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What upset? Why Julianna Peña was at all times constructed to defeat Amanda Nunes

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JULIANNA PEÑA IS one of many youngest members of a protracted line of Peña relations who’re unbothered by judgment or criticism.

Her father, Ernie, left a small agricultural village in Venezuela when he was 12 looking for higher alternatives. He finally emigrated to the U.S. via a scholarship program and attended Seattle Pacific College. Coming from so little and altering his life a lot, Ernie by no means had the luxurious of caring what individuals suppose.

“This man doesn’t care about any of that,” Peña says. “We would be searching for faculty garments and as an alternative of taking us right into a dressing room, he’d actually strip us down proper there to see if it will match. He would not care what anyone thinks. He would at all times say, ‘I do not care if the President of the US walks via that door. For those who act up, you are getting an ass whooping.’ I feel that put a chip on my shoulder within the sense of, ‘I do not care what you concentrate on me.'”

Peña’s mom, Pamela, additionally emigrated to the U.S. She was born in Mexico however grew up in southern Idaho. She was very a lot a minority of their Idaho group, which impacted how she raised her children.

“She’s at all times been headstrong, and I feel I performed an element in that,” Pamela stated about Julianna. “I might discuss to my daughters and say to them, ‘Do not allow them to inform you that you would be able to’t do something. For those who really feel like you’re proper, you at all times converse up.’ And that’s how Julianna has lived her life. That is how all of my daughters have lived their lives.”

Within the second week of December 2021, many individuals thought Julianna Peña could not beat Amanda Nunes. However Peña did not take heed to the hate. She submitted Nunes with a rear-naked choke within the second spherical of their title battle at UFC 269; and as a 6.5-to-1 betting underdog, she recorded the fourth-biggest upset in UFC title battle historical past. Within the fast aftermath of the battle, UFC commentator Joe Rogan flatly summed up the general public’s sentiment concerning the battle.

“I knew nobody who was selecting Juliana Peña [to win],” he stated.

At UFC 277 this weekend in Dallas, Peña (11-4) is tasked with doing the unthinkable once more. She’s going to face Nunes in an instantaneous rematch of their title battle seven months in the past — and regardless of the actual fact she turned the primary girl ever to submit Nunes in that bout, she is as soon as once more thought-about an underdog.

Can Peña upset Nunes a second time? That is the query round UFC 277. The betting line implies that Peña’s possibilities of doing it once more are solely 25 p.c. She’s not speculated to win. Similar to she wasn’t speculated to win in December.

However what if the primary battle wasn’t an upset? What if Peña was at all times constructed to beat Nunes, and all of us missed that? What if the one factor standing in the best way of Peña defeating Nunes was the doubt others would possibly challenge onto her, which occurs to be the one factor she’s most resistant to?

“To beat Amanda, you have to be keen to get in her face and sort of not give a f—,” says UFC welterweight Michael Chiesa, a longtime teammate of Peña’s. “That is a giant a part of Julianna’s character. I assume one of the best ways to say it’s that she is simply loopy sufficient to not see the problem in entrance of her generally — the problem that different individuals see.”

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Uncover the story of UFC fighter Julianna Pena forward of her title battle towards Amanda Nunes.

ALMOST NO ONE has believed in Peña’s potential greater than her longtime head coach Rick Little. And even he discovered himself intimidated by Nunes forward of their first battle. It was Amanda Nunes, in spite of everything.

“I went from realizing we have been going to win to being scared out of my thoughts,” Little says. “[Nunes] was ripped, on weight, trying good. I began to get nervous, for certain. I began stepping into the hype and the lore. I went from calling everyone, saying, ‘Watch this,’ to being actually quiet — as a result of she scared me.”

Exterior of the last-second chilly ft, Little has been one of many greatest believers in Peña all through her profession. She was 19 when she walked into his gymnasium in Spokane, Washington, looking for nothing however a enjoyable solution to train. Little’s facility was new, however he’d been teaching for years, primarily out of his storage. His shoppers have been nearly completely grownup males. Some took it critically. Others did not. Attendance was sporadic. It was a bunch of fellows, greater than a ‘group’ or ‘faculty.’

