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UFC 297: Raquel Pennington outlasts Mayra Bueno Silva to win vacant bantamweight belt

TORONTO, ONTARIO - JANUARY 20: (L-R) Raquel Pennington punches Mayra Bueno Silva of Brazil in a UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 297 event at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Raquel Pennington was in full control by the third round at UFC 297. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) (Jeff Bottari via Getty Images)

By the time Raquel Pennington was done at UFC 297, Mayra Bueno Silva could barely get off the mat, and that's why the American is the new women's bantamweight champion.

Pennington defeated Bueno Silva by unanimous decision in Toronto to capture the bantamweight belt vacated by Amanda Nunes at UFC 289 in June. The title is a reward for the bantamweight division's greatest stalwart, with a record 18 fights at 135 pounds.

It was a strong return to the spotlight for Pennington, who lost to Nunes as a challenger in 2018 and dropped two of her next three fights before going on a six-fight win streak. It's not like Saturday was the most watchable title fight, though.

"I expected to come out here and do a lot more, feel a lot different, but a fight's a fight. Mayra was tough," Pennington said during the broadcast. "It's been a long five years. I had to climb mountains to get back here."

Bueno Silva began the fight as the aggressor, taking Pennington's back for multiple minutes in a high-energy Round 1. The direction of the fight was reversed in the second round, when Pennington stunned Bueno Silva with a combo and stayed in control in a close frame.

The fatigue really started setting in for Bueno Silva in the third round and got worse from there. She tried to burn off time on her back, but that didn't help her on the cards. Pennington had a chance to finish the fight in the fifth with an arm triangle and it appeared Bueno Silva was about to tap until she managed to find just enough room to escape.

The fight ended, again, with Bueno Silva on her back and getting loudly booed by the Scotiabank Arena crowd. All three judges scored the final four rounds for Pennington.

"It got to the point where it wasn't pretty and they said, 'I don't even care if you get booed out here. Work your butt off and get this done,' and that's exactly what I did," Pennington said. "It's not as easy as everyone might think."

Next up for Pennington is almost certainly Julianna Peña, who beat Nunes for the belt then lost the rematch. Peña, who was in attendance Saturday, missed out on a chance for a trilogy with Nunes due to the latter's retirement and now will have to face a fellow UFC veteran to reclaim the belt.

Pennington sounded ready for the clash.

"Julianna get your ass better and sign on the dotted line. It's been 10 years that I've been waiting for that fight," Pennington said.