Ronda Rousey is about as factually unstoppable as any fighter in the history of combat sports; a testament to both her skills inside of the cage and the lack of talent in the division that’s forced to share it with her.
Miesha Tate couldn’t do it in either of her two title bouts with the “Rowdy” one. Despite being snubbed in favor of an undefeated challenger at UFC 193, we’re pretty sure Tate wasn’t going to be able to capitalize on her third try either. Liz Carmouche almost did it (kind of, but not really), but didn’t quite have the skills to capitalize on the neck crank. Olympic medalist Sara McMann proved her impeccable wrestling pedigree wasn’t enough to stop the judo expert. One by one, relatively elite-level fighters in Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia all watched Rousey’s hand raised as they were destined to become another bullet point on the champion’s resume.
We look at undefeated former boxing champion Holly Holm with a glimmer of hope, only to realize her nine victories have come against lesser talent. We’ll all likely tune into UFC 193, regardless of what predispositions we have of Holm as a viable threat to Rousey’s throne.
But as you make your way down the list of top female bantamweights on the UFC roster — most of whom have already tasted defeat against Rousey — your eyes are forced to stop at Julianna Pena (or they should be, anyway). She might not be able to do it either, but it’s something worth finding out.
For its sake, the UFC should be desperate to find out, too.
That said, we’ll only have a chance to examine Pena’s abilities against the best if she’s to reign victorious over her toughest competition to date — a bout against the promotion’s sixth-ranked fighter Jessica Eye at UFC 192 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
In fairness, you can’t say the same for Eye. We’ve seen her lose in the Octagon twice before, with her most recent loss coming in disappointing fashion after failing to capitalize on a dominant first round against a former world champion. We know she’s beatable.
Showcasing a tactical aggression few other female fighters can match, Pena first offered the MMA masses some hope during her stint on The Ultimate Fighter 18 — a season featuring Rousey and Tate as head coaches. “The Venezuelan Vixen” made a name for herself after using her push-forward approach to beat some of the competition’s best fighters in Shayna Baszler, Sara Moras and Jessica Rakoczy.
A gruesome training injury that tore through four of Pena’s knee ligaments forced her to hit the shelf for nearly two years after winning the TUF 18 crown, temporarily extinguishing what prospect we saw for an eventual showdown with Rousey. She returned in April as a reminder of why many of us were so high on her capacity as a fighter in this division, storming past an overwhelmed Milana Dudieva in under four minutes.
Note: This video was captured through the UFC’s Spanish broadcast team. The language shouldn’t matter, though; focus your attention on Pena’s top game at the 3:30 mark of the video. She gets real violent, real quick.
At just 26 years old, Pena has a world of improvement ahead of her — a concept that should bother just about every female fighter on the bantamweight roster. Problem is, Rousey may not stick around long enough for the TUF alum to make what necessary improvements we need to see before calling on the UFC to make the pairing happen.
If all goes according to plan (a conceptual plan; we’re not accusing the UFC of scheming here), Rousey gets past Holm, Amanda Nunes, Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Zingano or Tate once more before Pena stakes her claim for the title. That’ll likely give “The Venezuelan Vixen” two crucial years to prepare for the greatest female fighter in the history of combat sports.
But if it doesn’t go according to plan — as tends to happen in the oft-unpredictable world of professional sports —and Pena fails to get past a tough opponent in Eye, the world likely finds itself deprived of another relatively exciting challenger to, at the very least, step into the cage against Rousey. That’s about as much as we can ask for, anyway, considering how historically dominant the champion’s been since making her pro MMA debut just four short years ago.
In the end, Pena might just serve as another arm to add to Rousey’s mantel. Still, she’s a new arm, and that kind of matters when you’ve got even the most talented of fighters claiming the third time’s the charm.