Immediately afterwards, UFC president Dana White referred to a potential super fight between Justino and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes as “the fight to make.”
That was a comment which greatly surprised Raquel Pennington. After all, the UFC had already offered Pennington (9-5) a title fight against Nunes in May — and she’d already accepted.
“Before all of that occurred, we were negotiating my contract and getting everything locked down,” Pennington told ESPN. “I was supposed to get my contract before Cyborg even fought [at UFC 222]. That didn’t happen, so everything that was said, obviously it was very frustrating.
“I wouldn’t be the only athlete to ever see it happen, where the UFC maybe changes fights or something, but I think common sense prevailed. This is a fight I deserve. I’ve earned my spot.”
Ultimately, the UFC honored its agreement with Pennington. The Colorado native will challenge Nunes (15-4) at UFC 224 on May 12 in Rio de Janeiro.
Pennington admits she wasn’t pleased with White’s comments at first. And had Justino been willing to turn around from her last fight and face Nunes in May, Pennington believes the UFC may have cast her aside — but such was not the case.
There is speculation, should Nunes defeat Pennington in Brazil, that the UFC is already planning its champion versus champion super fight — but again, such will not be the case in Pennington’s mind.
For her, the fight that should be happening, is happening.
“Whether the fight is happening or not because Cyborg didn’t want to fight in May, it’s all bulls— to me,” Pennington said.
“The fight that makes sense is in the 135-pound division — putting two bantamweights against each other, not a bantamweight and a featherweight. A super fight can happen later. Let’s see what happens with me and Amanda. And who knows? I have no fear or Cyborg. I would move up and fight Cyborg, too.”
Fighting out of Colorado Springs, Pennington hasn’t fought since a decision over former champion Miesha Tate in November 2016. She accepted a title shot against Nunes in December, but was injured in an ATV accident.
At that time, physicians provided a timeframe of May to rebook the fight. That didn’t stop the UFC from looking into a date in March, but Pennington said she immediately turned that down.
She did not jump at the idea of fighting Nunes in Brazil — mostly due to a higher tax on her fight purse and difficult travel for family and friends — but knew the UFC would likely move forward with their other option if she did not face Nunes in May.
It has not been the smoothest circumstances for her first UFC title fight, but after dealing with injury and a long layoff, Pennington is immune to such things.
“I haven’t been under the spotlight for a long time, but I haven’t been completely off,” Pennington said. “The fact I work [UFC strawweight and partner] Tecia Torres‘ corner, and she is my lover and partner, I was still going through everything. Her last fight, I was basically her main partner in that fight camp.
“I think Amanda is an awesome opponent. There’s nothing to underestimate. She obviously has good standup and is pretty fast on the ground. I think I match up really well with her. I will do everything in my power to win the standup. And people categorize me as a ‘sprawler,’ but nobody has seen my ground game. I come from submissions. I love the ground game.”