Hill (13-12 MMA, 8-12 UFC), who lives and trains in San Diego, said she was blowing up the phones of her manager and UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard when "UFC on ESPN 41: Vera vs. Cruz" was announced, but to no avail. That is, until August 8, when Hill got a call asking if she’d like to fight a full two months earlier than planned. She and Godinez (8-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) – who is no stranger to short-notice fights herself – agreed to a 120-pound catchweight, and now, Hill gets to wake up in her own bed throughout fight week.
"I thought it was cool that (Godinez) was so game to do it on such short notice," Hill said. "I already knew she'd be down to fight any short-notice fight, so I always kept that in mind that if I ever had an opponent pull out, Loopy might be calling."
Godinez, who debuted in April 2021, quickly built a reputation as an "anytime, anywhere" kind of fighter when she set the modern UFC record and fought on back-to-back events in October 2021, beating Silvana Gomez Juarez before losing to Luana Carolina seven days later in her flyweight debut.
Last time out, Godinez produced a dominant, grappling-heavy performance in a unanimous decision victory over Ariane Carnelossi. With that in mind, Hill, who most recently lost to grappling-specialist Virna Jandiroba in May, is keen on showing an improved ground game in Pechanga Arena. Beyond fighting earlier than planned and in her adopted hometown of San Diego, the test comes right when Hill felt like she started to figure some stuff out defensively.
"We've just been grinding on getting up from bottom," Hill said. "It's something I haven't had to worry about in my last fights. I was usually able to scramble and do things on bottom and get back to my feet when I needed to, but in my Virna fight, I got really stuck, so ever since that, we came back and were working right away. I learned a bunch of new little tricks, a bunch of new little things to go to, and once that started working, I was like, 'OK, cool. I got this.' They kind of called right when I was having those light bulbs and realizing I was really ready for this type of fight."
Although Hill lost five of her last six, it's important to point out three of those losses (to Amanda Lemos, Claudia Gadelha, Michelle Waterson), all came via split decision, the latter two decisions viewed somewhat debatably.
That said, a loss on the record is still a loss, and just because people around the sport or fans online argue against the judges’ scorecards on Hill’s behalf, it doesn’t take the pain out of the result.
"It stings in a different way," Hill said. "It's hard to accept but, at the same time, it makes me work harder to get those finishes. If I hadn't had those split decisions, then when it counted, like if I were to fight Rose (Namajunas) or Carla (Esparza), and that was a split decision, I'd be a lot more heartbroken than if I’m fighting some girl who is ranked around the same number as me but is not really worth anything but a win bonus. It’s making me work through those things and get closer to being a finisher, so I won’t have to rely on that in the future."
Those split cards are a few sliding-doors moments for Hill. She was on a three-fight winning streak before she dropped the fight to Gadelha, and her main event loss to Waterson was touted as one of the best fights of a stacked selection from 2020.
As Hill approaches her second fight of 2022, she laughs at how relaxed she feels this week. Normally, she'd battle some semblance of jet lag and maybe a lumpy hotel bed, but instead, she walks around the fighter hotel with her dog and a relaxed smile on her face. The vibes are such that she has to remind herself she is just days away from a fight, although part of that might have to do with the fact that this was originally planned for October.
Even though Godinez is unranked at the moment, Hill does believe a win over her gets her back in the groove and moving back up the stacked strawweight ladder. She respects the way Godinez built hype for herself through frequent activity, and so Saturday night presents a chance for "Overkill" to regain traction and start another run. The circumstances around the fight are peculiar, but also incredibly fitting, and Hill understands she is fighting a like-minded woman on Saturday.
"(Godinez is) like a cowgirl, and so am I," Hill said. "That’s why this fight is happening in the first place."
This story first published at UFC.com.