It’s a good thing that the matchmakers decided to make Raquel Pennington’s title shot official, otherwise they may have had to face her wrath.
“Rocky” is booked to challenge women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 224 on May 12, a meeting that has been in talks since Pennington emerged as a top contender by outpointing Meisha Tate at UFC 205 back in Nov. 2016. However, some doubt was cast on the matchup when UFC president Dana White expressed interest in pairing up Nunes with Cris Cyborg after the latter’s most recent one-sided title defense against Dana Kunitskaya at UFC 222.
While the UFC eventually decided to go with the expected pairing of Pennington and Nunes, the fact that White even considered putting it on standby didn’t sit well with Pennington.
“I have to admit I was frustrated with it and I started making calls right away because I don’t find that very fair at all,” Pennington said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I think I’ve definitely earned this spot and I think that fight deserved to be mine. So the fact that they’re just wanting to see a superfight really pissed me off, given the fact that Cyborg’s in a completely different division and then you’re trying to take the champion from our division and create this huge superfight.
“You just want another girl with another name or two Brazilians? Like, what’s happening here? So there was a lot of frustration there, but it’s kind of one of those things that it’s not really in your control so why let it bother you so much?”
Fortunately for Pennington, as far as she knows, the plan has always been for her to compete for the title next. She and Nunes were actually in talks to fight at UFC 219 to close out 2017, but Pennington was injured in a hunting accident that left her unable to compete.
That injury to Pennington’s leg actually came on the heels of a trio of surgeries to her shoulder, wrist, and mouth, which explains why the 29-year-old logged zero minutes of Octagon action last year. She has remained at the top of the 135-pound rankings due to her win over Tate, a former UFC champion, which was the fourth straight in a run of victories that includes one-time title challenger Bethe Correia and current strawweight standout Jessica Andrade.
Pennington believes that she put in the work to secure her spot, but understands why officials would be interested in a meeting between Nunes and Cyborg.
“The part that bothers me is the fact that Cyborg’s in a completely different division,” Pennington said. “She’s at 145, she’s not in our division, and all of us who have been working hard, who have been sitting here waiting for this position or me, myself, coming back from injuries, I feel I have definitely earned my position. I’ve sat here and I’ve grinded my way to the top and done things, it hasn’t been an easy career for me. So I feel like this is something that I definitely deserved and to just all of a sudden, another fight in a completely different division, ‘Oh well, we’re going to make a superfight,’ I don’t get why all these superfights or these interim titles and all this stuff is happening.
“For me, it kind of feels like the worth is being taken away a little bit, I guess you can say, from the championship belts and stuff like that, just because so much stuff is being thrown around and sometimes it feels more of entertainment than it does for sport. But at the end of the day, whatever’s bringing money in for them and like I said, there are some things that are out of your control and you’ve gotta just kind of go with the flow of it.”
Asked if she’d be open to fighting Cyborg herself, Pennington didn’t dismiss the suggestion, but her focus appears to be solely on capturing the women’s bantamweight title. If anything, she’d rather the UFC make an attempt to build a women’s featherweight division instead of continually plucking from the 135-pound roster.
“Everybody brings a different challenge to you and Cyborg, yeah, she’s built a reputation for herself. She’s known as the most dangerous woman on the planet,” Pennington said. “She hasn’t lost since 2005 and she’s going out there and she’s destroying girls and she has this 145-pound division and I don’t like to take credit away from anybody or anything, I feel like everybody deserves their position, but for me right now I honestly don’t feel like the 145-pound division makes a whole lot of sense because they’re not bringing in any athletes.
“So it’s like they’re pulling people out of the 135 division and whatnot, but speaking for myself, Cyborg, she’s just another female. Yeah, she’s a little bit heavier, I walk heavier normally, so it wouldn’t be something that I’m gonna say that I’d push to the side, I’m more than definitely willing to go out and fight her one day.”