Team Rousey is back in control. After losing her No. 1 male and female picks over back-to-back weeks, Ronda Rousey at long last returned to the win column in Wednesday's episode of The Ultimate Fighter 18, as world champion boxer Jessica Rakoczy brutally knocked out 11-year veteran Roxanne Modafferi to close the distance on Team Tate's early lead.
Coaching fireworks lingered from last week as well, as Team Rousey's Edmond Tarverdyan and Team Tate guest coach Dennis Hallman nearly came to blows before being subdued by UFC President Dana White. Now our TUF 18 blogger, Julianna Pena, returns to elaborate on the fiery confrontation, rejoice in sweet vindication, and answer your questions in our latest TUF mailbag.
If you have anything you'd like to ask the "Venezuelan Vixen," please write it in the comments below and she'll be sure to answer you next week. Rec'd comments will get first priority. Now let's hear from Julianna.
Al-Shatti: We really didn't see much of you this week. After two episodes where you were among the focal points, was it kind of nice not to watch yourself on TV?
Pena: Uh, absolutely. And what was nicer was the fact that my name is cleared! I wrote the same exact letter to Roxanne that I did to Chris Holdsworth! So, I'm good.
Al-Shatti: (Laughs.) I knew you were going to bring that up. Have people been giving you crap for that all week?
Pena: Oh yes. Definitely, definitely. They think I want his nuts. It's really embarrassing.
Al-Shatti: Did you know the letter made Roxanne cry before you watched the episode?
Pena: No, I didn't actually. She did come up and talk to me, tell me that it was really touching and that she really got a lot out of it. I was happy for that. I wanted her to feel confident and I wanted her to win the fight more than anything. That was my purpose behind all of those letters, for them to get inspired. I just wanted my team to win and keep control, so my mission was just to give them the extra hurrah push. I didn't know that it'd touched her. It made me have tears in my eyes. Those words were given to me, but when I read them, I bawled my eyes out. When I gave them to Chris and Roxanne, I was just hopeful that'd have the same effect on them as it had on me, to just believe in yourself 110-percent.
Al-Shatti: So the whole Dennis Hallman vs. Edmond Tarverdyan thing, what happened? I didn't really get a good sense of it. How'd it go down?
Pena: Bryan (Caraway) took a lot of heat for what he said on Twitter, which is in my opinion, ridiculous. I don't know how many times Ronda (Rousey) has threatened him and said she can't wait to get her hands on Bryan and beat him up. She's constantly badgering him all the time. The one time he says something, everybody freaks out about it and can't get over it.
So Bryan was getting a lot of heat, and he's been training with Hallman for a long time. That's like his big brother, it's almost like father and son, and he brought Hallman in to coach us. And one thing led to another. I never saw any of that until it aired, actually, so I didn't know that whole thing went down. All I know is that, if it would've gone down, Hallman would've smashed Edmond in about a minute. Less than that, maybe.
Al-Shatti: This is the second episode in a row now where Edmond was involved in an argument. Do you think he was trying to intimidate Team Tate?
Pena: Yeah, he was. He's really protective over Ronda. That's cool, you know. He shows his loyalty. I think he's just on a mission to make everybody upset, but Hallman wasn't backing down. I think Edmond thought Hallman was going to, then he realized that he was actually about to fight, so everything escalated and Ronda had to pull him back a bit. But I got a kick out of it.
I really wanted that to go down. I would've died watching that. Seriously, that would've been awesome.
Al-Shatti: Roxanne's such a happy, positive person. Was it especially painful watching her get knocked out by Jessica?
Pena: Definitely. My heart broke. I was just devastated for her. She is the nicest person. She really is a happy warrior. She was winning the first round and she was doing such a great job, and I just wanted her to stay in control. I was really, really sad that she'd lost that fight. She works hard, and she's such a genuine, sweet person, so it was hard to see.
Al-Shatti: What was the mood of the room when she was stretched out, screaming on the canvas?
Pena: It was sad. I didn't know what to do. I just felt so terrible. We were all pretty depressed about it, actually.
Al-Shatti: Shayna Baszler gave Roxanne a big hug afterward. In a way, do you feel bad for those two, having worked their whole adult lives to get here, but falling short by the time it finally happened?
