“Go find a bar, Sunny.”
I kept telling myself that I needed to go watch UFC 269 somewhere. Ain’t no way I was going to do the pay-per-view, but I knew somewhere in Spokane, someone would have it up. I mean, two Latinas were co-headlining a UFC event. But, did I listen to that voice inside?
And now, a woman from my city, Spokane, is a UFC champion.
I interviewed Julianna Peña back in 2015 and 2016. The first time was for an overall story on the growth of women’s MMA. The next was a story just about her. One thing I came away with in both interviews was the unshakeable belief she had in herself.
Back then, one of our topics was her former nemesis and UFC champ, Ronda Rousey. Peña said in 2016, “I feel like I’m being overridden because of Ronda Rousey coming back in and handpicking her fight yet again.” Rousey lost to Brazilian, Amanda Nunes that year at UFC 207 in a first round TKO.
Julianna got her shot that year, but on the under-card against former champ, Cat Zingano. Since then, she’s been busier outside the ring than inside. Cognizant of her Latina heritage – Venezuelan on her dad’s side while Mexican & Native American on her mom’s – she ventured into commentating with Combate Americas. She is also now married and raising a beautiful young daughter.
But, she never lost that drive, that determination to be a champion.
Taking time out from fighting to have her daughter in 2018, she didn’t come into tonight with much fanfare. Julianna always knew how to talk a good game. Most champions and even wanna-be champs do. Fight fans expected Nunes to win, like she seemingly always does in textbook fashion. Many consider Nunes to be the greatest women’s fighter of all time, so surely this would be a piece of cake, no?
In our first interview in 2015, Peña said, “I want to be that household name that people remember.” With what some are calling the biggest upset in UFC history, she’s a topic in many households after tonight.