Julianna Pena has a strong case to prove that she's next in line for a shot at UFC women's bantamweight gold. Yet, she's still not getting booked to fight champion Amanda Nunes.
Peña, who's currently ranked no. 5 in the women's 135-pound division, is the only fighter in the top-10 that remains undefeated in the UFC, riding a four-fight wining streak in the promotion. The 27-year-old fighter is also the champion of The Ultimate Fighter season 18. During that season, she defeated three opponents in a row. However, those fights technically don't count on her record, as they're considered exhibition bouts, but you can make a strong argument that Peña is on a seven-fight winning streak, not four.
Apart from having the record and accolades to make a solid case that she's next in line, timing is also on her side. Peña and current champion Nunes both fought on the same card back in July at UFC 200. Peña defeated former title challenger Cat Zingano, while Nunes pulled off an upset win over Miesha Tate, seizing bantamweight gold.
Yet, despite all that, the UFC has kept both competitors on the sidelines, not booking either fighter for a fight. And it seems there is one key factor that is stalling Peña's title shot - Ronda Rousey.
It's been rumored that the MMA superstar, and former queen of the 135-pound women's division, is looking to return to MMA competition, and according to her coach Edmond Tarverdyan, there has been talks of Rousey possibly challenging Nunes at UFC 207 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Peña calls the possibility of Rousey getting a title shot upon return ‘baloney', as Rousey is coming of a devastating knockout loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193 almost a year ago.
"Yeah, I think it's baloney," Peña told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "When Dana White announced that women were going to be fighting in the UFC around that same time it was announced that women were going to fight in The Ultimate Fighter, so I've been around from the very beginning.
"I've been around fighting these girls, and grinding, and taking this path of knowing who I'm going to fight, fighting in the ultimate fighter. And fighting everyone that they put in front of me, you know, inside the UFC octagon. So I'm the only girl that's consistently winning, and if this was a tournament like The Ultimate Fighter, I don't even know how some of these girls are still in this tournament. They're still winning, and they have record of 1-1, and I'm still getting offers to fight them. I have not even been beat up in a fight before so many of these matchups don't make sense to me.
"And coming from a not even a controversial loss, like you [Rousey] got knocked the f out. You got knocked out and then you get a title fight coming off of that. I'm still scratching my head, still piecing it together, and it just doesn't make sense. If this was tournament-style format, I would be the only one standing, so to me, its kind of all nonsense. Like I said, I'm ready to go, so when that phone rings and says, ‘Hey, you're fighting Ronda, you're fighting Amanda,' I'll be like perfect."
If Rousey were to get her way, the only fight that would make sense for Peña would be against Valentina Shevchenko, who's currently ranked no. 3 and coming off a win over Holm. But Peña is ‘uninterested' with a fight against Shevchenko, and says she only wants big fights that propel her forward.
"The only fight that makes sense for me it's me and Amanda [Nunes]," Peña said. "Both winning at UFC 200, it's the most logical thing and the only thing I had in my head. And what I was being told is that I was going to be fighting Amanda for the title, and the biggest, hugest card in the world is coming up on Madison Square Garden, so that's the only palace, time and opponent I was thinking about for that time frame.
"They [UFC] didn't say that and they haven't yet. I'm still waiting. I'm on idle waiting for them to change their minds. I'm ready to go, I've been training, and if they need me to step in and fight any of those girls and fight at Madison Square against Amanda or Ronda, let's do it cause I'm more than ready."
Peña is very set on only fighting for the belt against Nunes, or getting a super-fight against Rousey, and might sit out on the sidelines until she gets either or.
"I'm ready to fight the big fights," Peña said. "I'm ready to fight for a belt, the whole enchilada, all the marbles, the big yellow banana, so I want it all. I'm ready to go when that fight comes. Until then, you know, maybe I'll get ants in the pants, but in the mean time, I'm just ready to fight. I'm ready to fight against the best girls in the world, and ready to show why I'm the best fighter in the world."