After over a year off from competing, Raquel Pennington is finally ready to make her return on Saturday during UFC Vegas 37, a card that will be headlined by Light Heavyweights Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pennington as she prepares to battle Pannie Kianzad and here were her responses.
Raquel Pennington (11-9 overall, 8-5 in the UFC) makes her return on Saturday. Pennington, a former title challenger, is looking to get back on track after a 15-month layoff. Pennington had been the number four ranked Bantamweight, prior to testing positive for a banned substance last year. After losing a unanimous decision for the belt to Amanda Nunes in 2018, Pennington has gone 2-2 in her last four fights and is looking to get back into contention with a win on Saturday.
Unlike Pennington, who can be described as a proven veteran, Pannie Kianzad (16-5 overall, 2-4 in the UFC) is a rising prospect in search of her signature win in the UFC. After losing in the TUF 28 finale to Macy Chiasson, Kianzad returned to UFC and lost to Julia Avila in July of 2019. However, she has stayed extremely active, winning four straight fights since then, which places her as the 12th ranked Bantamweight heading into Saturday. A boxer, Kianzad will likely look to keep this fight standing against Pennington.
Danny Podolsky: First and foremost, how did this fight with Pannie Kianzad come together and how has your training been going?
Raquel Pennington: Training has definitely been solid. It’s been a fun camp and also a long camp, but probably one of the better camps that I have ever had. In terms of this fight, I had a long layoff and I’ve been out for over a year. Pannie [Kianzad] has been calling me out for over a year so it made sense for me.
Danny Podolsky: Have you gotten to watch any of her previous fights, and stylistically, how do you think you guys match up?
Raquel Pennington: Definitely. I always do research on my opponents and my coaches do as well. We break our opponents down, we break me down, and just build up from there. Stylistically, I think it’s going to create a fun matchup. She’s a boxer, she likes to strike, and obviously, I love to strike. I’m also a well-rounded fighter so it doesn’t really matter where this fight goes.
Danny Podolsky: What happened that caused USADA to give you your six-month suspension? Were you aware of illegal substances that you had been taking?
Raquel Pennington: I had been struggling with a thyroid issue for around four years now. Doctors have been following it, I have been on medication and some stuff hasn’t been working. I missed weight for the first time ever in 2018 when I fought Germaine [De Randemie] because my body was just shutting down on me. I saw a hormone specialist since my previous fight last June and was just trying to get my thyroid under control. I’m super estrogen-dominant and produce zero testosterone so with the thyroid they were worried about cancer. Then they started to get concerned about me being estrogen-dominant as far as Breast Cancer so they wanted to put me on a small dose of testosterone just so my body would recognize that that is what it’s supposed to produce. I ended up taking a supplement 7-Keto-DHEA which for some reason is on the banned substances list. Really, it’s a fat burner so I’m going to sweat a bit more, but it’s not going to have any impact on my performance. But, the other effect is that it helps increase the activity of the thyroid so I actually called UFC for an exemption form. Instead of being able to get exempted for the medication, they said that I needed to turn myself in, so I had to self-submit and they came out and tested me and found that a small dose showed up in my system. Four or five days later they re-tested me and it was already cleared from my system so they considered it a retroactive suspension of six months. So basically, I have had to find new ways to get my thyroid under control.
Danny Podolsky: Can you appeal the suspension to USADA and explain to them why you are taking the supplement for your thyroid and not as a steroid?
Raquel Pennington: Yeah, it was a frustrating situation overall. They already knew why I was taking it and they talked to the doctors and had seen all my blood work. It wasn’t something that was hidden, but it’s one of those situations that was extremely frustrating. It is what it is; I had some time off and other positive things came out of it so it’s alright.
Danny Podolsky: Has not being able to take that supplement affected you in camp and has that changed anything with making weight, if that had helped you before?
Raquel Pennington: It hasn’t affected me at all; I started with a new nutritionist and started doing a different style of training. I did some bloodwork and I’m really focused on what my body is doing and how we can balance it with food while keeping my energy levels up and keeping my hair from falling out and different stuff like that. I’m probably in the best shape that I’ve been in mentally, physically, and emotionally in a very long time.
Danny Podolsky: During your suspension, you got dropped from the rankings and now you’re facing the number 12 ranked fighter. Is that frustrating at all for you, especially since you are coming off of a win?
Raquel Pennington: It’s absolutely frustrating. There can be fighters who are injured and miss two years, but they stay in the rankings. I got suspended for six months and they pulled me out. The rankings are what they are, but at the end of the day, I was ranked fourth before I was taken out and I busted my ass to get to where I am. I don’t care if you’re number one, I don’t care if you’re the champion, or if you’re number 50 on the list. If you’re in the UFC, it’s for a reason and everybody brings a different challenge to the table and I love challenges so where [Pannie Kianzad] is ranked doesn’t matter to me a whole ton. What matters to me is if I win this fight, are they going to give me back the spot that I worked hard for or are they going to screw me over?
Danny Podolsky: If you beat Pannie Kianzad, do you think you should get your spot in the top 5 back?
Raquel Pennington: Absolutely, I feel like I deserve my spot back, but we’ll see what happens and it is what it is.
Danny Podolsky: Looking at the division, Amanda Nunes has beaten most of the top contenders, so if you get another win, where do you think that leaves you in the title picture?
Raquel Pennington: That’s obviously my ultimate goal is keep climbing back up and be able to get into the title picture. I obviously want to fight for the world title again, but I have to climb so anybody within the top five is what I’m aiming for.
Danny Podolsky: When looking back on your career, you have several standout wins including Jessica Andrade, Miesha Tate, and Irene Aldana. Is there one of those names that stand out to you the most?
Raquel Pennington: I think each win has its different perks to it. I think for me, I would probably say the Miesha Tate fight just because of everything that went behind that fight. She was one of the first women that I had ever seen fight and when I was on the ultimate fighter, she was my coach. Then, we became friends and she asked me to help her train for her fight against Ronda [Rousey] so we became teammates. Then, we ended up fighting at UFC 205, the first time that we were allowed to fight in New York City. It was history in the making overall and just a cool experience.
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images