Juliana Peña's path to Ultimate Fighting title begins in Dallas
After she became the first female to win “The Ultimate Fighter,” (TUF) Spokane-native Julianna Pena, who trains out of SikJitsu, called out current women’s bantamweight titleholder “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey.
The same Rousey who defeated Pena’s friend and coach Miesha Tate on two occasions. The same Rousey who has subdued every single one of her opponents with the armbar.
With this historic accomplishment under Pena’s belt, surely the UFC would grant “The Venezuelan Vixen” a championship match against Rousey right off the bat. Unfortunately that is not the case as Pena will take on Jessica Andrade at UFC 171, March 7, in Dallas. Two weeks before that match, Rousey will defend her title against the undefeated Olympian Sara McMann.
But if Pena beats Andrade, the UFC would have to give her a title shot, right? No, that probably will not happen.
Although UFC fans would love to see Pena (5-2), take on the champion for the belt, they may have to sit and wait as the journey from TUF winner, going all the way back to Forrest Griffin, who won the first TUF competition, to UFC champion is a bumpy road as the competition gets tougher with each fight.
That is not to say “The Venezuelan Vixen’s” journey of winning TUF in November 2013 was easy. In the first round of the competition, she came to the brink of defeat to submit one of the most dangerous grapplers in MMA, Shayna Baszler (15-8). In the semi-final round, Pena avenged her loss against Sarah Moras (3-1), who previously beat her in 2012 at Airway Heights, to make it to the finals.
In the last match of the tournament, Rakoczy (1-4), a former professional boxer who made it to the finals of the tournament despite having only one win on her professional MMA record, in the first round by TKO.
As for Pena’s first opponent post-TUF, Andrade, a rising star from Brazil, is 10-3 in her mixed martial arts career, with nine of her victories being finishes. She is coming off an impressive win over English star Rosi Sexton.
With the exception of Baszler, Pena has not faced a fighter with the overall experience of Andrade. That does not mean she will lose. After all, the annals of combat sports is filled with stories of lesser-experienced fighters upsetting the more experienced ones. In 2013, fans witnessed Chris Weidman, 9-0 at the time; defeat Anderson Silva, No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, to win the UFC Middleweight championship.
Pena certainly has the skills to defeat her opponent, but even if she does win in Dallas, she still has one-to-three contenders in front of her as it is a rare thing for TUF winners to get title matches, even after winning their first post-TUF bout.
It took TUF 2 winner Rashad Evans six wins before he get a championship match with Griffin, who was the light heavyweight champion at the time. It took Griffin three years and five wins, with a couple of losses in between, to get to a championship match in 2008. TUF 4 winner Matt Serra earned a title match after winning the competition, but the championship bout was his reward for winning the show.
Still, after she overcomes her next set of challenges, which may include facing top contenders like Liz Carmouche, Alexis Davis and Jessica Eye, Pena could find herself up against the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, which by the time that happens may not even be Rousey.
But would it not be sweeter if Rousey was the one Pena beat to bring UFC gold back to Washington state?
Al Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.