In different phrases, Little had a bunch of fighters to work with, however he’d by no means actually had any college students.

“Nobody pays their dues, nobody appreciates you, nobody listens,” Little says. “To have somebody are available in who needed to be taught? The way in which she listened and actually programmed herself to throw punches precisely like she was instructed was unimaginable. I really stopped her one time early on and stated, ‘Hey, the place did you field earlier than? The place did you be taught this?’ And he or she checked out me and stated, ‘Uh, you simply confirmed me.’ She was simply an incredible listener.”

This was in 2008, 5 years earlier than the UFC would signal Ronda Rousey as its first feminine athlete. MMA was not but thought-about a sustainable profession for ladies, however Little virtually begged Peña to decide to the game. He did not know precisely the place it will lead, however he knew straight away that Peña was particular. He noticed the Peña household’s headstrong trait. Because the competitors bought extra fierce, he noticed a lady who was keen to (in Chiesa’s phrases) ‘sort of not give a f—.’ Maybe there was no UFC championship for Peña to aspire to at the moment — however that did not imply glory wasn’t achievable for her.

“I simply stated to her, ‘I do imagine that with the intent and focus you have got, you can be the very best on the earth at this,” Little says. “I simply knew she needed to do it.”

And albeit, Little wanted her to do it for his profession. After experiencing what he had with Peña — working with a younger athlete possessing the expertise of a world champion — he could not return to the best way issues had been earlier than. Had Peña by no means pursued MMA, Little believes he would have stop teaching way back. He believed in Peña’s potential a lot that working with something much less had misplaced its enchantment.

“He knew about me earlier than I knew about myself as a result of he understands ranges of competitors,” Peña says. “He understood the place I used to be within the sport. He really promoted his personal fights, and sooner or later he was like, ‘You are combating on my present.’ And I am like, ‘What are you speaking about? You may’t simply signal me up.’ And he stated, ‘[I don’t charge you to] come to the gymnasium. So, you are combating.’ I cried for hours about it. Even after I received my first battle, I cried as a result of I used to be scared.

“My dad bought on his arms and knees and begged me, ‘Please do not ever battle once more.’ And I did. I promised him to by no means battle once more. Then per week glided by and I used to be like, ‘When’s the subsequent one?'”

Earlier than lengthy, Peña was hooked. She dropped out of faculty after attending one quarter and knowledgeable her household — Ernie, Pamela, two sisters and a brother — that she meant to pursue MMA full time.

As a sport, girls’s MMA was nonetheless a piece in progress. However Peña? The muse of what she would turn into was all there. She had a pure work ethic and a capability to duplicate what was being taught to her below the stress of competitors. Most significantly, time was on her aspect. In 2008, not many 19-year-old girls dedicated their lives to MMA. From the second she began, she was forward of the sport.


FIVE YEARS INTO her skilled profession, Peña turned the primary girl to win The Final Fighter actuality collection in 2013. She’d made good on Little’s prediction she may very well be one thing on this sport. Issues have been up and down ever since.

Coming off the present, Peña referred to as for a title shot towards the then-champion Rousey, a request that was roughly laughed off inside MMA circles. Regardless of her success on the present, nobody noticed Peña as a menace to Rousey.

“I had fought 4 ladies in a row [on TUF], whereas Ronda had come into the UFC and had a belt handed to her,” Peña says. “I used to be like, ‘If I can battle them, I can battle this lady.’ I am a foul matchup for her.’ I stored calling for that battle, however everybody was like, ‘Get out of right here scrub, you are not in her league.’ Nobody ever gave me a shot.”

The next yr, Peña was scheduled to battle Jessica Andrade when she tore her ACL, MCL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring in a gymnasium accident. Based on Little, the primary wrongdoer behind the damage was Peña’s incessant must do extra. She had snuck her means right into a wrestling apply he did not need her to take part in after she’d spent the morning lifting weights.

