After becoming UFC champion, what’s next for Raquel Pennington?

MMA: UFC 297 - Pennington vs Silva
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This past Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC 297, a new women’s bantamweight champion was crowned. With Amanda Nunes retiring last year, Raquel Pennington (16-8) and Mayra Bueno Silva (10-3-1, 1 NC) battled it out for the vacant bantamweight championship.

Going into the fight, nobody expected this fight to be incredibly exciting. Pennington is a grinder and loves to fight in the clinch. Bueno Silva loves to fight in the clinch as well and she excels when she’s grappling. She’s a submission artist and you just had the recipe for a fight that wouldn’t be that exciting.

Well, the fans didn’t get an exciting fight on Saturday night. They got exactly what we were expecting. A fight that featured a ton of clinch work and a lot of ground fighting. Raquel Pennington did some great work with her boxing when they were at range, but against the advice of her corner, she continued going into the clinch with Bueno Silva.

Bueno Silva did have success early and sometimes throughout, but she was incredibly tired in the later rounds and Pennington just controlled the fight. It wasn’t pretty and it went to a decision. The judges got this one right and unanimously gave the UFC bantamweight championship to Raquel Pennington.

What’s next after UFC 297?

The reality is that without Amanda Nunes, there’s a lack of real star power and talent at the top of the women’s bantamweight division. It’s not really sexy in terms of the type of fights that we will get and the promotion needs to do some work in finding more legitimate contenders for that weight class.

That being said, it appears that the next title fight is pretty clear. Former champion Julianna Pena (10-5) was supposed to be in this vacant title fight whether it be against Pennington or Bueno Silva. However, after breaking her ribs last summer, Pena has yet to return. The Venezuelan Vixen is gearing up for a return and I expect her back this summer.

When she does return, she’s likely going to be the first challenge for Raquel Pennington. It’s a fight that both ladies have wanted for a long time and it seems like it’s lining up perfectly. That said, I’ll throw a wild card option out there. If for some reason Pena can’t get healthy enough to fight this summer, Valentina Shevchenko (23-4-1) is someone to watch.

The longtime flyweight champion is coming off a draw against Alexa Grasso and it’s expected that she’ll face Grasso in their trilogy next. However, Shevchenko enjoyed a ton of success at bantamweight before moving down to 125 including submitting Julianna Pena. After watching Saturday night, she might show some interest in moving up to capture a second UFC title with Amanda Nunes out of the picture.