Julianna Pena did it. The much-maligned first pick of Team Tate stormed her way to this season's finals in spite of her teammates' criticism, punctuating a trio of victories with a vengeful second-round guillotine finish over Sarah Moras on Wednesday night's episode of The Ultimate Fighter 18.
Next up is November 30's live finale in Las Vegas, where Pena will vie for the inaugural women's TUF title. But first she returns for our weekly Q&A to discuss her win, the challenges of dealing with her castmates' accusations, plus answer all your questions in another round of our TUF Mailbag.
If you have anything you'd like to ask Pena for next week, just drop it in the comments below. Now without any further ado, let's hear from this season's tournament finalist.
Al-Shatti: You just told me that you were nervous for this week's episode to air. You won though, so I'm curious what were you nervous about?
Pena: Well, did you think it was a boring fight?
Al-Shatti: Well I thought you maybe stalled for a bit in the first. But otherwise it was an entertaining fight.
Pena: I feel like one thing I want to change when I fight this next fight is to keep working. A lot of the times I feel like if I throw knees or stuff when I'm up against the fence, then I'm going to lose head position, or I'll lose them up against the fence in general. I'm just trying to grind it up there and make it uncomfortable until I can reach down into a single or a double, or pull them off the cage, or get a takedown or something like that. I don't know. I think it's kind of boring, but I just want [fans] to think that it's a good fight. I don't think they're going to think that.
Al-Shatti: I wouldn't worry about it. Though I noticed Bryan Caraway kept screaming at you to stand up, but you wouldn't. Why?
Pena: I wanted to prove that I didn't care about her guard at all. I was being careful so that I didn't get caught, but at the same time, I didn't want them to think that I was intimidated by her bullying in any way.
I wanted that rematch. I wanted to fight her again.
Al-Shatti: Going for that guillotine was a pretty risky move. If it fails, you give up top position and she has a desperation window to steal this. Walk me through that sequence.
Pena: I could feel it from the front head draw, when she started bleeding from the nose. I could feel the positioning of where my hands were, so I wouldn't have hit it if I wasn't 110-percent confident that I was going to get it. I knew I was going to get it based on where my hand placement was right before I hit it.
She was tired, she was hurt, and she was ready to tap, so all I needed to do was stick a fork in her and she was done. And that's what I did.
I feel like I executed it to a tee. [The team] didn't like that very much, if you notice. (Laughs.) There was only a couple golf claps after that. There was crickets in there, basically. Hate only helps. Hate only helps.
Al-Shatti: That was actually my next question. Literally no one applauded. I don't know if I've ever seen that on TUF. Did you even notice or were you too wrapped up in the moment?
Pena: No, I noticed. It's comical. It really is.
When I was in the house, I kept singing Jill Scott's song, it's called ‘Hate on Me.' And I just kept singing that song over and over, go ahead, hate on me. Hate only helps. It was just so gratifying to get that win, and to finish her. You're going up against the top bantamweight females in the world, and you're finishing them. It's a blessing, It really is, to have gone on this show, and to have executed some submissions to a tee. The most important thing to me in a fight is to finish, and I finished my fights. I'm not going to gloat too much, but I did it and I'm proud. That's all I can say. I've got way bigger fish to fry now.
Al-Shatti: You lost to Sarah back in April 2012, but this time you basically had six weeks to learn her skillset and train with her. What did you learn over that span that made a difference the second time around?
Pena: I realized that she's more of a guard flopper. I realized that if you get past the guard, then let's see what happens. So once I got past her guard and she couldn't get up or move, then I knew, all I have to do is get past the legs and I'll be good.
Al-Shatti: We saw you drilling guillotines at length with Roxanne. Why'd you pinpoint that technique as a good weapon?
Pena: I believe Bryan saw me hit a guillotine and he was like, you've got a nasty guillotine. So he was just adamant on making me hit a guillotine. That's what his focus was. We're going to work a guillotine, because I think you have a good guillotine. I do? Yeah. Okay, then I guess we work on guillotines.
Al-Shatti: I'm curious, did all this constant drama about favoritism get in your head?
