Dakota Ditcheva is very aware of the high expectations placed upon her, but even she was slightly taken aback by the added pressure of being one of the stars of the show at PFL Europe 1.
England’s Ditcheva has been earmarked for stardom in the PFL, and was featured in the co-main event slot for the PFL Europe season opener in Newcastle. It put the 24-year-old Mancunian front and center during a fight week that saw her undertake extra media obligations before completing her weight cut and facing Sweden’s Malin Hermansson on fight night.
But, despite the added pressures that come with spending fight week under the spotlight, Ditcheva delivered on fight night as she locked up a rear-naked choke to finish Hermansson in the first round. It was Ditcheva’s first professional win by submission, and a statement to the rest of the division that she has more to her game than just her much-vaunted striking arsenal.
“I’m super happy that I got to show that and I feel like the (response) from the internet, everyone seems to be in a little bit of a shock at the moment!” Ditcheva told Sean O’Connell and Dan Hardy on The DAZN MMA Show.
“People have just posted all about the fact that it was a submission – I think I’ve shocked a few people! But it’s nice. I mean, it was a very short fight. So the fact I’ve shocked people in such a short amount of time is nice. I didn’t give away too much of my game, but I’ve shown that I’ve got a little bit more to give.”
A decorated Muay Thai fighter prior to her transition to MMA, Ditcheva has been quietly rounding out her mixed martial arts skillset, splitting time between her main training camp at Manchester Top Team and American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.
Ditcheva explained that she knew she was ready to use her grappling skills if the opportunity arose, but that wasn’t the main focus of her pre-fight plan for Hermansson
“It wasn’t like a gameplan to go in and do that, but it was something that I did want to show,” she admitted.
“If you speak to some of my coaches, they were like, ‘You’ve got it in there (but) we don’t have to show it. We can keep keeping it, you know (and) bring it out when we need it.’
“But I think I just had it in my mind that I just wanted to show a little bit more. I’ve been loving working on my ground game and I’m really enjoying it. So I did want to go in and show a little bit of it. And that’s obviously what came out in there.”
Ditcheva’s first-round submission finish was the only inside-the-distance win from the three women’s flyweight bouts on show in Newcastle, with the other two 125-pound winners, Cornelia Holm and Valentina Scatizzi, both claiming their victories via split decision. It means that Ditcheva has marked herself out as the woman to beat ahead of the PFL Europe Playoffs, which will take place in Paris, France on September 30 ahead of the season finale in Dublin, Ireland on December 8.
Ditcheva’s tears of joy after her victory were perhaps evidence of the added pressures she’d endured during fight week. But, while she admitted the more hectic build-up played its part in her reaction, she said it’s also just how she’s always been.
“Yeah, it always annoys me, to be honest!” she admitted.
“I think I treat every fight like I’m fighting for a world title. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, to me every fight is important, and keeping that 0 on my record is important. I think that’s why I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“This time there was a lot of pressure because it was like kicking off PFL Europe (and) I was co-main event. I felt like this is like my first big time carrying a show, I would say. Not carrying it, but being the main person. I’ve been on the undercards a lot and just been happy to be a part of everyone else’s card and stuff. But this time I felt like I was the main person that everyone was looking at.
“So I think all those different things were just a build-up of emotions, and the sport just means a lot to me and, yeah, that’s why I always end up crying! I will not cry next time. I’m making that promise now!”
Ditcheva also said that, despite dealing with the added obligations that come with being a high-profile fighter for PFL Europe, she has a good role model to follow in the form of two-time PFL champion and American Top Team colleague Kayla Harrison.
“I still really enjoyed it and I think I deal with pressure quite well,” she said.
“I’ve had that since I’ve been in Thai boxing, with my mum having a big name, I’m just so used to having pressure, so I do deal with it quite well. But it was just learning the little new emotions, and I was just trying to think of myself, ‘Kayla Harrison’s done the million (dollars), won it twice. This is nothing compared to what she puts up with, so just get on with it!’ That was the thinking in my head.”
With her first win under her belt and her berth in the PFL Europe Playoffs secured, Ditcheva is already planning her next camp to make sure she’s even better prepared for the semi-final stage.
“I’m hoping to go back to ATT a lot earlier, maybe like three months out, for my next fight,” she said.
“But I want to just do a little bit of downtime stuff. I want to maybe go to Thailand, to do holiday and training. I’ll never just be able to holiday because it’s just not me – I’ve been back to training this morning already! So I won’t be able to have much time off, but I want to do a little bit of both and I think my mom wants me to do that as well.
“So I’m gonna maybe mix training and holiday, and then I’ll go back to ATT and just try and progress a little bit out of camp – I feel like that’s what I’ve been trying to do without the setbacks you know – learn a little bit, and then go straight into camp. I think that’s what I want to try and do this time – go out a bit earlier.”