Angela Hill will make history on Saturday night when she becomes the first Black woman to headline a UFC event for her upcoming five-round showdown against Michelle Waterson.
The former Invicta FC champion has been part of plenty of big fights over the years but after her manager posted an image on Instagram sharing that news, Hill started to realize the significance of this moment in her career.
“It’s big,” Hill told MMA Fighting during the UFC Vegas 10 virtual media day on Thursday. “I didn’t even realize how big it was until he mentioned it to me. I think in a time like this, people need heroes. People need someone to look up to. Someone to root for. Just the fact that this hasn’t happened yet is indicative that it is important.
“Like a lot of people will say ‘why does it matter?.’ If it doesn’t matter to you, that’s OK but it does matter to the fans who see that and they’re like finally, we have some representation. Finally we have a face that’s in the sport that we love and we’ve been waiting for it for so long.”
Over the past few months, a cry for racial justice has taken center stage across the United States in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.
Protests have taken place in virtually every city and state across America with more than 23 million people reportedly taking part in anti-police brutality marches.
Hill has certainly taken notice of what’s going on in the world and it’s part of the reason why she’s willing to speak out, especially just days before she’s set to stand under the spotlight for a huge occasion in her own career.
“The Black Lives Matters movement, it’s really important. I think it’s really important,” Hill said. “I think people try to pretend that it’s not or try to call it things that it isn’t because it’s hard to look at the violence. It’s hard to say there’s something wrong when you haven’t experienced it yourself. I think the reason it’s so important to Black people is because they’ve all had moments where they felt in danger or they felt like they weren’t being considered as human as their white counterparts.
“It’s nothing something that disappeared when [Barack] Obama got elected. It’s not something that disappeared once cops got body cams. It’s something that’s still hurting the community right now and I think just with the pandemic going on and with everything being so divisive right now, it’s really brought it to light and really made people pay attention to how hard the struggles are and the fact that there does need to be some change.”
While she admits that it might be an uncomfortable subject for some to talk about much less deal with, Hill is trying to do something to make a difference even if that’s just going out and fighting while serving as inspiration to others in the Black community.
“It’s kind of a touchy subject for me because I wish I could do more,” Hill said. “I wish could do all the research and figure out ways to make America a better place. What actions to take to get justice for the people who have been killed unjustly. It’s really hard to think about that and the easy thing for me to do is to fight. If this is something that I can do, if just carrying that burden into the cage is something that I can do, I’m happy to do it. Because a lot of times, I think a lot of us feel helpless. It’s just such a tough subject and it gets under people’s skin but the reason it’s so touchy is because it’s such an important thing.
“I’m happy just me doing what I would be doing no matter what, I’m happy that can somehow make a change or somehow encourage people to keep fighting for what they believe in.”
Hill also knows that the attention she’s receiving for this particular fight will also allow her to serve as an example to others who aspire to eventually reach similar goals.
Because representation is such a hugely important commodity, Hill understands what this event could mean for her as well as the entire Black community.
It was the kind of role the late Chadwick Boseman learned to embrace after becoming the first Black man to headline a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he starred as King T’Challa in 2018’s “Black Panther.”
“I think like everyone else, I started watching interviews that [Chadwick] had talking about the significance of when ‘Black Panther’ came out and the one that really choked me up was the one when he was surprised at how important the film was to these two kids who were terminally ill,” Hill explained. “He was so surprised that it was that important to them. I would never compare myself to him but when people do reach out and say ‘hey, my daughter looks up to you, my girlfriend loves you, I hope my daughters can be as strong as you are.’ When people reach out and say things like that, it’s always surprising but it makes me feel so happy that I didn’t give up.
“It gives me that extra push when I just want to be like fk it. Fk it this isn’t worth it, it’s too hard. Cause fighting is hard. It’s really hard and it’s even harder when every time I’ve lost, it’s been on the UFC stage. I’ve never lost outside the UFC. So having that magnifying glass on every win but also every failure, people reaching out to me and saying stuff like that, it’s so special. It’s something that you can’t really explain. Representation is such an important thing to so many people.”
As Marc Bernardin explained in his 2019 piece talking about the importance of “Black Panther” after the film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, he wrote “the viral clips that spread of African-American children looking up at the impeccably retouched faces of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett on the Panther poster — for once faced with a choice of which black character they wanted to be — were the early flowers of cinematic revolution.”
Hill explains that she felt much the same way growing up as she sought to find people who looked like her in just about every possible medium yet sadly so few existed.
“I remember when I was a kid and I would always want the Black Barbie because I’m like ‘that’s me’ or I would always watch ‘Rugrats’ and get extra excited when Suzie was on,” Hill explained.
“So it’s just like one of those little things where people who aren’t starved of it don’t realize that they would miss it if they didn’t have it. If you’re white in America you’ve never felt underrepresented.”
In many ways it feels like the U.S. is reaching a crossroads of sorts when it comes to dealing with issues like systemic racism, inclusion and biases across so many walks of life. Hill isn’t going to avoid speaking on such a crucial subject much less shy away from the opportunity to serve as representation for a little girl sitting at home who might gaze at her with those same wide eyes when seeing somebody who looks like them fighting in a UFC main event.
“It’s a thing that’s important, especially in times like this, where you feel like your people are being treated less than human,” Hill said. “So it’s so sad, the death of Chadwick Boseman and I think it was really crazy that he kept all that to himself, the fact that he was fighting cancer for so long and it’s just another sad loss. It’s horrible.
“Definitely his story has given a lot of people strength, including me, just seeing that you never know who you’re inspiring just by going about your day. Just trying to be the best you that you can be. You never know who’s looking at that and taking inspiration from that.”