Pena: Absolutely. Nobody likes to lose. Those feelings are so raw and those emotions are so real that I felt for them both. I know that Shayna was talking a big game and stuff like that, but she'd put in the time. Roxanne had put in the time. They paid their dues and paved the way for other women. I just think it was unfortunate.
It was kind of a weird dynamic to see the vets all lose. Tonya (Evinger) lost, Shayna lost, Tara (LaRosa) lost, Roxanne lost. It was something unexpected. I feel for them, honestly.
Al-Shatti: In a roundabout way though, did it give all you young girls added confidence, that maybe this was your time to do something special?
Pena: I think so. It kind of shed some light on us newbies. We were sitting there kinda being like, ‘Alright, you know. Out with the old, in with the new.' Fighting is such a PG-13 sport. It's very brutal, and it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. If you don't show up on fight day, somebody's going to come and take your baby.
It was pretty sad to see all those vets lose after all they've been through, but at the same time, we as new fighters have been through a lot, too. We've been through a lot of things that not a lot of people have seen or are ever going to know about. We deserve to be showcased just as much as they do. They're still going to be able to fight in the UFC. Just because you lose one doesn't mean that your career is over. They laid it all out on the line, and that's all you can ask for from a fighter. So they deserve to hold their heads up high.
Al-Shatti: I'm curious, what was Ronda's reaction to finally winning? Did she handle it with class?
Pena: Uh, yeah. I guess. You know, she wasn't walking around with a sour face. She was definitely a lot happier. I saw her smile, you know? I thought, ‘Hey! You're not supposed to smile at Roxanne's pain!' (Laughs.) But at the same time, she was happy. She got her win.
peruano88 asks: Hey Julianna, I really appreciate your straight forward attitude and you definitely come across as one of the more real people on the show. My question is if you could spend a day training with any fighter, who would it be? What questions would you ask and what would you hope they could help you improve on?
Pena: It would probably be Fedor (Emelianenko), Nick Diaz, and Ronda Rousey. I would just ask them about their tricks. I admire all three of those people and I think they're so good at what they do. Ronda is a great judoka girl, Nick is a great striker and great on the ground. And Fedor is just amazing. So it'd be a mix between those three.
razor ramon209 asks: Your last loss was to Sarah Moras. How did you feel when Tate picked her to be on your team?
Pena: Well she wasn't my last loss, but she was definitely of my losses. And I was relieved. I'd rather have her on my team and close to me, than being on the other team and trying to be a bully and make fun of me, and be mean. So I was glad she was on my team actually.
John Duck Kim asks: Not gonna let you off that easy. Last week you stated that, "These girls are trying to take my dream away from me, TAKE MY UNBORN BABY..." What baby are you referring to? Is this the first TUF baby that Joe Rogan was referring to? Are you gonna be THAT GIRL? Do tell!
Pena: Absolutely not. (Laughs.) What I mean is like, if I had a baby, I would try to be a momma bear and protect my cub, and do everything in my power to protect what's mine. Somebody tries to take my baby away, or tries to do anything to my baby, I would kill them. That's the kind of instinct that you have to have when you're in a fight. If you don't like the analogy of a baby, maybe you can think of somebody hurting your grandmother or stealing your grandma's money. Something like that.
Calle asks: I'm half Venezuelan and I think it's great that you're helping put both female fighters and Venezuelan fighters on the map at the same time. Have you trained any martial arts in Venezuela, or did you only train in the US? Also, do you have any plans to use your growing celebrity to promote MMA in Venezuela?
Pena: I hope that MMA in Venezuela blows up! But here's the thing, I also want it to blow up in Mexico. I also want it to blow up in Native lands. I'm Mexican, I'm Venezuelan, and I'm Native. My dad is all Venezuelan, and that makes me half Venezuelan. I have more of that in me, so that's why my coach named me the "Venezuelan Vixen." But I want MMA to be spread across all Latin American countries and all regions. I'm trying to represent myself and stick to my roots, so I absolutely hope MMA crosses over the Venezuela. It's great for the sport. And I haven't had a chance to train martial arts in Venezuela, but hopefully one day I will.
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.