Julianna Peña is ready to put Amanda Nunes into the rear-view.
On Saturday, Nunes successfully retained her UFC bantamweight title with a dominant unanimous decision win over Irene Aldana in the main event of UFC 289. Immediately after the win, Nunes retired from MMA, going out on top as an undisputed two-division champion. Most fighters celebrated Nunes’ exit and her singular career.
Peña was not one of them.
Sitting cageside for the fight, Peña immediately responded to Nunes’ retirement with derision. Speaking Monday on The MMA Hour, she nearly did more than that.
“There was a part of me that really wanted to storm the cage,” Peña said. “I had so many people like, ‘Yes, we’ll do it, we’ll throw you over the gate!’ Then my coach was like, ‘Don’t do it. Be classy and don’t do it.’ So I let her have my moment, but it was really difficult for me because there were so many times where my urge was to go, ‘Now is the time, go, go go.’
“But at the end of the day, she’s retired, she’s off in the sunset, she’s dead to me at this point, and we’ve just got to keep the division moving. Now we’re stepping into day one of the ‘Peña Power’ era. I’m the champ, I’ve always been the champ in my heart and in my head. … So it’s just a matter of time before the belt’s around my waist again.”
Peña and Nunes share a heated rivalry that goes back all the way to UFC 200. For years, Peña pursued a fight with Nunes, and when she finally got it, “The Venezuelan Vixen” backed up her many statements, submitting Nunes at UFC 269 in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. The two rematched at UFC 277 with Nunes winning a dominant decision, and thus they were expected to finish their trilogy at UFC 289, until a rib injury forced Peña out. Instead, Aldana stepped in — and now Peña will never get the chance to avenge her own loss, which irks the former champion.
“I’ve been telling you from the beginning: She’s been wanting to retire, she was one foot out the door the entire time,” Peña said. “She even said it herself, she was going to retire after she tapped to me, but she didn’t because she decided I’m too good-looking and she doesn’t want me to have the belt. Seriously, she’s got a problem with me.
“At the end of the day, Amanda didn’t want the fight. The whole time the UFC tried asked her to make the trilogy, she didn’t want to make it, and they made that clear to me. They said, ‘She doesn’t want to fight you.’ That’s why it took so long to book the trilogy, and when I fell out because of injury, she said it was ‘less heavy’ for her. It’s less heavy for her because she knows what’s at risk. She owes my training partner that win bonus because if I showed up on June 10, there’s no way she would have won and she wouldn’t be getting that money, period.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,” Peña added. “All of this is completely irrelevant. What’s relevant now is that she’s gone. She’s dead to me. I don’t want anything to do with this girl now or for the foreseeable future.”
Even with Nunes now gone, Peña finds herself in the same position she was before: Presumptive No. 1 Contender.
Peña is still recovering from her rib injury but said she should be able to fight before the end of the year, and when she does, she expects it will be against Raquel Pennington for the vacant belt.
“Probably Raquel. I think I’ll fight Raquel,” Peña said. “She’s done enough to deserve the title shot. She’s very durable, very tough, and I think that’s more than likely the fight that they’ll make. … I’m anticipating that it’s going to be Raquel, especially because Raquel was supposed to fight Irene. But you never know what the machine is going to do.”
Pennington is currently on a five-fight winning streak and the No. 2-ranked contender in the UFC women’s bantamweight rankings. She was set to face Aldana in a title elimination bout this summer until Peña’s injury forced the UFC to scramble.
And if Nunes changes her mind and decides that she’s not quite done yet after Peña reclaims the bantamweight belt? Peña would still love the shot to settle their beef.
“Hopefully she comes back,” Peña said. “That would be best-case scenario so we can squash this thing and finish this trilogy. It was literally going to be the greatest trilogy in women’s MMA. It’s never happened before and she lost that opportunity to make it happen. I lost that that opportunity because I got injured, she that opportunity because she wants to retire early. I say she took the coward’s way out, and that’s all there is to it.
“At the end of the day, the girl’s dead to me. We’e got to keep this division moving, and I am going to do my job to keep the division exciting.”