MMA: Julianna Pena ready to put the hurt on

Julianna Pena.
Julianna Pena.PHOTO: CYNTHIA CHOO

UFC bantamweight challenger gunning for title shot but Shevchenko is in the way

Julianna Pena lacks nothing in terms of confidence and will carry that brash assurance into the biggest fight of her career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on Fox 23 main event.

The 27-year-old jiu-jitsu and wrestling specialist faces multiple Muay Thai world champion Valentina Shevchenko at the Pepsi Center in Denver, with the winner likely to get a shot at women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.

Getting the chance to face Nunes, who destroyed Ronda Rousey in a brutal 48-second knock-out win last month, has been occupying Pena's thoughts as she prepares to improve her career 9-2 record today (tomorrow, Singapore time).

True to her aggressive style, the American told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview earlier this week that she was prepared to go for broke against the Kyrgyzstan-born Shevchenko.

On her strategy to win, Pena said: "Any way that I can, if I gotta punch to a clinch to get the takedown then I'll do that too.

"We both have taken down all our opponents in the Octagon and I don't think either one of us is gonna have any problems taking the other person down...

FIGHTING WORDS

My mind is my biggest weapon in the Octagon, my heart is the biggest weapon in the Octagon, my determination is my biggest weapon in the Octagon.

JULIANNA PENA , UFC bantamweight fighter, believes she has no equal.

"The winner definitely deserves a crack at the belt."

Pena, nickamed the Venezuelan Vixen by her coach Rick Little in a nod to her fox-like ferocity and Venezuelan roots, is ranked No. 2 in the UFC women's bantamweight rankings, behind Nunes and Shevchenko.

Yet to Pena, who trains at the Sik-Jitsu Fighting Systems in Spokane, neither woman is her superior.

She said: "My mind is my biggest weapon in the Octagon, my heart is the biggest weapon in the Octagon, my determination is my biggest weapon in the Octagon."

She was the first woman to win The Ultimate Fighter in 2013 and that experience has stayed with her.

Before stepping into the Octagon, Pena tells herself, "I'm the King" and said she is fuelled by the belief "that I can beat anybody that walks at 135 pounds (61.2kg) and steps in the Octagon with me".

The chance to prove this to herself and the watching world awaits.

UFC ON FOX 23

Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 8am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Pena ready to put the hurt on'. Print Edition | Subscribe