Raquel Pennington Reveals Illness Ahead of UFC 297, But Knew Opportunity Likely Wouldn’t Come Around Again

There was a lot of noise ahead of Raquel Pennington’s UFC 297 title fight, where she claimed the promotion’s vacant bantamweight crown with a dominant victory against Mayra Bueno Silva.

The noise seemed to suggest that Brazil’s Silva was the heir apparent to Amanda Nunes, who Pennington (16-8) had previously lost to in her first title shot. That noise didn’t have much of an impact on Pennington in the end, but a Fight Week illness threw a wrench in the works ahead of the biggest opportunity of her career.

“I’ve been the underdog my entire career. So it’s not anything that truly effects me. I don’t really pay attention to it, everybody’s going to have their own opinion,” Pennington told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “As an athlete that’s been in this sport a long time, I just feel like there’s more— I had more skill, I had more experience. She hadn’t had the opportunity in the top 10 yet, so there was a lot going into it. Obviously during Fight Week I had to keep reliving everything that’s being said and whatnot, but I don’t care about those things at all.”

“I just went out there and did me, but that was a fun Fight Week,” added “Rocky,” now a few months removed from ascending to the women’s bantamweight throne. “On top of all the noise being said, I ended up sick during Fight Week. So it was another mountain that had to be climbed.”

Despite the five round fight seemingly favoring her thanks to the experience gap with Silva, Pennington later admitted to being concerned about her lung power. Ultimately, she went five full rounds, winning a unanimous decision that was pretty much one-sided, though the bout was criticized somewhat heavily for it’s lack of action— something that illness might help put into context.

“With this fight, I was nervous, because like I said I got sick during Fight Week, I’ve never felt like that going into a fight. My team, we had to get my sports psychologist and everything, and kind of really just gather me. It was like ‘alright, you need to understand that this opportunity probably won’t come around again.’ So I had to really dig deep in that one. And that’s the only time for me that I was actually concerned that I was going to be able to breathe for five rounds.”

While names like Kayla Harrison, arriving in the UFC next month, and Amanda Nunes, should she return from retirement, are on the horizon, Pennington has a ready-made rivalry with Julianna Pena that is likely up next. It’s a fight that makes a lot of sense to “Rocky” because of the pair’s shared history on The Ultimate Fighter 18 over a decade ago.

“I think there’s just a storyline behind it, so it will make for a good fight. Just being on the Ultimate Fighter together,” stated Pennington. “It’s not necessarily personal for me, Julianna’s just a person on this planet that gets under my skin.” That stems from living together on TUF, where Pena was being bulled – which actually elicited sympathy from Pennington, who in turn tried to befriend her roommate on the show. “I honestly felt bad for her, so it was just ‘alight, we’re roommates, we’re actually teammates,’ so I tried to befriend her and just be a person to her. And I learned her personality pretty quick.”

“Sometimes you just have those people on this planet that your personalities don’t go together. You stay to your side, I’ll stay to mine type of thing,” Pennington said of the situation. “But just throughout the years, that’s a fight that I’ve always wanted to happen. I figured it would have happened a lot sooner, it hasn’t. And then now of course you have her out there making all this noise and creating all this raucous and saying things. Of course it’s a fight that I’m definitely looking forward to.”

Watch our full interview with UFC women’s bantamweight champ Raquel Pennington above!