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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 Nolan Walker/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: Women's Bantamweight Division | January 2024

Raquel Pennington Saw A Lifetime Of Work Culminate In A UFC Title, And She Already Has The Opponent For Her First Title Defense In Her Sights

Raquel Pennington stepped up to claim the crown Amanda Nunes vacated when she left the sport in June 2023 and finally achieved her dream of obtaining the UFC title. It was the typical gritty, steady performance from “Rocky” as she outlasted Mayra Bueno Silva over the course of five rounds. 

Pennington can now turn her attention to a former champion who is keen on reclaiming the crown, and the weight class’s post-Nunes life is finally starting to take shape. This is where we stand in the women’s bantamweight division:

Champion: Raquel Pennington

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Mayra Bueno Silva (1/20/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Raquel Pennington reacts after her victory against 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)
Raquel Pennington reacts after her victory against 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)

Outlook: No woman has stepped into the Octagon nor spent more time there than Pennington, and she saw the fruits of her labor turn to gold in Toronto. The path forward is relatively clear for the newly minted champion. She expected to fight Julianna Peña for the vacant title, and she will likely have that long awaited fight come to fruition for her first title defense. There is history between the two dating back to The Ultimate Fighter, so the tension is already built for this grudge match.

1) Julianna Peña

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Amanda Nunes (7/30/2022)

Next fight: N/A

Julianna Peña: Letter To My Younger Self | International Women's Day
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Julianna Peña: Letter To My Younger Self | International Women's Day
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Outlook: Peña hasn’t stepped into the Octagon for a year-and-a-half, but she remains a consistent presence in the title picture. Many expected her to fight for the vacant belt, but for one reason or another, it did not come to pass. Still, the former bantamweight champion and owner of one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history expects to get her second chance at recapturing the title sooner than later. While her win over Nunes came more than two years ago, few deny the fact that she is the most deserving contender at present due to her pedigree.

2) Mayra Bueno Silva

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Raquel Pennington (1/20/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Mayra Bueno Silva of Brazil works for a submission against Raquel Pennington 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)
Mayra Bueno Silva of Brazil works for a submission against Raquel Pennington 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)

Outlook: Bueno Silva came into UFC 297 fight week with the confidence that she was the one to start a new age in the women’s bantamweight division, but her cardio let her down as she could not find the finish she searched for against the ultra-durable Pennington. Still, the 32-year-old shouldn’t find herself too far away from a second chance at the belt if she can string a couple major wins together. Always keen to finish the fight early, Bueno Silva has a lot of options for her next fight. She has not fought anyone currently ranked in the Top 15 other than Pennington and Holm, so she could quickly get herself into a favorable position.

3) Ketlen Vieira

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Pannie Kianzad (7/22/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Ketlen Vieira of Brazil punches Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Ketlen Vieira of Brazil punches Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Vieira has long hung around the periphery of the title picture but hasn’t been able to string together the right wins at the right time to get the shot at gold. After dropping a split decision to Pennington, she bounced back well with a unanimous decision over Pannie Kianzad, but she likely needs to string a couple more wins together before getting her championship opportunity. She had a fight booked with Macy Chiasson that did not ultimately come together, and while Chiasson is outside of the Top 5, she would be a quality name to add to Vieira’s resume seeing as she has fought everyone in the Top 5 other than Peña, who figures to fight for the title next.

4) Irene Aldana

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Karol Rosa (12/16/2023)

Next fight: N/A

 Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Other than a couple underwhelming performances against Amanda Nunes in her first title shot and Holly Holm in her first main event, Irene Aldana has been an all-action type of fighter for the last few years. No fight showed that better than her unanimous decision win over Karol Rosa at UFC 296, which earned Fight of the Year plaudits as the 2023 calendar came to a close. Aldana holds a big knockout win over Vieira but lost a split decision to Pennington back in 2019. She might need to secure another major victory before getting another shot at the bantamweight title, and a fight against Bueno Silva could make sense for both parties.  

5) Holly Holm 

Last Fight: No Contest vs Mayra Bueno Silva (7/15/2023)

Next fight: vs Kayla Harrison (4/13/2024)

Holly Holm celebrates after her victory over Yana Santos of Russia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center on March 25, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Holly Holm celebrates after her victory over Yana Santos of Russia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center on March 25, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: The ever-present Holly Holm hasn’t been able to find that consistent form to get back to a title fight, but the 42-year-old former champion now has the chance to show everyone she has plenty left in the tank while welcoming a potential star to the UFC in Kayla Harrison. The fight will certainly have lots of eyes on it intrigued to see Harrison in the Octagon for the first time, but that’s exactly the kind of opportunity Holm can seize to launch herself back into the title conversation.

In the Mix: Kayla Harrison, Pannie Kianzad, Macy Chiasson

Outlook: Kianzad and Chiasson are two fighters who’ve had various chances to crack the Top 5 but haven’t quite been able to make the most of those opportunities at present. For now, they’ll have to rack up wins on the outside looking in against veterans and up-and-coming prospects hoping to leapfrog them.

The big factor in the division’s championship picture is Harrison, whose fight against Holm was freshly announced earlier this week. The UFC 300 bout will serve as her debut in the promotion, as well as in the bantamweight division, which is an ultra-intriguing aspect to the fight. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo is as accomplished as any mixed martial artist to enter the division in recent memory, and she could earn a fast-track path to the title if she puts Holm away in impressive fashion.