Julianna Pena hasn't fought since October, but that hasn't kept her out of the public eye.
The former The Ultimate Fighter winner was arrested in December on two assault charges following a scuffle outside a Spokane, Washington, bar, putting her MMA career on hold. Pena is 3-0 inside the UFC Octagon (7-2 overall), making this hiatus all the more frustrating for all parties involved.
"I think that they’re [UFC officials are] waiting for it all to blow over and for the matter to get handled, and then after that, I’ll be making a fight announcement," Pena told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Hopefully I’ll have something here soon on the horizon, that’s what I’m hoping for, and I’m confident that I’ll be getting back in the Octagon shortly."
Regarding the arrest itself, Pena said she couldn't give any details since she's involved in a pending criminal case. She did, however, mention that she expects the matter to be "resolved fairly easily" and she expects the case to be heard some time in the "end of May, maybe early June."
Once that is settled, she'll have her fight, she believes, and there are plenty of options at hand.
Since her last fight, Ronda Rousey suffered the first defeat of her career at the hands (and shin) of Holly Holm at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia. This upset opened up the division, and now Pena sees plenty of options on the horizon – but no clear-cut choice.
"I have no idea [who I will face next]," she said. "This fight [Holm vs. Tate] is going to be interesting in itself, and then also you have Amanda Nunes fighting Valentina [Shevchenko] too, so it’s going to be a great night of fights, especially for these girls that are up there in the top five.
"I’m sitting at number five, and I look at it like, whoever they’re going to throw at me, it doesn’t matter. My whole issue for fights and for fighting has always been just give me the time that I feel that I need allotted in order to fight, and then you can throw in any random chick that you want. I really don’t care, just give me the time that I need to prepare."
Still, there's one fight that intrigues her the most, and it's the one she's wanted since winning the UFC's reality show series in 2013 – the UFC title.
"I asked for a title shot," Pena said. "I’ve been calling for a title shot since I got signed. I’ve been sitting here being like, ‘Title shot! Title shot!’ but they keep saying that I need one more fight, so I was told we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. They told me they want me to fight one more time, but at the same time, I think they don’t really know what’s going on either until both of those girls get in the fight and get locked in the cage and then the fight ends. It should be very interesting for the women’s bantamweight division coming up here on March 5."
While Pena maintains a golden preference, she wouldn't turn down another fight with a top female combatant. Particularly, a matchup with the recently defeated Rousey piques her interest.
"I prefer a title shot. I want that gold around my waist, you know?" Pena said. "But yeah, I always wanted to fight Ronda too. I want to fight all these girls. I want to be able to be [carving] out a career in the UFC for years and years and years to come, you know what I mean? I don’t want to be taking three fights in one year and something go bad and be cut."
Pena mentioned that she's listened to Rousey's comments after getting knocked out by Holm, and she can relate to the champion's mentality. She also believes Rousey can learn and grow from her experience.
"I mean *laughs*, it’s just funny, because she was, you know...Ugh, f--k," Pena said. "I will just say that I respect her interviews and all that stuff. I respect her, yeah, I’ve been paying attention, and I feel like those are things every fighter deals with, not even in fighting but just everyday life. I’ve had suicidal thoughts my whole life growing up, you know what I mean? It seems like every other day, it depends on how the wind blows that day and how I’m feeling.
"I’m just saying, a lot of people feel that way. It’s good to see how hard she feels on herself, you know, and I’ve definitely felt that way with my losses too, so I feel for her. When you get put up on that pedestal, it’s a hard fall on the way down. It was a sucky situation, but I think she’ll come back and learn from that and be stronger and maybe eat a little bit of humble pie, and I think that she has. And now that she realizes that she won’t retire undefeated, things will maybe be a little bit easier as her career goes on."