Pena: For the most part, after that whole ‘leaking the match-ups' thing, I tried my best to seclude myself from everybody and to just stick to myself and to do things on my own. It's a fighting game. It's a mental game. You're going to have to fight these people, so it's not the hour to make friends. It's not the ‘let's braid each other's hair' show. It's the ultimate fighting show, and you need to make sure your mind is right, prepped and ready to go to battle.
Besides, Sarah has trained with Miesha and Bryan before the show, too. So for her to keep claiming favoritism is kind of bizarre. She's just as capable as me to come up to the coaches and say, hey, I want to work on this. For them to keep calling favoritism is ridiculous. These are professional, grown women. If they want to work on something, speak up, say something. I think they were just honestly focusing too much on what I was doing, and not focusing enough on what they needed to do. Because when I got to the gym, I wanted to work and I was there to work. They had that same opportunity and I don't think they did the most of it, so it's easy for them to sit back and point the finger and say, she's getting played favorites.
Al-Shatti: Well at least you had one fan. Dana White was practically bursting at the seams after your fight.
Pena: You don't understand how on top of the moon that makes me. Watching the UFC before, and just knowing who Dana White is, and his whole stature, everything that he brings to the table, I was so enthralled by it. I'm not kidding. To be working in this man's company, being on The Ultimate Fighter show, and him these compliments about me, it's pretty much the best thing in the world. It's pretty much like President Obama giving you compliments, there's nothing that can compare to it. Absolutely nothing. It's just makes me feel so good.
Even if I would've lost, if Dana White is complimenting me, I know I'm doing something right. And at the end of the day, he's the only one I need to be pleasing and the only I need to be making happy anyway. So to know that I did my job is just truly gratifying.
@jbrktt81 asks: Did the alleged favoritism give you a mental edge or was it stressful and hampering?
Pena: No, I gave me the mental edge. I just kept to myself and kept in my room; doodled or made art, or whatever. I know they hated me so much that I could feel myself almost gaining power in a certain way. It was like they were feeding me energy. It was a good thing.
peruano88 asks: You've shown on the show that you're different than many other female fighters in that you enjoy makeup and dressing up, while others see that as being "too girly." How do you feel about top female fighters being in magazines that show women in a sexual light, like Maxim? And would you ever consider doing a shoot like that?
Pena: I think it's great! I think that Miesha looks fantastic (on the cover of Fitness Gurls Magazine). She looks beautiful, she looks gorgeous. So I think that's a great thing for her and for females. If you're making covers of Maxim and ESPN, more power to you. That's fantastic. I think that's so, so cool. Would I ever do something like that? I probably would under the right circumstances, I'll say that. I would absolutely under the right circumstances.
@pegson asks: Do you feel you are fighting up a whole weight class or do you feel you are between that 125-135 class?
Pena: I feel like I could go either way. I'm right in the middle. I could fight at 125 or I could fight at 135. It doesn't matter. 135 is more around my walking weight, and 125 I need a while, for sure. (Laughs.) I need notice before I can make 125.
@ShaneV92 asks: Were you surprised to find out Miesha beat out Ronda in the (EA Sports) cover vote?
Pena: No, absolutely not. That's the thing. Miesha has been in the game for such a long time. Miesha is a true MMA fighter. Miesha has spent hours and hours diligently working on her fanbase and just working towards making sure that either the people on the Underground or people on forums, just everywhere all over the internet, are aware of who she is. She has a huge following, and they are loyal to a tee. So I wasn't surprised at all. She has some real diehard MMA fans, and I wouldn't be surprised if she takes the cover.
Bboyawall asks: Do you ever feel like it's surreal to be fighting for money legally?
Pena: Absolutely. And the reason why they call me a headcase and a trainwreck, and all that stuff, is because of that exact reason. It is crazy that I go get in fistfights for a living. (Laughs.) It's very tricky on the mind. When it gets down the fight, it's all about the mental aspect of things, so it's kind of stressful. It's hard, and not everybody can do it. That's what makes fighters a rare breed. It's definitely a heart thumper.
Do you have a question for Julianna Pena? Ask it in the comments below and she'll answer you next week. The Ultimate Fighter 18 airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Portions of this interview have been edited for concision.