UFC bantamweight title challenger Julianna Pena showed up in Houston to follow through on her plans. They’d already been cancelled, but that didn’t matter.
Pena was supposed to serve as the co-headliner for UFC 265 opposite Amanda Nunes, who was scheduled to defend her bantamweight title before a positive COVID-19 test forced her to withdraw. Real or not, fulfilling her bout agreement was a statement.
Also, impatient with Nunes’ delay and a “boring” press conference for Saturday’s pay-per-view, Pena figured she’d go straight to the source to get an answer on when she’d actually get her shot.
“I saw the mic was open, and I asked one of the PR ladies that works for the UFC if I could ask a question, and she said, ‘Go for it,’” Pena told MMA Fighting shortly after her impromptu appearance. “I just jumped at the opportunity.”
Cameras caught the rest. Pena told UFC President Dana White it wasn’t too late to get Nunes to Houston, referenced a recent tweet from the champ’s partner Nina Nunes that the champ and her family tested negative for COVID, and asked whether a December date she’d heard was true.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” said White, looking politely flustered. “We’ll see how this plays out. Soon. As soon as we can make it, we’ll make it. Alright? Thank you. Good to see you.”
All of the questions Pena had were legitimate, from her perspective. Unfortunately, she didn’t leave with any more concrete answers than before.
“It was what was kind of given to me when she told me she pulled out,” Pena said. “It was just thrown up in the air as far as December, who knows, maybe something soon. So it’s just me doing the hurry up and wait game. It’s really frustrating.”
Pena said she’s been training for the title fight for the past three to four months, trying to stay healthy and raising her daughter. While she understands the circumstances that the champion is facing, she can’t help but question whether they’re legitimate based on what she’s seen on social media.
“This is her third time pulling out of a fight, second time from COVID, and it’s just kind of confusing to me, just because Nina had posted on her story on Instagram that they’d been locked down for 11 days and tested negative, and they’re happy to be able to get out of the house,” she said. “But the timeline doesn’t really add up because of the time they called and told me she tested positive. I’m just kind of confused about the whole thing, because if she was negative when Nina posted, then she still could have made the fight.
“There’s all sorts of situations that happen during a fight camp, and I’m understanding of that and I sympathize. But this fight was my top priority, and staying healthy has been hard for me as well, but I made sure I could do everything that I was contractually obligated to do and show up for fight week, and she did not. And so I’m just frustrated, because I’ve literally seen her jumping up and down screaming at the top of her lungs during the Olympics when she’s saying she’s super sick with COVID.”
Pena wants to fight Nunes for the UFC bantamweight title. As the undisputed GOAT of women’s MMA, it’s the biggest challenge she could take on in the sport, and it’s something she’s worked toward her entire career.
It’s a road that’s been filled with challenges in the form of severe injuries and setbacks in the octagon. But she’s managed to seize the opportunity, and after all this time, she finds it harder to wait.
If Nunes is able to fight in December, Pena is game. Beyond that, she believes the UFC should take action.
“I’m confident the fight will happen eventually,” she said. “I don’t know when that time is. Whenever she’s healthy, whenever she’s ready to rock, I’ll be ready to rock. But in December, that will be two years she hasn’t defended the belt. So if she does this again, in my opinion, I believe she should be stripped. The train has got to keep moving. We’re going to need to get another girl in there who’s ready to rock and ready to fight for the belt, because I’m definitely ready to fight.”
A rematch with ex-featherweight champ Germaine de Randamie, the last person to defeat her and the No. 1 ranked fighter in the promotion’s top-15 bantamweights, sounds like a good option.
“I want to be the UFC’s new bantamweight champion and I want to fight Amanda for that,” Pena said. “If she can’t make it and has problems showing up in December, the No. 1 girl is Germaine, and I would love to run it back with her.”
The way Nunes makes it sound, she won’t have to wait long. Not long after the UFC presser, the two-division champ surfaced online.