Raquel Pennington wants to settle score with Julianna Peña: ‘I’ve been waiting for that fight for 13 years’

Raquel Pennington was fighting more than just Mayra Bueno Silva on Saturday.

Pennington faced Bueno Silva in the co-main event of UFC 297, winning a hard-fought unanimous decision to claim the vacant women’s bantamweight title. The performance was not beyond reproach, though, as Pennington chose to engage in protracted clinch battles with Bueno Silva, earning boos from the fans in attendance and admonishment from both UFC CEO Dana White and her corner.

But while Pennington acknowledged that she could have listen to her coaches more, she also revealed that she had an especially tough day of preparation for her title fight.

“Today was actually a very interesting day for me,” Pennington said in the UFC 297 post-fight press conference. “People want to learn the story behind things, so this is one of them. I woke up this morning, and to be in this position, this is something people dream of. This is what I’ve dreamed of, again, for the last five years. This is something I’ve worked hard for … and I woke up this morning and literally questioned everything. If you can’t hear it in my voice, I woke up so sick.

“I had to spend a lot of the morning talking with my coaches, my sports psychologist, Tiesha. I had to dig deep and pull out and really find the champion mindset, because as a person, I did break this morning. … I sat here and did a session with my sports psychologist and slowly started gathering myself and they brought my little girl around and I saw how beautiful she looked and I was like, ‘I’m not quitting. I’m going out there and I’m doing this. It doesn’t matter how I feel.’”

Despite the illness, still put together one of her best performances in recent years, winning four of five rounds on all three judges’ scorecards and even scoring a 10-8 in one of them.

Now, over a decade after making her UFC debut after taking part in season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, Pennington is finally a champion. And for her first defense, she’s hoping she can finally settle her longstanding feud with fellow Ultimate Fighter cast mate, Julianna Peña.

“That’s the fight that makes sense,” Pennington said. “I honestly thought that, for the world title, it would be me and Julianna, but she’s still injured. That relationship goes back to 2013 when we were both on The Ultimate Fighter. Let’s just say I learned Julianna’s personality then. It’s kind of one of those ones where you’re your own person, and you stay your way, I’ll stay mine, but you get under my skin. I’ve been waiting for that fight for 13 years, whether the title is on the line or not.”

Peña is a former bantamweight champion herself and was originally targeted for the vacant title fight. However, “The Venezuelan Vixen” was unable to compete due to injury. Peña hopes to return to action this summer, and Pennington seems open to that timeline. And once that old score is settled, it’s on to the next, for however long the 35-year-old “Rocky” has left in her.

“I do want to stay active,” Pennington said. “I’m getting older and stuff, too. We have out family now. We want to continue to build on that. It’s just kind of finding balance between everything. I would like to defend the title a couple of times, and then that’s a wrap for me.”

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