After returning to the octagon in July of 2019 following the birth of her first child, Julianna Pena picked up a big win over former flyweight champion Nicco Montano. However, her quest to build momentum was halted by the lack of fight options with obstacles ranging from injuries to opponent withdrawals and, of course, a global pandemic.
When she did get the chance to hop back, it was against another former champion, the number one ranked Germaine de Randamie. Although that fight didn’t play out as she envisioned, when paired with the win over Montano, it taught Pena something important about herself.
“It’s obviously tough to lose to the number one girl in the world, but the takeaway that I had is that you can’t fight once a year and I needed to get back in there as soon as possible,” Pena said. “That’s been the game plan leading up to this next fight.”
Despite the date for this fight being pushed back a week, the turnaround will only be a few months, rather than a year-plus as she faced last time out. That fact has Pena feeling like she is gaining momentum.
“When I fight my next one, I’m going into rounds four and five as opposed to starting back over again at round one,” she said. “I feel like it’s not like I have to start all over from ground zero and get back into shape and build up this big gas tank. I feel like I’m still running on that same gas tank.”
Part of this momentum is made possible too by the fact that she left the de Randamie fight nearly how she entered it.
“I wasn’t injured and that was the biggest thing for me. If I was injured I probably would have had no choice but to take more time off,” she said. “I literally had a little bruise on my eye and that was about it. I was completely unscathed other than going to sleep on national television. So I was fine and I was ready to get back into camp and go full force again for another fight.”
And that joke about going to sleep on national television marks another big step for Pena – growth as a fighter. While she used to have a much harder time dealing with losses and where they sent her, she now approaches the game in a more positive way.
“I think there has been a lot of growing up that I’ve been doing in the sport,” she said. “Before it was like, if I lost, it was literally the end of the world for me. I wanted to hide under a rock and die and literally not show my face ever again. But I think as I’ve gotten older – wins and losses are part of the sport… some days you’re on top of the world and the next day the world is on top of you.”
She’ll look to get back on top of the world this weekend at UFC 257 where she faces Sara McMann. That fight will take place on the preliminary portion of the card on ESPN.
You can hear the entire audio of this interview at 32:24.