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Julianna Peña eyes 2019 return to UFC: ‘I can’t wait to get back in the division and join them’

It’s been almost two years since fight fans saw Julianna Pena make the walk to the Octagon.

Peña (8-3), the Season 18 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, has not competed since her submission loss to former bantamweight turned flyweight title challenger Valentina Shevchenko in January 2017. This setback not only snapped her four-fight win streak but marked her first loss under the UFC banner.

Since then, “The Venezuelan Vixen” has enjoy new motherhood, after welcoming her daughter into the world January 2018, while also serving as a commentator for the Combate Americas.

But now, Peña is ready to don the four-ounce gloves once again.

Too bad, she still has to figure out if she’s physically ready to go first.

“I’m in the midst of figuring that out,” Peña told Luke Thomas during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “I’m in my hometown getting evaluated and I’ll be leaving here on Wednesday and hopefully by the end of that time my coach will have an answer for me as to when I can take a fight again and get back in fight camp. But 2019 for sure.”

Prior to her last setback, Peña ran through the competition at 135-pounds. Picking up notable victories over Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano, the SikJitsu product was essentially within one win from securing her first title shot.

But now, watching from the sidelines, Peña has witnessed the ascension of a new crop of bantamweight contenders in Ketlen Vieira and Aspen Ladd all while reigning champion Amanda Nunes successfully defended crown against Shevchenko and Raquel Pennington.

“The bantamweight women are killing it,” said Peña. “It’s always refreshing to see a 135er on the card because you don’t see enough of them. So, I’m always really excited to see a bantamweight women’s fight. I’m happy for them and I can’t wait to get back in the division and join them.”

So who does Peña want when she finally does return? Again, it’s still too early to tell.

“I’m not thinking [of an opponent],” said Peña. “I’m just thinking about when I’ll be healthy and ready to compete and I’ll be ready to get into fight camp. The opponents will come later.”

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