Raquel Pennington got the last laugh at UFC 297.
UFC’s first pay-per-view (PPV) of 2024 was a big one for the Middleweight and women’s Bantamweight divisions as the titles were on the line. The build up to the event focused primarily on the main event between now-former champion, Sean Strickland, and Dricus Du Plessis. South Africa’s finest won a split decision (watch highlights) after Pennington’s vacant title tilt opposite Mayra Bueno Silva directly preceded the action and fell under fire before, and after, it concluded.
As per usual with Strickland, his fight week media day made headlines when he went off on the LGBTQ community, women, and various other topics. Strickland expressed his anti-gay beliefs and how women fighters aren’t good, which made for an awkward environment considering the co-main event was between two gay women. Ultimately, Pennington, 35, didn’t make it a concern ahead of one of the biggest fights of her 24-fight career (16-8).
“At the end of the day, people are going to talk,” Pennington said on The MMA Hour. “They’re always going to have their own opinions. You’re allowed to have your own opinion, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to affect my life. What you do with your life doesn’t affect me. I just think it was disgusting on his part to even be concerned about us as human beings and our lifestyle, and just the comments he was making.
“At the end of the day, MMA has grown a ton,” she continued. “The women are here. We’re here to stay. The divisions are growing. You have tons of up-and-coming talent, so to criticize female athletes, I don’t agree with any of that. But I can’t control that, and that wasn’t my focus. My focus was to go out there and accomplish my goal.”
Pennington did just that when she defeated Bueno Silva via unanimous decision to become only the third fighter in UFC history to win gold after 10 previous years in the company. She joined the likes of Robbie Lawler and Charles Oliveira with the victory.
No interactions occurred between Pennington and Strickland during fight week, said the Bantamweight champion. UFC CEO, Dana White, did want to make sure everything was okay and comfortable after the drama started to increase as fight night approached.
“Dana and [UFC CBO] Hunter [Campbell] came in before the press conference, and they asked me how I was doing with everything,” Pennington said. “It was just one of those things, you take it as a grain of salt, and you dish it out. It’s not going to affect what I’m here doing. At the end of the day, you want to talk, but we’re still your co-main event fight.”