It’s safe to say that no other UFC titleholder has been as doubted as Peña. While disbelief in her abilities has existed throughout her career, it was perhaps most evident prior to her title crowning last December.
Against Amanda Nunes, who entered UFC 269 with two pieces of gold and riding a 12-fight win streak, hardly anyone was giving “The Venezuelan Vixen” a chance. But on fight night, the Washington native shocked the world, submitting the “Lioness” in the second round and securing her place on the 135-pound throne.
During an appearance on Barstool Chicago’s RebuildEd podcast, Peña discussed the underdog label that has always been attached to her mixed martial arts career, from her time on The Ultimate Fighter to the buildup ahead of her first championship challenge.
But while she acknowledged that pundits and oddsmakers may discredit her chances, the bantamweight queen suggested that no opponent has ever expected an easy ride when entering the cage with her.
“It’s happened to me time and time again. When I was on The Ultimate Fighter, Dana White allowed women into the UFC in 2013 and he allowed us to be on The Ultimate Fighter, I was a dark horse,” recalled Peña. “Nobody gave me any respect, they all counted me out, and I ended up winning the whole show. It’s kind of been the trajectory of my career since I started in the UFC. I’m always the underdog.
“But when they get locked in the cage and they’re looking across from me, they’re not thinking, ‘I’m just gonna go cream this underdog real quick.’ Nah, they’re not thinking that, they’re not thinking, ‘Julianna’s just an underdog and I’ll run through her in two seconds.’ It’s never happened.”
Peña: ‘I’m So Much More Than An Underdog’
In her first title defense, set to headline UFC 277 this Saturday, Peña will run it back with Nunes, looking to achieve what many branded an impossible feat in 2021 for the second time.
Despite an emphatic victory at UFC 269, the champion is still widely regarded as the underdog heading into next month’s Dallas-held pay-per-view, with BetOnline.ag currently having Peña sat at +245.
But “The Venezuelan Vixen” doesn’t plan on allowing odds to restrict her to that status. According to the champ, she’s so much more than just an underdog, something she’ll look to prove come July 30.
“Even though people consider me an underdog, and even though I probably will when the odds come out, again, blinders, I don’t let that play into what I have to do, I don’t let that seep into my mind, I don’t let that come into play at all,” insisted Peña. “I’m not allowing people to put me into this box, to say, ‘Ah, she’s just an underdog.’ No, I’m so much more than that.”
While Nunes is, in fact, the solid favorite heading into UFC 277, it stands to reason that another upset victory for Peña will firmly establish herself as the top dog at bantamweight. From there, perhaps the number of detractors she has will sizably reduce.
Do you think Julianna Peña can emerge victorious over Amanda Nunes again at UFC 277?