MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the co-main event for UFC 297.
UFC 297 (pay-per-view, ESPN, ESPN+) takes place Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Raquel Pennington (15-8 MMA, 12-5 UFC)
Height: 5’7″ Age: 35 Weight: 135 lbs. Reach: 67.5″
Last fight: Decision win over Ketlen Vieira (Jan. 14, 2023)
Camp: Altitude Team (Denver, Co.)
Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
Risk management: Good
+ “The Ultimate Fighter: Season 18” alum
+ Regional MMA title
+ Ammateur MMA accolades
+ 1 KO victory
+ 4 submission wins
+ 2 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Puts together punches well
^ Often punctuates exchanges
+ Accurate jab
+ Stays busy inside of the clinch
^ Improved defensive fundamentals
+ Underrated grappling game
Mayra Bueno Silva (10-2 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC)
Point of interest: Kicks and counters
The co-main event in Toronto features a bantamweight title fight between two women who are familiar with kicks and their associated counters.
Initially hailing from the Chute Boxe team in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Mayra Bueno Silva stepped onto the UFC scene with a fully-fledged muay Thai game in tow.
Traditionally plodding through space behind a high guard, Silva seems to have a natural aptitude for the art of eight limbs.
From distance, Silva does well at working her ranges by consistently targeting the legs and body of her opposition. And when opponents try to push back into her with offense, Silva is not shy about throwing crashing counters to meet them in the pocket.
When feeling in stride, Silva will pull out spinning elbows and sidekicks with some surprising accuracy, but the Brazilian arguably does her best work in the clinch. Aside from hard elbows to the face, Silva compliments her bodywork at range by landing brutal body knees any time she has the space or control of a collar tie.
That said, Silva will have a competent clinch striker across from her this Saturday in Raquel Pennington.
Despite her submission victories, many associate Pennington with her striking abilities after her performance against Jessamyn Duke on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
A smart but scrappy fighter by nature, Pennington will come forward without hesitation, leaning on her feints, footwork and the occasional Superman punch to enter space. Though her teep kicks can often initiate exchanges, it is Pennington’s jab that often pays her bills on the feet.
Varying her timing and tempo, Pennington will utilize her jab in multiple ways.
Whether Pennington is using her jab to set up combinations or applying it in a checking fashion as she exits exchanges, the 35-year-old challenger maintains a solid sense of herself when operating inside the pocket. From counter right hands to her patent uppercut-hook returns, Pennington also does a decent job of punctuating exchanges.
Whenever inside of clinch space, Pennington demonstrates improved defensive fundamentals that help fuel her sensibilities to stay busy with dirty boxing in close. That said, I am not sure how long she will want to stay in that space given the submission prowess of Silva.
Point of interest: Protect your neck
Considering how well-rounded each fighter is, no one should be shocked if these two end up tangling on the floor.
Despite being tied with Ronda Rousey for armbars scored in the UFC, Silva has shown that she’s not beyond being bested in the wrestling department.
To Silva’s credit, she has shown marked improvement in her wrestling skills since moving shop to American Top Team in South Florida. That said, I can’t help but wonder how the former flyweight will stack up to the size and strength of Pennington.
Although Pennington primarily applies her grappling in clinch phases, the Colorado native has quietly improved her wrestling in the later stages of her career – both defensively and offensively.
Pennington may not be the superior grappler on paper, but she’s far from a fish out of water when it comes to ground fighting.
Aside from her durability and composure, Pennington is a solid transitional grappler who seems to be both competent and comfortable in many positions. She can stay active off her back while protecting herself and can float positions nicely when on top.
Pennington is also good about taking the back in transit, but I’m not so sure how much she’ll be looking to grapple with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt like Silva – at least early in the rounds.
A fighter on the verge of breaking submission records in women’s MMA, Silva has shown the fearless opportunism that’s seen in so many fan favorites. From crafty armbars to submission chains that lead to position-altering leg locks, Silva has proven to be a dangerous customer on the mat.
Now training under the famed Marcos da Matta (“Parrumpinha”), Silva displayed much more methodical jiu-jitsu in her last couple of outings. Regardless of what positions Silva ends up in, I’ll be curious to see if her trends of improvement continue to show themselves in closed quarters.