Nothing went easy for the newly crowned UFC lightweight champion Julianna Pena.
Pena caused one of the biggest upheavals in the history of mixed martial arts when he won Amanda Nunes in the second round at UFC 269 last week.
However, Pena’s life could have turned out quite differently. In 2009, he was hit by a car that suffered terrible injuries.
“I went out, I was walking on the sidewalk and these guys came in around the corner and called in their car,” Pena told BBC Sport.
“Instead of braking, they stepped on the gas, jumped off the curb and hit a tree. The tree slammed into my face, my nose smashed and I ran over.
“I woke up under the bumper to run screaming for my life. I thought I was in a car shooting.”
“I firmly believe in myself”
The 32-year-old didn’t let the incident deter him from chasing his dreams of becoming an UFC champion. He won The Ultimate Fighter in 2013, but his fighting career came to a halt when he broke away from his knee in 2014 and gave birth in 2018.
“There have been things in my career that have delayed the process, but I’m a person who has to face difficulties and will still be able to climb out and reach the top,” Pena says.
“They don’t deny it. I firmly believe in myself and my abilities. I have a champion heart, and that sets me apart.
“It was definitely a difficult journey, especially because of the things I suffered during my private life.”
Finding the “breaking point” of Nunes
Getting to the top is exactly what “The Venezuelan Vixen” did when he defeated two-time champion Nunest.
As one of the most dominant champions in MMA history, Nunes was a big favorite and Pena seemed to be in trouble in the first lap.
Pena stormed back in the second round, rocking Nunest with combinations and punches before submitting the submission. Nunest has not been beaten since September 2014.
“I’ve been saying for five years that this is going to happen,” Pena said.
“We’ve seen this in his past fights. We’ve seen him rise and go into a fetal position. We’ve seen the referee have to come in and save him.
“I knew that once you do it, you’ll do it again. You just have to find that breakout point. I just had to give it a way out, and I absolutely got it.”
Pena was emotionless when the referee blew the fight. Standing on his knees, he hugged Nunes and walked toward his heels.
It shocked the world recently, yet there was little celebration.
Asked how calm he was at that moment, Pena says, “When you lose, it’s a very sad day for your opponent. I didn’t want to rub too much in his face. I didn’t want to pour salt on the wounds.
“Amanda has been such a good champion for so many years and I didn’t want to be disrespectful. For me, we can celebrate behind closed doors. It’s nothing personal, and it never was.”
However, when Pena returned behind the scenes, the magnitude of his success struck him.
“They were immediately [taken] to the locker room and put in front of a doctor, and at that moment I was smashed,” Pena says. “I just yelled. I just had to let go. I had to let him out.
“I was so happy it was finally over, and I’m sure he felt the same way. He felt a load fall off his shoulder, as if a weight had fallen off him. After all was said and done, you could breathe again. And it was the moment I breathed. “
What awaits the new champion?
Nunes has already indicated interest in the rematch.
Pena believes the rematch will be no different and hopes one of Coaches will be part of Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter alongside Nunes.
“The same thing will happen [on the rematch],” he predicts.
“The perfect case is that we’re both teaching Ultimate Fighter and fighting in August.”
Two-time Professional Fighters League champion and free agent Kayla Harrison was next to the cage to witness Pena oust Nun from his throne.
Harrison had a few picky words for Pena after his victory, saying, “You have to be careful about what you say and who you say it to.”
Pena withdrew those comments, but made it clear she would be ready for Harrison if she moved to the UFC.
- Who is this Ronda Rousey looking for? Says Pena.
“Kayla isn’t on the radar. I don’t think she could handle 135 pounds, but if you want to gain weight, pack up your stuff and come here, honey.
“Until then, I’ll focus on the rematch with Amanda.”