These accidents pressured Peña out of motion for a complete yr, however she returned robust in 2015, racking up three consecutive wins. At that time, she was within the combine for a title shot towards Nunes, however she accepted a bout towards Valentina Shevchenko in January 2017. It was a battle that by no means made sense to Little, as Peña was already seen as a title challenger, whereas Shevchenko had misplaced to Nunes the earlier yr. Little thought-about it a high-risk, low-reward state of affairs.

Peña’s life and profession have been within the midst of a transition at the moment. She’d determined to maneuver from Washington to Chicago to stay along with her new boyfriend. It meant she wasn’t coaching along with her unique group full time anymore. When she arrived in Denver to face Shevchenko in early 2017, her group wasn’t a unified, dialed-in unit. She wasn’t coaching like knowledgeable.

“For those who simply go and take a look at the UFC Countdown [preview show] for that battle, Valentina is punching and kicking bushes within the forest after which it takes you again to Chicago the place I am holding arms with my new boyfriend, strolling the canine,” laughs Peña. “You understand what I imply? It is like, ‘What are you doing?'”

Peña misplaced to Shevchenko by way of armbar within the second spherical of that battle, erasing any fast title shot possibilities. Inside months, she was pregnant and introduced she’d be taking one other prolonged layoff from MMA.

She would not battle once more till 2019 when she picked up a win over Nicco Montaño. She was hit by damage once more in early 2020, which restricted her to at least one look towards Germaine de Randamie in October. That battle additionally led to a submission loss, when Peña tapped to a guillotine choke within the third spherical.

Going into 2021, Peña had only one win in practically 3.5 years. Since profitable TUF, she’d made six appearances in six years. She’d been aggressive towards Shevchenko (the No. 1 pound-for-pound feminine fighter as we speak) and de Randamie (a former UFC featherweight champion). ​​Nonetheless, her potential as a world champion was completely hidden below a number of layoffs and an unimpressive general document.

Nonetheless, after selecting up a win over Sara McMann in January 2021, Peña went on a verbal assault on Nunes. She accused probably the most harmful feminine fighter of all time of ‘ducking’ her.

Many within the MMA area discovered Peña’s assaults to be (at greatest) misled or (at worst) utterly delusional. Why on earth would Nunes keep away from a battle towards Peña? For what motive? How might Peña herself imagine such a factor?

However in the event you take into account each element of Peña’s life and profession, it is not so outrageous.

“You may see there was a extremely truthful battle there,” Little stated. “I do not need to be cocky, however in the event you dissect the battle and watch Amanda at 135, you will notice she could be very human and needed to intestine out some very robust fights. After which I take a look at Julie, and this lady simply retains hitting the fuel each spherical. I cherished the matchup.

“I can not wait to battle this lady. She has to knock you out in spherical one. And if she would not, I can not see her beating you.”


IT TOOK ERNIE and Pamela years to return round to their daughter’s chosen profession path.

Even when Peña made it to the finals of TUF in 2013, Ernie was towards the entire thing. He remembers the UFC despatched a video crew to his dwelling in Washington, forward of his daughter’s finals look, and interviewed him for near an hour. They left with just a few seconds of usable footage as a result of he spent your entire interview speaking about how he wished his daughter would do one thing else along with her life.

Pamela admits they by no means had a selection. She at all times thought her daughter would have made an ideal lawyer or an FBI agent. However a part of elevating a headstrong youngster is realizing you do not at all times get a say in what she does. When Peña dropped out of faculty to observe MMA, Pamela finally bought behind it. Even when Ernie was nonetheless towards it, she discovered herself cageside, screaming for her daughter to tear an opponent aside.

Finally Ernie got here round and is supportive of his daughter’s selections. As a lot as he cannot stand watching her take punches, he acknowledges how particular she is throughout the sport. For his daughter to face a problem like Nunes, she needed to be assured. She needed to be keen to stroll via hearth and imagine she would come out on the opposite aspect. And that’s, unquestionably, his headstrong daughter.

“It is cute to me, [when they say] ‘Oh, it was the largest upset in historical past,'” Peña stated. “I used to be 100%, absolutely dedicated to strolling out of there with my hand raised and with that belt … And I’m completely able to do it once more.”

If she does, possibly do not name it an upset.

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