On the cusp of her first world title shot, Raquel Pennington instead finds herself dealing with the worst setback of her fighting career.
The 29-year-old women’s bantamweight contender verbally agreed to meet divisional champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 219 on Dec. 30, but she suffered a severe leg injury in an ATV accident earlier this week and now expects to be on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
Pennington’s injury and her aborted bout with Nunes were first reported by Combate. MMA Fighting reached out to Pennington, who provided details of the frightening scene.
“It happened four days ago,” Pennington told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani on Friday. “I was on my yearly hunting trip with my uncles and cousins, we were hunting that morning and coming down from the mountain in our side-by-sides (ATVs). It was snowing and when we went to turn the side-by-side flipped. It threw me out the side the same time it was flipping and the roll cage caught my leg and pinned me. My cousin fell out the driver seat on top of me, crawled out the window, and lifted it the best he could so I could drag myself out.
“They rushed me to the hospital. Thank God for my tall hunting boots because it protected my leg from fully shattering, which if that happened I would have to get my lower leg amputated. Also, where my bone is broken is the main nerve to your foot; luckily, the feeling came back and I passed the test otherwise I would have [drop foot], never being able to control my foot again. My calf is totally smashed in. Had an MRI of my knee and lower leg, they were worried I tore everything. If I tore from behind the knee they can't fix it, but results came back and calf is just smashed bad. Should recover and in time the nerves will repair. So three to four month recovery.”
Winner of her last four fights, Pennington has not competed since taking a unanimous decision over Miesha Tate at UFC 205 last November. During a recent episode of The MMA Hour, she discussed prior injuries that prevented her from getting back into the cage earlier this year.
“I had three major surgeries after I fought Miesha,” Pennington said. “I had my shoulder completely redone, my right shoulder. And then I had to have wrist surgery and I had mouth surgery.”
“I started feeling it actually two weeks prior to the fight,” Pennington continued. “I couldn’t even lift my arm. So if you watch the fight with Miesha and you can see me throwing a million jabs it’s because mentally I could not get my right arm to fire. I was just having way too much pain. During the fight, in that moment where I picked her up, I felt something - it was like this weird flush that went through my arm and then after that I was completely done.”
As for Nunes, she now finds herself without an obvious challenger having successfully defended her title against Valentina Shevchenko this past September in her lone Octagon appearance this year. “The Lioness” won the women’s bantamweight championship from Tate at UFC 200 and she has since fended off Ronda Rousey and Shevchenko.
Nunes’s team told MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz that they don’t expect Nunes to book any other fight before the year is through, as Pennington was the only challenger that made sense to them.