You won’t see Julianna Peña in the octagon this Saturday night in New York City. Nor will you see her on December 30 in Las Vegas.
When will we see her back in the octagon?
“I actually don't know,” says the 27-year-old Peña. “I have no idea.”
No one knows. It’s a bit of a sore subject for the current No. 5-ranked Women’s Bantamweight fighter in the UFC. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter - Season 18, Peña is undefeated, including victories over two top-10 opponents in Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano.
Being undefeated and beating the opponents that she has, in Peña’s mind, should garner her a shot at the title.
So, what’s keeping her from the shot at glory?
“I feel like I'm being overridden because of Ronda Rousey coming back in and handpicking her fight yet again,” Peña said. “I think that Ronda came in and ruined everything for me. If she would've come back six months later, I would've got the shot (at the title). And, I would've had the belt already.”
That’s confident talk from Peña, who some have called cocky, arrogant or even petty. But, this is fighting and mixed martial arts. It’s not a sport for the timid or weak. There is no time for doubt. To reach the top, you haveto have confidence in yourself.
And, Peña has a lot of it. But, that only adds to the frustration.
The return of Rousey, who immediately got a title shot against current champ Amanda Nunes next month, is part of what Peña is all too aware of. The UFC is a business, and one that recently sold for $4 billion. A Rousey return - with all of the questions and drama surrounding her - is a no-brainer from a financial and entertainment standpoint.
That doesn’t mean Peña has to like it.
“I understand that…it's all about the money and the entertainment value,” she says. “I get that. But, at the same time, my pride and my being overridden because she's come back to handpick the champ...it's just kind of B.S.”
Why isn’t she getting the opportunity at the title? Some say she hasn’t earned the right, yet. But also, the business and entertainment side play into it. Peña also wonders about one other thing: name recognition.
“I think (maybe) it's because my name is not as big as Ronda Rousey’s. She's kind of ruining everything for me. Like always.”
For now, Peña will train and continue her work with Combate Americas. Working as a commentator for the Hispanic-promotion based in Mexico, the gig is an opportunity for Peña to improve on her Spanish. “It's getting better,” she laughs.
That’s an important aspect for Peña, a connection to her heritage, that those in some UFC-circles might not understand.
“I feel like I'm in a situation where I'm Latina, I'm a girl and the first female Ultimate Fighter winner ever, in history,” Peña told me in 2015. ““I have this standout thing where I was on national television and everyone sometimes recognizes me as that figure. I feel like I could be a strong role model for the Latinas out there.”
Her mom is also Native American, with Kiowa Tribe lineage. Her mom, uncle and grandmother ventured to the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Colorado, and on into Texas to meet some of their relatives about seven years ago or so. It created an opportunity for Peña to make an even deeper connection to her roots.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
With November being Native American Heritage Month, it’s something that Peña has her sights set on digging deeper into.
Heritage is one thing, but who Peña is at present is just as diverse. For as much as she loves metal music, her tastes are various.
“My dad used to quiz (us) as a kid and pay us money to memorize songs and tell him who sang it,” laughs Peña. “I know so much old music from way back in the day – I listen to all sorts of stuff.”
Jazz, R&B, Disco, Rock - you name it, Peña probably knows it.
Ask her for predictions to this weekend’s UFC 205 and she won’t reveal much.
On McGregor-Alvarez, she says “I think it’s going to be a barn-burner.”
And on next month’s Rousey return versus Nunes?
“It's just going to be so fun to see the (way the) divisions unfold,” she says. “It's going to be a super fun time for me just to see what the heck is going on with this division, you know, because it's a mess right now.”
“If I don't play my cards in the right way or pick up on opportunities, then I'm only hurting myself,” she continued. “It's life, you know. I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm not perfect. I think that everybody has to deal with these daily life stressors and mine is just different because I'm a fighter.”
She may not have a fight on the horizon, but Peña knows that there are a lot of scenarios to play out that will affect her down the road. In the meantime, all she can do is train and wait for her next opportunity.