Nine fights into her pro career, Aspen Ladd is getting her chance to headline an MMA show.
Even as a rising star in Invicta, Ladd was never given the opportunity to close the show, but on Saturday she meets former UFC featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie in the bantamweight main event of UFC Sacramento. It’s a considrable step-up for the unbeaten 24-year-old whose first three UFC appearances all took place on the preliminaries.
It’s fair to say that when Ladd and de Randamie were named as headliners, there was some skepticism given Ladd’s relative inexperience and de Randamie’s inactivity (“The Iron Lady” has competed just once a year since 2015 and Saturday’s bout marks her sixth fight since November 2013). Ladd is aware of the criticisms and while she doesn’t have much tolerance for negativity, she showed restraint in firing back.
“I saw a lot of that initially and then I started to ignore it,” Ladd recently told MMA Fighting. “There’s a lot of implications in this fight for the 135-pound division, period. As far as people talking nonsense on it, here’s the thing: Fighters, they don’t call the shots. What happens is you get a call and you hear that opportunity and you’re an idiot if you don’t take it. Then you have a bunch of internet trolls that are like, ‘Your terrible! I would do this that and the other thing.’
“Well, you can go do some not-so-fun things to yourself. It’s ridiculous.”
One area where Ladd doesn’t pull punches is in the cage itself. The native Californian has earned a well-deserved reputation for her fearsome ground-and-pound, her technique typically accentuated by a primal shout.
Is it aggression? Intimidation? Joy? Does she even realize she’s bringing the noise like that?
“It’s never something, no, I don’t know when I’m doing it or that I did it,” Ladd said. “I didn’t really know until somebody spoke after the fight. I think it’s just kind of when you train and everything, you can be noisy, you expel your air, that kind of thing. I don’t know. It’s not something I really think about nor plan necessarily.”
“The entire fight is an out-of-body experience,” she continued. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘Do you remember doing this in a fight?’ No, I really don’t. I see things after. It’s a crazy moment.”
The word “crazy” is one Ladd uses a lot, particularly when describing how it feels to be in the main event spot of a UFC show. This will only be the second time Ladd has fought in California. The first was her pro debut.
Back on Feb. 27, 2017, at Invicta FC 11 in Los Angeles, a 19-year-old Ladd opened up the show with a thudding TKO win over Ana Carolina Vidal via (what else?) ground-and-pound. That card was headlined by Cris Cyborg, and also happened the same weekend as UFC 184, a show that featured Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano and Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington in the featured spots.
Suffice to say, those two days were confirmation that Ladd had made the right career choice, even if she couldn’t have known that in only a few short years she’d be pushed as one of the bantamweight division’s top contenders herself.
She’s still getting used to it.
“Just seeing yourself all over the—not just the social media, but the hotel, the poster,” Ladd said. “I’ve fought on some big cards, I fought on the (UFC 229 card that featured) Conor McGregor, so I’m used to a very crazy atmosphere type situation. But it’s still strange when you’re at that head spot on the card.”