TORONTO – UFC 297 is set to usher in a fresh era in the women’s bantamweight division as Mayra Bueno Silva and Raquel Pennington square off for the vacant championship previously held by the legendary Amanda Nunes.
After a reign of dominance that lasted for years, Nunes stepped away from the competition in June, leaving the division’s belt without an owner. Now, more than six months later, a new champion is on the horizon as Silva (10-2-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC) takes on Pennington (15-8 MMA, 12-5 UFC) in the co-main event at Scotiabank Arena.
This marks only the second time in the division’s history, and the first since March 2016 when Miesha Tate faced Holly Holm at UFC 196, that a 135-pound title fight won’t feature either Nunes or Ronda Rousey. These two iconic fighters have been the faces of the division since its inception in the UFC over a decade ago, and now, it’s Mayra Bueno Silva’s turn to step into the spotlight.
“I am the champion – I am the chosen one,” Silva declared to MMA Junkie. “This division is not great. The UFC is not talking too much about the bantamweight division. They talk about Ronda, or they talk about Amanda. They don’t talk about this division. This division used to be big in the UFC. Now I feel I can do this.”
Silva, currently ranked No. 4 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie women’s bantamweight rankings, acknowledges the tough task ahead. Her opponent, the No. 2-ranked Pennington, boasts more fights than anyone in the division’s history, including a title fight experience with a May 2018 bout against Nunes.
The Brazilian fighter has the utmost respect for her opponent. Still, at 32, Silva is confident that her skill set surpasses that of the 35-year-old Pennington, and she intends to showcase it inside the Octagon.
“She has good boxing, she has a good clinch – she’s tough,” Silva admitted. “She’s stayed in the top five for a long time. But I believe I’m better than her in everything. My jiu-jitsu is better, my boxing is better, my wrestling is better, but she’s very tough. She’s very dangerous.
“Her fights are great, but they’re not very exciting. I believe my style is different. My style is more dangerous and exciting for everybody. I promise I will give a big show.”
Silva remains laser-focused on her quest for victory at UFC 297, but it’s challenging to ignore what lies beyond. The UFC is expected to return to her native Brazil for a pay-per-view event in Rio on May 4, and Silva dreams of attempting her first title defense on that card.
“My focus now is on Saturday night,” Silva emphasized. “But of course, when I win, I want to fight in Brazil.”