Q&A: Raquel Pennington on shoulder surgery, sparring with Ronda Rousey

UFC bantamweight Raquel Pennington will miss the first half of 2017 due to a nagging shoulder injury.

Pennington (9-5), who fights out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, underwent surgery on Wednesday. Her expected recovery time is six to nine months.

The 28-year-old is coming off a career year. She went a perfect 3-0 in 2016 and picked up a signature win by retiring former champion Miesha Tate at UFC 205 in New York. She has now won four in a row and is ESPN.com's No. 5-ranked bantamweight in the world.

Pennington felt pain in her right shoulder ahead of the fight against Tate. She aggravated it further during the bout, but hoped to avoid surgery.

Last month, she flew to California to be a sparring partner for Ronda Rousey ahead of the former champion's comeback bout against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. After the injury flared up again during Rousey's camp, Pennington knew she had to address it.

As she prepares to recover from surgery, Pennington spoke to ESPN.com about the injury, her recent victory against Tate and more.

What was the exact injury? And was surgery a success?

Yeah, everything went well. They thought it was a torn labrum, but when the doctor went inside it ended up being a torn bicep. They had to cut the bicep and anchor it to my bone. They also cleaned up my rotator cuff and labrum while they were in there. The recovery and everything is the same, with it being a torn bicep. It's just going to take some time to heal. They've told me six to nine months. In six months, I should be back on the mats, full blown.

Do you know if the injury occurred before the fight against Tate, during it or while you were sparring with Rousey?

I had kind of been feeling things with my shoulder for a while. I have a hard punch with my right hand and toward the end of that fight camp, I didn't even want to throw my right hand. In the fight, I can't even tell you. You have so much adrenaline going on. Maybe I injured it when I picked her up? I just know I felt it a lot after the fight. I rested it a couple weeks and then went out to train with Ronda. After putting in the work with Ronda, I knew I couldn't take it anymore.

There's never a good time to be injured, but is this especially frustrating given the momentum you've built?

It's frustrating, but I've been an athlete my entire life and I think I've done well avoiding surgeries. I've had injuries but have done a lot of preventative care and bounced back from them. At some point, this was probably bound to happen. I fought in April, August and November last year, so it was time for me to take time off and take care of my body. The UFC is aware of my injury and told me to recover and that my spot would be waiting for me when I got back.

Based on your four-fight win streak, what "spot" do you believe you'll be returning to? How high are you in this division?

I think I'm at the top, obviously. I think I've proven myself and will continue to prove myself. I still haven't gotten the credit I completely deserve, but the UFC sees great things within me.

Did you feel like you got credit for your win over Tate?

I feel like she did well announcing her retirement and kind of taking over the fact that I beat her. I mean -- I don't know. I think she knows when to speak. It was a huge win on a huge fight card and I beat her in a pretty flawless performance. But she knows she has credibility and the fact she retired, a lot of people focused more on her retirement than the fact I got my hand raised. But that's OK. I've been the dark horse of women's MMA for so long.

How did an agreement to be Rousey's sparring partner for her last camp come together?

I actually talked to Ronda the night of the weigh-ins in New York [before UFC 205]. I bumped into Ronda and she asked if she could contact me and bring me out for some work. I've been out to Los Angeles to see her and [teammate] Shayna Baszler before. A lot of us are friends outside the Octagon. I'm always up for challenges. Everybody brings something new to the table. It was definitely a solid experience.

Is there any insight you can give on how sparring went or what you saw in Rousey before her loss to Nunes at UFC 207?

I can't really talk about how sparring went or what we did. Ronda asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I did. All I can say is the fact I was able to put in work with her and that it was solid work. I can't say too much more than that.

Are you able to say whether or not you think she fights again?

I would hope so. I would hope she wouldn't finish her career like that. Obviously, I'd say that about anybody. Any athlete, you wouldn't want to see them go out like that. It'd be good to see her pick her head up and get in there and get another fight in.