It’s true, Julianna Pena said, that she didn’t want to fight Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 205.
But that doesn’t mean The Ultimate Fighter 18 winner was afraid of the fight in theory, which she proved by accepting the matchup with Shevchenko on Saturday night in the main event of UFC on FOX 23 in Denver.
The fighter known as “The Venezuelan Vixen” confirmed to MMA Fighting that she did, in fact turn down an offer to meet Shevchenko back at the UFC’s debut show at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November.
There were two reasons for this.
The first, of course, was that Pena had been under the impression she was going to get a shot at UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, and she wasn’t thrilled when Ronda Rousey got the nod instead.
“She had came out and said I was going to be next if Ronda Rousey didn’t come back,” Pena said. “I was ready for a title shot. But then Ronda came back from her long-ass vacation and they give it to her and I wasn’t happy about that.”
At that point, it became about which fights made sense for Pena in the absence of a title shot and on which card. And the way Pena saw it, if she wasn’t going to get the meeting with Rousey, then she at least felt her next fight should be the center of attention.
And that wasn’t likely to happen at UFC 205, which had three title fights and was headlined by then-featherweight champion Conor McGregor’s attempt to win the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez.
“I didn’t want to share the spotlight with Conor McGregor,” Pena said. “I’m realistic, I know that Conor is going to be the biggest thing that came out of UFC 205, for good reason. So if I wasn’t getting a title fight, why would I fight on that card when so many other people are getting attention? I want my fight to make the most impact. That’s why we didn’t agree to fight Valentina that night.”
When the UFC came back and offered the Shevchenko fight again, this time as a five-round main event on network television and a presumed title eliminator, this time, Pena wasn’t going to say no.
“I said yes to this fight right away,” Pena said. “I want to be the main event, five rounds is cool but I’m not going to go five rounds. Now’s the time to show Valentina and the whole country what I can do and then after that it’s time for my title shot.”