Day after day during UFC 185 fight week in March, UFC Embedded captured Jedrzejczyk doing something to get into Esparza's head. There was the angry scowling, the tirade after media day and, finally, the olive branch in the form of a cookie that Jedrzejczyk gave the then-champion after weigh-ins.
Penne was stunned that her friend Esparza, considered at the time the best women's 115-pound fighter in the world, really didn't have a response.
"I was like, 'Carla, what are you doing?!'" Penne said at a media lunch last week. "I was like, 'Say something. Why are you letting her do this to you?' It was really surprising. You're just going to let her do that to you? OK."
Jedrzejczyk ended up finishing Esparza by TKO in the second round to win the belt. Now, Penne is next up as title challenger at UFC Fight Night 69 on Saturday in Berlin. She doesn't foresee the Polish champ getting in her head this week.
"I've dealt with bullies my whole life," Penne said. "It doesn't really bother me. They have to things to make them feel better about themselves and they want a reaction."
Penne (12-2) was not supposed to be in this position initially. She was slated to face Juliana Lima at UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Alves last month in Brazil. But when Alexander Gustafsson, the headliner for UFC Berlin against Glover Teixeira, got injured, the UFC had to shuffle the deck. Jedrzejczyk headlining near her home country was a no-brainer and Penne was right there among the next in line. She was not surprised that she got the call from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby.
"I feel like it's my time and I feel like I definitely earned it," Penne said. "I was expecting to be right there after my win over Lima. But it just came a little bit sooner."
Penne said Esparza texted her when she found out that Penne would get the next shot at Jedrzejczyk. The two remain friends, though Esparza beat Penne in the Ultimate Fighter 20 tournament semifinals, and Penne wishes her well. She thinks a very stressful year ultimately led to the best Esparza not showing up against Jedrzejczyk.
"The stress from being on the show straight into promoting it, straight into a fight, straight into another fight was a lot," Penne said. "I think it would have been a lot for anyone. She's taking some much-needed downtime. I'm sure she'll come back strong."
Penne, 32, thinks all the head games definitely played a part in Esparza's loss. And she doesn't necessarily blame Jedrzejczyk for utilizing that strategy.
"She's a bully and it's mental warfare," Penne said. "She plays the game and she plays it very well. She knows what she needs to do to make herself feel strong in the fight and she does it effectively.
"I think it's a big part of her game. I definitely do. It's smart. It works for her, so why not?"
Penne is a big underdog, around +500. But she's very confident in her experience, striking and grappling that is among the best in the division.
"I think I'm a more well-rounded fighter," Penne said. "I've been in this game a long time and I have what it takes to beat her -- with or without the mental games."
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