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Underestimated and ‘awkward’ DeAnna Bennett will break out with title win: ‘After this fight, they’re gonna know me’

“She’s been around in the sport and people know who she is. Me? Little ol’ awkward me? Not necessarily everyone knows who I am. They’re gonna know me.”

DeAnna Bennett made a promise to her father in 2016 that she’s kept ever since.

The year was a particularly trying one for the then-undefeated 8-0 Strawweight on the rise. Bennett earned her first career title shot, facing Invicta Fighting Championship titleholder, Livia Renata Souza. Unfortunately for “Vitamin D,” she came up short via a first-round technical knockout from a body kick and punches.

Her relationship began to crumble, she lost a second fight, and even lost her father to a brain tumor. Papa Bennett’s last word to his daughter was “fight” as he could only speak word-by-word before passing. Making her Bellator debut four years later against Liz Carmouche, Bennett (13-7-1) was set back on one of the premiere stages in mixed martial arts (MMA) but continued chasing her dream. Now, she gets the opportunity to score redemption as well as her first world title at Bellator 294 this weekend (Fri., April 21, 2023) in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“I don’t want to say I underestimated her, I feel like I almost underestimated myself going into that fight,” Bennett told MMA Mania. “You think about it and yeah, I’ve been in this sport a long time. I’ve gone against really tough people. She was part of the first female fight in the UFC, she was part of the first fight in New York, she’s been in Strikeforce. She’s been around in the sport and people know who she is. Me? Little ol’ awkward me? Not necessarily everyone knows who I am. They’re gonna know me. After this fight, if they don’t know me yet, they’re gonna know me now ... which is actually a little weird to me. I’m okay with flying under the radar. Just cause ... [I’m] awkward and I don’t want the world to actually know how awkward I am.”

Encounter No. 1 with Carmouche was a competitive one for Bennett, but ultimately felt she let the status of the veteran get in her head a bit too much. Bennett recalls realizing mid-fight that she was equal to the Bellator Flyweight division’s future champion. Her capability to win showed in her performance as the fight progressed. In the end, a torn hamstring slowly spelled her downfall, suffering defeat by third-round submission (rear-naked choke).

Carmouche has defended her title once since becoming champion in April 2022. Both of those previous two wins came over the former champion, Juliana Velasquez with the latter displaying one-way traffic and arguably the former Marine’s best career performance in her 25-fight stretch.

For the streaking Bennett, a potential title win would give her four straight. Bennett feels like things are all falling into place with her confidence and motivation built off not only her last performances but Carmouche’s as well.

This rematch will mark the fourth opponent of Bennett’s that she’s fought twice. Interestingly enough, the Fremont, California native has never lost to the same person twice.

“Given the circumstances of the ending [of the first fight], I knew I was going to see her again,” Bennett said. “I’ve been saying it since that moment because I knew she was going to win the title and I knew I was going to win my fights and work my way up to get that title shot and that she was going to be the titleholder when I got there. Look, it just happened to be. I’m not right all the time but I was right about this one just because I was going to make it happen one way or another and I hoped that she was the one on the top.

“I’ve watched all of her recent fights. I physically was at her last fight,” she continued. “She came out there and she made it her mission to not let that go all five rounds. She wanted that finish from the second that she got into that cage. I honestly love the energy with that. I hope that she brings the same energy when we’re in the cage next week.”

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