In the main event of UFC on FOX 23, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s bantamweight contender, Julianna Peña, succumbed to a second-round submission against Valentina Shevchenko, a fight that was designed to produce the next 135-pound title contender.
In addition, former division queen pin, Ronda Rousey, decided to walk away from mixed martial arts (MMA) — perhaps permanently — to pursue a potential career in professional wresting as the new Mrs. Travis Browne.
On the surface, 2017 sounds like a pretty shitty year for “The Venezuelan Vixen.”
Except it isn’t
In fact, the winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 is probably the happiest she’s been in years — if not ever, and about to begin the journey of a lifetime, both personally and professionally.
You can thank the soon-to-be-debuted Isabella Cruz for that.
Peña recently entered her third trimester and expects to give birth to her baby girl in January. But she did have some bad news to share with the announcement, directed toward 135-pound hopefuls in the promotion’s “stagnant” bantamweight division.
“My goal right now is to have my baby, love my baby, and get back into the Octagon,” the No. 3-ranked Peña told MMAmania.com. “The division definitely needs me. My main goal is to rematch Valentina in my first fight back. I messed up in my last fight, I was overzealous.”
Getting stuck down by “Bullet” snapped her four-fight win steak, seven when including her clean sweep on the FOX Sports 1 reality show (with four finishes). And Peña wasn’t just recycling cans, evidenced by her convincing decision win over former title contender Cat Zingano in summer 2016.
Kicking butt, however, will soon be replaced by wiping butt.
“Having a daughter on the way not only rejuvenated me personally, it gave me so much more to fight for,” Peña said. “I’m excited to start this new phase in my life and UFC has been so supportive of me. (UFC President) Dana White was stoked, he loves kids, and told me fighting will always be here waiting for me.”
It may not be waiting very long.
Peña (8-3) shrugged off talk of early retirement and targets her UFC return for late 2018. But with the introduction of the 125-pound weight class, the bantamweight landscape could look very different by the time she resurfaces.
“I have goals at 135 and I don’t want anyone there to think I’m ducking them,” Peña said in regards to her oft-teased drop to flyweight. “If it’s in my best interests, like an immediate title shot, then it’s worth killing myself to make 125 but honestly, I feel like I have more to prove at 135. Not just to the fans and to the UFC, but also to myself.”
Peña has a lot to keep her busy between now and then.
The 28-year-old grappler has been making waves in 2017 as color commentator for Combate Americas, the Hispanic-based MMA promotion that routinely crushes UFC in television ratings in Mexico.
Alongside fellow UFC veterans Gilbert Melendez and Erik “El Goyito” Perez, Peña will return to Mexico for her Telemundo debut at “Copa Combate,” the promotion’s eight-man bantamweight elimination tournament with a grand prize of $100,000.
“I’ll be headed to Cancun on Nov. 11 to call the fights for Combate Americas,” Peña beamed. “I’m so excited to debut on Telemundo. I’ll be the English broadcaster, so fans can switch the audio to hear my commentary.”
MMA is one of the more unforgiving sports in terms of longevity and Peña understands that in the eyes of most fans, you’re only as good as your last fight. In addition, extended absences (like this one) can set an athlete back because the show must go on, and all that jazz.
Peña doesn’t sound too worried.
“Things are finally falling into place,” she said. “I have a career in fighting, I’m still active in the gym, and above all else, I have an amazing man who takes of me. I know he’s going to be a great father and I feel really fortunate to have the things I want.”