At UFC 297, Pennington claimed the vacant women’s bantamweight belt with a unanimous decision win over Mayra Bueno Silva, finally becoming a champion after 10 years in the UFC. It’s the crowning achievement of her career, but Pennington barely had time to enjoy the belt before Peña began to take shots at her. And now Pennington is ready to finally make her pay.
“At the end of the day, it’s exactly what I told Mayra when we were getting ready to fight at the press conference: we were there and she started on, but our fists are going to do the talking,” Pennington said on The MMA Hour. “It’s the same thing. You can keep running your mouth, you can keep saying all these things. I feel like Julianna has a very delusional version of our history together, but it makes it fun. It’s building a storyline, and the more she keeps talking and yapping, she’s selling things. Good for you. But at the end of the day, our fists are going to talk and I’ll tell you what, this is a fight I’ve been waiting for since 2013 and we were on The Ultimate Fighter. Somehow our time has not aligned, but obviously it’s coming, and I’m excited to finally punch her ass in the mouth. I will say that.
Pennington and Peña have feuded ever since their time on The Ultimate Fighter 18, where both were members of Team Miesha Tate. Peña went on to win the show but despite their differences, the two have yet to meet in the cage. Now that seems likely to change later this year, but nothing is set in stone and the bantamweight division did just get a huge new addition in former PFL champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who will face Holly Holm at UFC 300. Given her stardom, if Harrison has a good debut, it’s possible she could leapfrog Peña for a title shot. But Pennington isn’t down with that.
“Anything can change. I’m not opposed to it, but at the same time, I just don’t find that fair,” Pennington said about Harrison. “You have so many athletes — and I’m speaking on behalf of everybody because I’ve been that athlete for a long time. Nothing was ever handed to me. I had to work my way to the top the very hard way, time and time again. So it really frustrates me when other athletes come in and all of a sudden they jump the line.
“There have been plenty of athletes that have been here a long time, they’re busting their ass every single day, they’re trying to grind through each and every fight and build things for themselves and work their way to that opportunity, and I feel like she doesn’t deserve to just skip the line because she has a huge name behind her.”
Of course, “deserve” has little to do with UFC title fight bookings, and ultimately, things may come down to timing. Peña is still recovering from injury and previously said she was targeting a return to action in June or July, but the new champion has other ideas.
“I don’t know why she thinks she calls the shots,” Pennington said. “I’m the champion. She’s talking June or July, but Tecia’s got some exciting news, coming back, and so it’s her focus now. That’s kind of where I’m at. I do want some time off. I want to be able to spend some time with my family, with Alayah. Tecia really held down the fort through this whole camp, and so now I just want to be Mama Bear. I want to hang out with daughter and let Tecia do her thing. So I’m thinking probably not until at least August or September, or maybe even later than that. We’ll see.”