On Saturday night, UFC 192 goes down from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Kicking off the main pay-per-view portion of the card is TUF 18 winner Julianna Pena who steps back inside the Octagon for the second time in 2015; this time against the number eight ranked Jessica Eye.
The 26-year-old won her Octagon debut in the TUF Finals against Jessica Rakoczy in 2013. Unfortunately, a severe knee injury sidelined Pena for almost two years. She successfully made her return to the cage against Milana Dudieva in April of this year, which marks two-in-a-row under the UFC banner.
Pena sits at number twelve on the UFC.com rankings and will look to gain some ground on the rest of the women’s bantamweight division if she can pick up her third straight victory on Saturday night.
“It would mean the world to me, it really would,” Pena told MMASucka.com. “I feel like it would be that pivotal moment in my career, where people will be calling my name out from the street – being like, ‘Ronda, Julie, Ronda, Julie.” So I feel like that would be icing on the cake and so that’s all I envision is getting my hand raised on Saturday night and that’s all I’ve been thinking about and that’s the only thing I want to be focusing on right now.”
Her opponent is 1-2 in her last three outings. Eye’s most recent appearance was when she stepped across the cage from Pena’s friend and head coach on TUF, Miesha Tate. “Evil” was unable to do enough against Tate to earn a decision and she walked out of the Octagon with a blemish on her record. This performance helped Pena pick up some pointers for her upcoming contest, however she will not give away any “juicy” details.
“I learned that it’s almost a counter vs. a counter. If she wants to counter, I’ll wait for her to counter and then I’ll go. There were a lot of good things that I picked up from that fight, but it wouldn’t be very smart of me to give away all the juicy details. Looks like you’re gonna have to tune in on Saturday night to find out just like the rest of us.”
Since returning from injury, Pena has been fortunate enough to travel the globe with the UFC and this has given her the opportunity to cross-train with some talent at gyms around the world.
“The Venezuelan Vixen” has been with Sik-Jitsu in Spokane, Washington since she first started training in the sport of MMA at 19 and will continue to call it home, as it’s like “family” to her. This doesn’t mean that heading to other gyms and training with other partners doesn’t help out her game, it just means that Pena will always return to her “little hole in the wall.”
“When I train at other gyms I always feel like it’s awesome to meet new people and to see the training environments that they’re in and to see the way things work in their gyms. I’ve always been the type of person that is easy to teach and I’m a good student in the sense that I pick up things very quickly. I listen to the pointers, I listen to the critiques and what I need to shift and change, so I love to soak up new knowledge and I love to hear the things that other people and other coaches can give to me.
“When I come back to Spokane and I train in my little hole in the wall, I really honestly just feel like we’re such a tight, close knitted family and no one is coming in between us. I am very blessed to be training with the family that I’ve been training with since I started in this sport at 19. I’m 26 now and I’ve never been to any other gym permanently and I haven’t trained anywhere else permanently and I just like the fact that we’ve been able to come up in the ranks together as a team. We don’t feel like we need state of the art anything and we don’t need all these special coaches, we’ve got one coach for the four of us and I feel like everyone needs to come to Spokane, as opposed to me needing to go to other places.”
The top of the bantamweight division has been held by Ronda Rousey since the inception of the weight class and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon. Pena does not want to focus on getting to the top at this point, nor will she trash talk the champ, she is spending all her time focussing on the task at hand and that is Jessica Eye on October 3.
“I think Ronda has become a household name and she’s staking her claim outside the UFC, in movies and things. I will never hate on a woman for her success and I commend her, I respect that and I think that that’s awesome. My focus is on Jessica and it is not on Ronda right now. When that time comes, that time comes, but in the meantime all I can think about is getting locked in that cage with Jessica Eye on Saturday night October 3.”