has its effect, but it fed my energy. I totally embraced the moment. I am now even more experienced and know what to look for once I enter the cage.”
After facing Wójcik, Penco believes she is destined to take on the world’s best in the UFC, the global leader in MMA promotions.
“I believe I am worthy of the best, and I want to confront myself with the best. After Karolina I aspire to make the leap and take on the strawweight division of the UFC.”
Given her ambitions, Livorno-based Penco invested in her career by recently doing a camp at SBG Ireland, the gym of combat sports superstar Conor McGregor (21-4) and progressive trainer John Kavanagh.
“I have been investing in my training lately and went to SBG in Ireland for a camp, where I trained with many great fighters,” she explains.
“Also in my gym Rendoki Dojo I have had great training partners, including Davide Baneschi, who just got a win in CAGE Finland as a main event. And obviously my coach Massimo Rizzoli, who aids my preparation with many, many years of experience at the highest of levels.
“Also my management (Calibian Management) has been taking care of all the work on the side of training, allowing me to remain focused on what is important,” concludes the 23-year-old inaugural EFC strawweight queen.