For the first time since 2019, Julianna Peña is appearing on a UFC Fight Night card. Except, this time, it is not to step in the octagon.
"Mixed martial arts is what I'm most passionate about, and I could talk about it all day long," Peña says. "So when I got asked to sit in and talk about fighting, that was a no-brainer for me. It's something I've always wanted to do, so I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. I'm very humbled and excited for it."
Peña has experience in the role from her time breaking down the action in Combate Global. Since learning three weeks ago she would be part of this broadcast, she has prepared in her signature meticulous fashion for the card, which is headlined by a strawweight bout pitting Marina Rodriguez (16-1-2 MMA, 6-1-2 UFC) against Amanda Lemos (12-2-1 MMA, 6-2 UFC).
"Another interesting aspect is I know these people," Peña says. "Some of them are my friends. But I'm going to give my honest take. I've had fighters in Combate blow me up and say, 'Why did you say that about me?' I've experienced that myself when "DC" (Daniel Cormier) or Joe (Rogan) said something about my fighting that rubbed me the wrong way, but I know it's not personal. I'm going to be honest ,and I'm going to be myself, and the rest should take care of itself."
Last December, Peña shocked the fight world when she forced Amanda Nunes to tap out, defeating one of the greatest of all time and crowning herself women's bantamweight champion in the process. Nunes regained the title in July during the rematch, and now fight fans – and Peña – eagerly await the trilogy bout.
"There's no other fight I can see," Peña says. "I gave her a rematch, immediately, within six months. It's time for her to return the favor. Not much else needs to be said other than we're 1-1. This needs to be solved in a trilogy fight. Let's make it happen."
Nunes won the rematch by unanimous decision, though the victory came at a price. Despite the defeat, Peña unleashed a vicious assault. There were even multiple sequences when it appeared she was on the precipice of making Nunes tap.
"Amanda was able to dig deep," credits Peña. "Something I find really interesting is that, after she lost to me, there were so many excuses as to why she lost. For me, there are no excuses. I could come up with excuses, but I'm not here to do that. Let's settle this fair and square in a trilogy."
Peña competes in an inspiring style, one defined by a resolute heart and a refusal to quit. She plans to bring that unbridled passion to the broadcast desk Saturday. If the experience goes well, there is every reason to believe she will have more opportunities.
"Fighting is where I make my money, but I know I can't fight forever," Peña says. "I have to segue into something for the future, and if it involves MMA, and talking about MMA, that's a dream for me."
This weekend's interesting slate of fights takes on even more intrigue with Peña at the analyst desk adding her insight. She is a world-class athlete who competes at the most elite level possible, and now she has the opportunity to share that perspective.
"This is my chance to show them what I can do," said Peña. "I'm excited to join the team, and I'm honored for the opportunity.
Bellator 288 pits proud fighting families against one another
Freire is the older brother of the great Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, who is Bellator's reigning featherweight champion. Nurmagomedov is the cousin of the famed Khabib Nurmagomedov. Each man will be in his respective family's corner for the fight, adding an extra layer of intrigue to a fascinating title bout.
Undefeated, Nurmagomedov (15-0) has yet to face a challenge like Freire. He has mauled his opponents, most recently Chris Gonazlez this past summer, but remains untested against the upper echelon of the division. Freire (24-10) also enters this bout with more questions than answers. While he is tied with Michael Page for the most knockouts in Bellator history, Freire has been constantly overshadowed throughout his career by the brilliance of his brother.
Only two weeks away, Bellator 288 will be a chance to see a rare Pitbull- Nurmagomedov battle. It stands as an opportunity for Freire to finally show the world just how good he is, or for Nurmagomedov to follow in his cousin's footsteps and take his place as champion.
Rodtang looks to make statement at ONE on Prime Video 4
Another standout bout this month also takes place in two weeks, when Rodtang Jitmuangnon meets Joseph Lasiri at ONE on Prime Video 4.
Rodtang and Lasiri are both champions in ONE. Rodtang is the reigning muay Thai flyweight champ, while Lasiri holds the muay Thai strawweight belt. This should be an outstanding fight, and it is Rodtang's title that is on the line as Lasiri moves up a weight class.
Rodtang possesses a dominant fighting style that should immediately endear him to fans in North America. He should obliterate Lasiri with his offense. Although Lasiri is coming off a major victory against Prajanchai P.K.Saenchaimuaythaigym, he is in for a whole new world of punishment against the unrelenting Rodtang.
After missing ONE on Prime Video 1 due to an illness, this is Rodtang's chance to show that he is the most exciting, explosive fighter in the promotion.
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.