UFC bantamweight challenger #JuliannaPena has a chip on her shoulder.
Undefeated inside the Octagon since debuting with the UFC as a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter, Pena, who went on to win the eighteenth season of the show, is set to headline her first fight card this Saturday, January 28, taking on #ValentinaShevchenko in Denver. And, with a fifth-consecutive UFC win hanging in the balance, Pena is adamant that a victory over Shevchenko should propel her to a shot at the bantamweight title.
“It’s the only way I see it going,” comments Pena, regarding a chance to fight for the championship. “[The UFC] told me that Ronda [Rousey] was coming back, so then I asked for Valentina because she was ranked ahead of me and I got the fight that I wanted … get past this one and then get the title shot.”
Following her most recent victory, a unanimous decision over former contender Cat Zingano at UFC 200, Pena was already clamoring for a chance to fight for the belt last July. Three exhibition wins on the reality TV tentpole, along with four victories inside the Octagon, legitimized her case for a title shot, but then Ronda Rousey announced her return.
The UFC granted the longtime titleholder an immediate crack at champion #AmandaNunes. Pena was none too pleased with the decision.
“[Ronda] took my title shot. She took my opportunity to be fighting for the belt, so it’s just all around annoying,” states Pena. “She should’ve wanted to fight me when I ran through her team on The Ultimate Fighter. I racked up four wins, she took a year off, she should have ... got in line since I felt like I was the rightful contender to fight for the belt after Miesha [Tate] lost. But instead of getting a tuneup fight with me, she took one against Nunes, and now she’s on her way out again. She laid an egg.”
With Rousey’s future status still unknown, Pena is focused on Shevchenko, a dangerous opponent and Muay Thai world champion who, most recently, defeated former champion Holly Holm. Relocating her training camp from Spokane, Washington to Chicago, Illinois to be closer to her jiu jitsu coach Luiz Claudio and striking coach Wayne Gregory, Pena has spent the last three weeks in Denver to acclimate to the altitude of the Rocky Mountains.
Sik-Jitsu head coach Rick Little has also joined Pena in Denver for final preparations. And while the focus of this fight camp has been on finishing Shevchenko and increasing the training regimen to account for her first five-round fight, Pena admits that the grudge with Rousey is very real, dating back to their weeks together on TUF.
“Ronda bullied me on The Ultimate Fighter. She was very rude. It turned into me being a big fan of hers to absolutely despising the woman just based on the way that she treated me. She bullied me around the house,” offers Pena. “I hope she does come back and that I do get a chance to fight her one day.”