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Julianna Peña to champ Amanda Nunes: Don’t ‘run’ to another division just yet

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Amanda Nunes has publicly challenged whoever becomes the UFC’s women’s featherweight champion in the division’s inaugural title fight next month. Julianna Peña is saying, not so fast.

Peña still believes Nunes, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, still has plenty of business to attend to at 135 pounds. Peña would be the likely No. 1 contender with a victory over Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC on FOX 23 on Saturday night in Denver.

“I think that there’s a lot of competition still left at 135 pounds that she should maybe consider before trying to run to another division,” Peña said Thursday at open workouts. “God willing, I get past this fight and I’m unbeaten in the UFC. If I was the champion, I’d rather want to clean out my own division rather than going to another division.”

Peña (8-2) was trying hard to get a title shot against Nunes last year, but Ronda Rousey returned from her hiatus and was given the shot at the belt. Nunes ended up knocking out Rousey in just 48 seconds at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. When Peña knew the title fight was off the table, she said she turned her attention to the next best option: Shevchenko.

“The Venezuelan Vixen” has a great UFC résumé: a 4-0 record in the promotion, the title of the first-ever women’s Ultimate Fighter champion and a big unanimous decision victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 200. Zingano owns a win over Nunes, who has already beaten Shevchenko.

“This is a great fight for me,” Peña said. “This is my fight to win. Being that Cat Zingano beat the brakes off of Amanda Nunes and I dominated Cat Zingano, I think it’s fair to say that I can hang with anybody that walks at 135 pounds inside the Octagon.

The current landscape of women’s MMA doesn’t just allow for more contenders to take shape, but also big stars to emerge. Peña said Gina Carano opened the door for Rousey as the biggest star in women’s MMA. And Peña is hoping to take that torch and run with it.

“Now that Ronda is out, I would love to be that person, I would love to be that role model for these little girls that are looking up to me or looking for someone to look up to,” she said. “I would love to fill that role and I would love to be the face of women’s MMA — absolutely.”

The next step on that path happens Saturday night. Peña said she has been in Denver for three weeks getting used to the altitude. That, combined with a new team in Chicago, has her as prepared as ever, she said.

“I’m a gamer,” Peña said. “I’m a fighter and I’m ready to die. And if you’re ready to die, you’re ready to live.”