LAS VEGAS -- Julianna Pena's roller coaster journey through The Ultimate Fighter 18 ended just as explosively as it began. The 24-year-old punctuated her season-long run with a relentless first-round assault on Jessica Rakoczy at Saturday night's TUF 18 Finale, sealing her place in history as the first female TUF champion.
"I just went in there and I tried to be as vicious as possible," an elated Pena said on FOX Sports 1's post-fight show.
"I realize what's on the line and what's at stake, and I take that very seriously. It's a 50-50 thing in there and anything can happen. That's what I've learned over the years of watching mixed martial arts. I look at my opponents as very dangerous, and them trying to ruin my career. And I take that 110-percent serious, so I'm going in there to kill them every time because it's either kill or be killed, and I don't want to be killed."
Pena kicked off TUF 18 with the upset of the season, stunning Team Rousey's No. 1 pick Shayna Baszler en route to a second-round submission finish. Pena then repeated the favor against Sarah Moras, avenging a loss to cement her place in Saturday night's finale.
Though afterward, despite the good vibrations of the night, Pena made it clear that her goals exceed far beyond a reality show crown.
"I didn't get into this sport thinking I want to be top-10 in the world," Pena said. "I got into this sport trying to put some bread on the table and trying to be the champ. In my mind, I've been the champ for 24 years. I would like to see that come true one day. I'm in no hurry.
"I'm very young in this sport. I'm a young girl and I have a lot of growing to do. I have a lot of training and experience that I still need to get under my belt, so that's what I'm really focused on right now."
While TUF 18 helped to bolster the depth and popularity of the UFC's 135-pound division, its roster is still a work in progress. That could work to Pena's advantage if she can parlay her current momentum into quick title contention, similar to way John Dodson landed a shot at the flyweight strap after just two post-TUF victories.
"I'm probably like two or three fights away," Pena guessed. "Maybe one. Maybe they'll put me up against the next champ right after this. Who knows? It's not my decision."
Certainly, Pena's case is helped in part by a preexistent history with UFC champion Ronda Rousey.
Pena and Rousey's relationship appeared tenuous throughout TUF 18. Recently Pena made headlines by telling FOX Sports 1 that Rousey was "pretentious" and a "spoiled, rich brat" -- comments which she isn't backing down from.
"Whether Ronda has one penny or $10 million, the point I was trying to make there is she has her nose in the air and she acts like she's better than everyone else," Pena said. "She went on the show being like, ‘I'm Team Real Mean versus Fake Nice.' Well if she was so real, why didn't she tell me that I didn't deserve to breathe the same air as Shayna Baszler? Why didn't see tell me that to my face instead of saying it on camera behind my back?
"It's her arrogance. It's the way she holds herself, like her s--t don't stink. That was the point I was trying to make. It doesn't have anything to do with money. It's the way that she acts."