The Ultimate Fighter 18 winner, Julianna Pena, headlines her first UFC when she squares off with Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on FOX 23 on Jan. 28, 2017, in Denver, but she’s not happy about it.
Pena (8-2) hasn’t lost since she entered the Octagon, including three bouts on the reality series, and four after it, including the TUF 18 Finale. Her only setbacks have been outside of the cage, sitting out all of 2014 due to a severe knee injury and having been arrested in late 2015 due to alleged assault.
With her record inside the Octagon being spotless, and coming off of an impressive victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 200, Pena believes she shouldn’t merely be fighting in a main event, she should be fighting for a championship.
“I’m not happy about this fight and it has absolutely nothing to do with Valentina and everything to do with me acquiring more of a resume than any female in the 135-pound division. I have beaten everybody that they’ve put in front of me,” said Pena on a recent episode of ESPN’s 5ive Rounds podcast. “I still have yet to wrap my brain around the fact that I have beaten everybody and still can’t sniff a title shot.”
UFC president Dana White has long said that when Ronda Rousey was ready to return, she would be granted an immediate title shot. True to his word, when Rousey said she was ready, the UFC matched her with current champion Amanda Nunes. The two headline the promotion’s final event of 2016, which is UFC 207 on Friday, Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.
Pena believes that she deserves the shot at the belt more than anyone else, but the UFC upped the ante to placate her and entice her to step in the cage with Shevchenko, who currently sits at No. 2 in the UFC women’s bantamweight rankings. Pena is currently ranked No. 3.
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“In this case, I was offered a main event spot with a little bit of a more sweetened deal and that made me realize that this is the fight that I need to take now. Once I get past this one, I can set my sights on the title shot, which is what I’ve been gunning for this whole entire time.”
If she defeats Shevchenko, and if she doesn’t then get a title shot, there will be hell to pay. If the situation plays out that way, Pena said she will not return to the Octagon.
“I think Dana knows that I’m a firecracker, and I definitely don’t think that he wants see the wrath that will come if I don’t get a title shot after this. I would be shocked. I won’t say that it couldn’t happen because anything can happen, especially in this sport, but I think that he definitely knows that I’m the clear-cut answer for getting a title shot. So I don’t want to even put that in the universe. If I don’t get a title shot, I quit.”
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