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TUF 18 winner Julianna Pena returns from injury, fights Milana Dudieva at UFC Fight Night 63

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Julianna Pena first suffered a catastrophic knee injury last January, estimations for her return ranged from the optimistic (two years) to the downright fatalistic (career-ender). Yet in the end, it took her a little less than 15 months to make her way back.

Pena is slated to make her long-awaited Octagon return on April 4 at UFC Fight Night 63 against Milana Dudieva, UFC officials confirmed on Tuesday following an initial report by ESPN.

The underdog winner of The Ultimate Fighter 18, Pena (5-2) appeared to be one of the most intriguing prospects in the female bantamweight division after tearing through her competition on the UFC's 2013 reality show. Pena first submitted Team Rousey No. 1 pick Shayna Baszler, then did the same to Sarah Moras, avenging a 2012 loss with a dominant semi-final victory.

Pena's finals performance was no less impressive, as she stopped former champion boxer Jessica Rakoczy with strikes inside the first round.

Her momentum ground to screeching halt in Jan. 2014, however, as Pena sustained a torn ACL, MCL, LCL and meniscus in her right knee as the result of a disastrous training accident. Regardless, the "Venezuelan Vixen" remains the No. 11 ranked 135-pounder on the UFC's media-generated rankings, and now, at age 25, she'll make her return against Dudieva (11-3), a Russian who picked up a split decision win over Elizabeth Phillips back in Aug. 2014.

UFC Fight Night 63 takes place at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia and airs live on FOX Sports 1. An updated fight card can be seen below.

  • Chad Mendes vs. Ricardo Lamas
  • Benson Henderson vs. Jorge Masvidal
  • Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke
  • Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Ferreira
  • Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy
  • Julianna Pena vs. Milana Dudieva
  • Luke Barnatt vs. Clint Hester
  • Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Timothy Johnson