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TUF 18’s Julianna Pena: Women mean business and deserve to be in the UFC

The Ultimate Fighter’s 18th season is only one episode in thus far, but the heat has already been turned up to full blast. In episode two of the UFC’s ground breaking, co-ed season, Miesha Tate’s first pick overall will meet Ronda Rousey’s first pick in a fight that’s sure to be a pressure cooker.

“The Venezuelan Vixen”, Julianna Peña (4-2) will represent Team Tate in the first battle to take place on the show. Standing in her way to advancing in the tournament is Team Rousey’s first pick, long-time MMA veteran Shayna “The Queen of Spades” Baszler (15-8).

Though Peña’s friends and family may have wanted her to aspire to become a model, a doctor, or a lawyer, Julianna chose the path less traveled. In an interview with MMA Fight Corner on Tuesday evening, Peña talked about her experience on the show and what it took for her to arrive at this moment.

“It means the world to me,” Peña said. “I think this was such a great opportunity to be a part of the TUF 18 season. I’m so ecstatic that I got the chance to be a part of history and I think that this season is so great. I’m finally able to say that women are in the UFC and we’re here to stay. We’re not going anywhere and it’s just such a blessing that we are getting recognized for all the hard work that we’ve been putting in for all the years that we’ve been doing this.”

The 24-year-old Peña began paving her way to becoming a mixed martial artist in 2008 when she took up MMA training. Fighting out of Spokane, Washington, Julianna found a home with Sikjitsu. Along the way, Peña trained with her TUF coach, Tate. When Miesha was announced as one of the coaches for this season, it took her former training partner by surprise as much as anyone.

“Seeing Miesha right next to Ronda when Dana called us all in to explain the situation, I had a smile from ear to ear,” Peña explained. “I was so ecstatic that she was going to be there and to be coaching. To get picked first and to be on her team was such a blessing. I was just ecstatic over the moon…It was an honor, I guess you could say, to be picked first and to be on her team like that. I wanted to do everything in my power to represent our team well.”

As if Baszler’s 23-fight record isn’t enough to intimidate, the former Invicta FC standout also holds 14 of her wins by way of submission. Known for her rock star attitude, Baszler also trains with former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett. To get into the TUF house, Baszler submitted Colleen Schneider by way of armbar.

Peña lost her last two professional fights before auditioning for TUF 18, but won her first four straight. Her elimination bout to get into the TUF house went the distance. Only highlights were shown of Peña’s fight. From what was shown, she utilized takedowns, ground and pound, and mixed up her levels in striking to get a unanimous decision in her favor against Gina Mazany.

Most of the preparation ahead of the fight against Baszler will be shown on Episode 2, but Peña shared what it was like for her to get focused on fighting Baszler.

“I think there was a ton of pressure,” Peña said of the upcoming battle. “When you’re fighting a girl that you used to get autographs from and pictures from, I think there’s definitely some pressure there, especially being number one pick. You want to perform well and do well for Dana [White], and so I think that the pressure was definitely there and I definitely felt that on my shoulders. It was nerve racking to say the least.”

This season of The Ultimate Fighter airs on Wednesdays on FOX Sports 1 at 10pm ET. Episode 2 airing this week will feature Shayna Baszler vs. Julianna Peña. You can follow Julianna Peña on Twitter @VenezuelanVixen.

Additionally, fighters will once again vie for season bonuses in addition to a six-figure contract in the UFC. A bonus of $5,000 will be given to fighters victorious by stoppage or submission. Another $25,000 will be given for best fight of the season, best submission of the season and best knockout of the season.

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