There is a battle in the UFC between between let’s call them purists and realists. The purists want the most eligible top contender to get a title shot. This position is held strongest by top contenders, naturally. The realists understand that title shots are regularly going to go to whatever fight will put the most asses in seats.
It’s a complex issue. One the one hand, there is the sense of fair play that is supposed to lie at the center of sports. On the other hand, the UFC is a for-profit company in the combat sports business trying to realize a return on a $4,000,000,000 investment. And ask any champion what fight they want – it’s the one that gets the most asses in front of a PPV television. Ask any fan what fight they want – it’s the fight they want.
When Ronda Rousey announced her return, she got an immediate title shot. Duh.
However, the #3 ranked women’s bantamweight contender Julianna Pena was not impressed.
“It’s bulls***,” said Pena in October. “That spoiled brat has gotten everything handed to her, and she’s getting everything handed to her again. It’s bulls***. … Never in the history have I ever heard of somebody have a no-controversy brutal knockout, then quit the sport, and then come back and get a title shot right away. The girl is mentally weak and Amanda Nunes is going to f***ing knock her out and expose her a**. She’s literally the worst fighter on the roster, and I can’t stomach the fact that I’m not getting the title shot. … Maybe I’ll go fight for Combate [Americas] or something because it sounds like they want to pay me serious money and actually give me a belt right off the bat just like they did with Ronda in the UFC.”
Pena eventually came to terms with the facts, and fights #2 contender Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC on FOX 23. Pena is undefeated in the UFC, with three exhibition wins on TUF, and four in the UFC.
She appeared recently on ESPN’s the 5ive Rounds Podcast and talked about it all.
“I’m not happy about this fight and it has absolutely nothing to do with Valentina and everything to do with me acquiring more of a resume than any female in the 135-pound division,” said Pena, as transcribed by Jed Meshew for MMA Fighting. “I have beaten everybody that they’ve put in front of me. I’ve yet to lose. I’ve still not been able to fight for a title. These girls coming off of knockouts and they get to fight for the title again. Girls that I’ve beaten, girls that didn’t get past me on The Ultimate Fighter getting to fight for the title. I still have yet to wrap my brain around the fact that I have beaten everybody and still can’t sniff a title shot. I don’t understand why that is.
“In this case I was offered a main event spot with a little bit of a more sweetened deal and that made me realize that this is the fight that I need to take now. Once I get past this one I can set my sights on the title shot which is what I’ve been gunning for this whole entire time.”
If Pena beats Shevchenko, who is herself coming off a title win over Holly Holm, then a title shot would seem inevitable.
“That’s the notion that I picked up and if not this time I will raise hell,” said Pena. “I think Dana knows that I’m a firecracker, and I definitely don’t think that he wants see the wrath that will come if I don’t get a title shot after this. I would be shocked. I won’t say that it couldn’t happen because anything can happen, especially in this sport. But I think that he definitely knows that I’m the clear cut answer for getting a title shot. So I don’t want to even put that in the universe. If I don’t get a title shot, I quit.”
However, if Pena beats Shevchenko, Rousey beats Nunes, and Holm beats de Randamie, then the most likely next fight for Rousey is a rematch vs. new featherweight champion Holm.
“That’s BS,” said Pena. “It’s ridiculous. I asked to fight Holly. I asked to fight that girl and then she gets another title shot again. It’s comical and whatever. That’s what I think about that. It’s bullshit but whatever. What am I gonna do? I’ve called them all out. I’ve asked to fight them. Harmless Holly is not going to be the end all be all to me and my career. I would love to fight her. I feel like I’m talking to a wall sometimes.”
Further, to Pena, the risk/reward to fighting a field of contenders isn’t compelling. She wants the title fight, the money fight. And she wants better marketing by the company.
“I’m the first female to win The Ultimate Fighter, ever, in the history,” she said. “That’s marketing enough in itself. I beat all those girls and I finished them and all the girls I’ve fought and beat currently. Cat Zingano is still one of the toughest girls in the division in my opinion. I just feel like they definitely haven’t marketed me in the way like I feel I should be marketed. And that’s unfortunate and it drives me nuts but what am I gonna do?
“I feel like I keep complaining and people are tired of hearing me complain. I’m tired of hearing myself complain. It’s like put up or shut up. Just go in there and fight and do your job and let the rest handle itself. Like Dana said, trust the timing of your life.”
Julianna Pena fights Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC on FOX 23 on January 28, 2017, at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.