Bellator 294 title women’s flyweight challenger DeAnna Bennett played hockey her whole life.
“That’s my first love as far as sports go, just because I loved the fast-paced sport, and it’s a physical sport as well,” Bennett told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview.
Bennett was the kid who “wanted to be outside, playing in the dirt, playing rough, wrestling before I even wrestled.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that she turned out to be a professional fighter.
“I just like to experience life at the fullest. As cliche as that sounds, I love to be able to have those experiences and really test my limits and see how far I can push myself,” said Bennett, who will challenge Liz Carmouche in the main event of Bellator 294, a rematch three years in the making.
Bennett wasn’t always going to be a professional fighter, of course. As she put it, she “never” expected that, and sort of fell into it through “a series of peer pressures,” with her friends and trainers at the gym recognizing that she was good at it. But there’s a clear commonality between the jobs she has gravitated towards over the years.
“It’s such an interesting journey that brought me here, honestly. I can’t believe it some days. I was working at a hospital in the ER, I was working on an ambulance, that was like my passion with work, that’s what I wanted to do,” Bennett recalled. “I was thinking about going into the Fire Academy, these different kind of options.”
Instead, she embarked on a professional fighting career just over a decade ago that has taken her to The Ultimate Fighter, a title shot in Invicta FC, and now, of course, Bellator. “Now I get to get up every day and live a life that I love and do what I want to do, and by that I mean fighting. It’s something that I’m passionate about, it’s my ‘why’ for why I do the things that I do and why I live my life the way that I do, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Benntt and Carmouche first met in September of 2020; the fight was the promotional debut for both. It was Carmouche, a former two-time UFC title challenger, coming away with a submission win. The night didn’t go according to plan for Bennett for a lot of reasons, including a nasty injury sustained late in the bout.
While reports have incorrectly stated Bennett was injured in the second round, it was actually during the third where her hamstring muscle had torn, 95% free of the bone. That left her something of a sitting duck in the fight, and she was submitted shortly after. The injury led to surgery, with the scar left behind on her backside one Bennett calls “my daily reminder of the fight.”
“I thought of that fight with her basically every day I was bedridden for the first six weeks,” she added.
That gave Bennett plenty of time to think about where she wanted to go from there, and how she wanted to improve. In turn, that has led to three straight wins in Bellator’s women’s flyweight division, with a victory over ex-title challenger Alejandra Lara, and back-to-back decision wins over UFC vet Justine Kish.
All the while, Bennett has been focused on getting the fight with Carmouche back. She even attended the champ’s last bout, a rematch between Carmouche and Juliana Velasquez. At the time, Bennett had no idea a title shot would be forthcoming.
“She called out everybody but me at that fight. I was like ‘I’m right here! I’m right here! It should be me,'” Bennett recalled.
“Honestly no, I didn’t know I would have the fight then. Obviously I wanted it, and I was calling for it. I’d been asking for that fight for a while, since she got the belt. Even if it wasn’t for the belt, that’s a fight that I want back, just because of the circumstances of what happened in the end with that one.”
That said, Bennett knew that if the pair did fight, it would likely be for gold. “I knew, I knew it in my heart that it was going to be for the title, because I knew she was going to win the title.”
In the lead-up to Carmouche vs. Bennett 2, the champion told Cageside Press that she doesn’t feel Bennett has grown much as a fighter, though she’s ready for anything. Interestingly enough, Bennett feels the same way in reverse.
“See that’s funny, because she stole my words right from me. Because I feel like she hasn’t. I feel like she’s the exact same fighter that she’s been for years too,” Bennett stated. “Obviously I’m not going to expect that when I get in there, and it’s good to know that she’s not expecting that either. But I have. It’s been a couple years. Anybody, if you’re not growing in that period of time, then what are you even doing? Are you even training? What’s happening with this? And so I do feel like I’m a different fighter, I’m at a whole different camp right now. I’ve been working hard in the gym since our last fight.”
The feeling ahead of the fight, meanwhile, is extremely positive for DeAnna Bennett.
“I’m just trying to take every good opportunity and every moment. This is what I’ve been waiting for for my entire career. I’ve wanted that Bellator belt for a very long time, and I’m on my way towards it,” Bennett told us. “Just trying to soak everything in. It’s a huge fight, you take it as you do every fight, and I always train hard for all my fights, but there’s that extra little ‘umph’ on this one. And so it makes me even more excited, my training has been that much more extra. I’m just happy.”
Watch our full interview with Bellator 294 headliner DeAnna Bennett above. The event takes place this Friday, April 21, 2023 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii.