That self-belief was on full display in the build-up to her latest appearance inside the Octagon. After getting her wish of a meeting in the cage with Amanda Nunes, a wish that confused some given the Brazilian’s utter dominance in the years prior, Peña had her chance to shock the world at UFC 269 last month.
While most doubted her chances, “The Venezuelan Vixen” was sure of her abilities. She made good on her pre-fight prediction in the final pay-per-view co-main event of the year. Executing her game plan to perfection, she tired out the then-double champion on the feet, dragged her to the mat, and submitted her in the second round.
Peña Reveals The Source Of Her Confidence
While fans, fighters, and pundits in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena and in their homes were left blown away by arguably the greatest upset in UFC history, the newly crowned champ wasn’t surprised. Throughout fight week, Peña’s message was simple: I know something everyone else doesn’t.
While some, including Nunes, put that high level of confidence down to delusion, “The Venezuelan Vixen” proved herself right on December 11. Now, over a month beyond her memorable title-winning performance, the 32-year-old has explained where her immense self-belief derives from.
During an interview with the New York Post, the 135-pound queen narrated the story of a wild alley fight she had with a male colleague while she was working as a food expediter at a local eatery called The Onion. Far from her performances nowadays, Peña was left on the wrong side of the result on that occasion.
“I fought a dude in an alley and got my left eye swollen shut for three days. It needed 11 stitches,” she explained.
At The Onion, Peña worked alongside an individual she’d previously encountered while employed as a supervisor at a pizza restaurant in Spokane. As far as friendly co-workers go, the man certainly didn’t fit into that category.
“He was just a nuisance. I constantly had to tell him what to do. I had to cut people from their shifts depending on how busy they were, and the second I could let anybody go, it would be him. I’d be like, ‘Get out of here.’”
Like in many workplaces, banter and back and forth between colleagues was a mainstay at The Onion. That was the case with Peña despite the fact she was still in training. But when her troublesome co-worker boasted of a fighting superiority, Peña, who was evidently gritty and tough from a young age, wasn’t about to back down.
“The management staff would always egg him on, being like, ‘Don’t mess with her. She’ll kick your ass,’ instead of telling him to knock it off or you’ll get fired,” Peña said.
“I had just started training at that point. We would banter back and forth. He would literally be like, ‘I would lay you out and I won’t even feel bad about it.’ I’d respond, ‘Bring it the fuck on.’
“We went out back and he knocked me down three times,” she recalled. “He punched me right in the eye. I dropped. I say this because I remember it like it was yesterday. I popped right back up. I swear to God I popped right back up. I went to attack again. Boom! He dropped me right again. Same spot in the eye. I popped right back up again and went to attack him. Boom! Right in the eye, and I dropped, and was like, ‘Fuck you!’ and I walked away.”
Despite taking a beating on that day, Peña says her perseverance and her ability to continue bouncing right back to her feet shaped the confidence she carries with her today; the confidence that has helped mold her into a UFC champion.
“Being able to pop back up like I did, and fight through that adversity, knowing that guy wasn’t gonna put me down, to me gave me confidence,” she said. “And, on top of that, getting the shit kicked out of me from my brothers and sisters my whole life.”
So while she has her family, coaches, and team to thank for her ongoing success in the sport of MMA, Peña also appears to have a trouble-making former colleague to show gratitude to for aiding her journey to the top.
How do you think the colleague would fare now inside the Octagon with UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Julianna Peña?