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Julianna Pena recalls TUF run-in with Ronda Rousey: ‘Come back to the real stuff, I’ll be here’

The Ultimate Fighter 18: Pena v Baszler

Julianna Pena’s initial introduction to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) involved former champion Ronda Rousey as her opposing team’s coach. All these years later and the current Bantamweight queenpin hasn’t forgotten what the “Rowdy” one said to her.

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 concluded with Pena getting her hand raised as the first female winner in the show’s history. During her run through the season, the first pick of her coach, Miesha Tate, had the inevitable hope of being the person to dethrone the then-undefeated Rousey.

“Ronda told me, ‘You’re going to give me a tougher fight than Miesha Tate could ever dream about, but when that day comes I’m still going to kick your ass,’” Pena told Sports Illustrated. “And I said to her, ‘We’ll see.’ So, of course, I want to fight Ronda. That was a fight I was gunning for before I tore out my knee [in 2014]. When I came back, she lost and ran off and hasn’t come back. But, I have a feeling that she wants to come back.

“It bothers her that she left on two knockout losses, and that she never came back to avenge those,” Pena continued. “If she ever does get an itch to avenge those losses, I would love the opportunity to compete against her and fight her. I don’t think that that’s going to happen. Let’s face it, she’s a star. She’s killing it in the WWE, and she can make a ton more money doing what she does over there instead of doing the real s—t. But, if she wants to challenge herself and come back to the real stuff, I’ll be here.”

Rousey retired from mixed martial arts (MMA) shortly after a Dec. 2016 first-round technical knockout loss against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207. The loss acted as Rousey’s second consecutive loss via strikes, and she has since gone on to try her hand in the professional wrestling world with the aforementioned WWE.

Pena comes full circle for her next venture as TUF 30 gets set to premiere next Tuesday (May 3, 2022) when she’ll coach against the woman she defeated for the title, Nunes, whose reign added its first defense by besting Rousey.

Assuming she gets past Nunes for a second straight time, Pena hopes she can check that one with Rousey off her bucket list.

“That has always been a fight that interests me,” Pena said of Rousey. “When Dana White allowed women into UFC, he just handed Ronda a belt. She didn’t have to compete, she didn’t have to do anything. He just said, ‘Hey, welcome to this promotion, here’s this shiny belt.’ After he gave her the belt, she had to fight Liz Carmouche. At that point, I’m on The Ultimate Fighter. I wasn’t fighting one person, I had to fight four people. When I came out as the winner, I was ready to face Ronda.”