UFC 297: A New Chapter at a Critical Moment for Pennington and Silva

Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva, UFC 297
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JANUARY 19: (L-R) Opponents Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva of Brazil face off during the UFC 297 ceremonial weigh-in at Scotiabank Arena on January 19, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

A new chapter begins in the bantamweight division as Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva fight for the title at UFC 297.

The road has been slow and deliberate for Raquel Pennington’s path back to a title opportunity.  With the champion focused on more gold and bigger opportunities, Pennington worked her way back up the ladder.  Amassing a 6-2 record since her last title shot, “Rocky” showed her determination to earn her way back to the belt in turning besting former title challenger Irene Aldana and perennial contenders like Ketlen Vieira, Macy Chiasson, and now PFL featherweight Aspen Ladd.

In 2023, Pennington found herself in a proverbial no man’s land.  With the longtime champion in Nunes retiring, she was now the expected to be one half of the title picture.  But the slow process of waiting for the title fight to be made, and her upcoming opponent breaking into the picture, made for a tense period.  While becoming a mother with her wife, fellow UFC fighter Tecia Pennington, has kept her occupied, the wait is finally over for what is arguably the most important fight of her career.  While there is a new lease on life in the bantamweight division, there are now a fair share of contenders coming up on their own shot at gold.  Another climb back up the ladder, at this stage of her career, would be unfavorable to say the least.

Mayra Bueno Silva is one such newcomer to the division.  After an up-and-down run at flyweight, the move up to bantamweight has seen “Sheetara” emerge as one of the more formidable contenders at 135 pounds after stoppages of Stephanie Egger, Lina Lansberg, and Holly Holm.  The victory over Holm, though a seminal one, was overturned to a No Contest following a positive test for Ritalinic Acid stemming from the use of ADHD medication by Bueno Silva.  While the result was changed, the UFC’s confidence in her was not as she has been granted the opportunity to fight for the title following the completion of her four month suspension this past November.

At bantamweight, Silva has arrived at arguably the perfect time in the history of the division.  With the retirement of Nunes, Silva is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a division that for years has sought an injection of new energy.  As the UFC looks to move into a new era for the women at 135 pounds, Silva could emerge with her hand raised against two of the top contenders currently at her weight class.  Should she win and defend the title later this year, it would be the kind of twelve month run that only her predecessor and Ronda Rousey have ever put together.

The most likely first title defense regardless of who wins would be former champion Julianna Pena who was expected to be part of the vacant title fight prior to suffering an injury.  Should Pena be unavailable, perennial contender Ketlen Vieira could step in following a victory over Pannie Kianzad last year.  Vieira would be a new opponent for Bueno Silva while Pennington defeated Vieira in early 2023.