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The Weekly Takedown: Julianna Peña wants Ronda Rousey to back up tough talk in the octagon

The UFC champ has unfinished business to settle with the WWE star after her first title defense against Amanda Nunes.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

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Julianna Peña (11-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) felt the tidal wave of momentum rush toward her.

Amanda Nunes (21-5 MMA, 14-2 UFC) had dictated the pace in the first five minutes of their fight in December at UFC 269, giving every reason to assure that her win streak would jump from to 13. But then the unthinkable happened – Peña stood up to Nunes in Round 2, pummeling the women's bantamweight champ with shot after shot after shot. Suddenly, Nunes looked exhausted. The narrative had changed, forcefully, and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable inevitably occurred.

"It never crossed my mind that I couldn't do this," Peña said. "Yes, I took some heavy shots. But it's a fist fight. I've been doing this for 13 years. I know I'm going to get hit. When you get hit, that's the moment that shows whether you'll crumble or succeed. I knew that I had to walk through that fire. If I could take those shots and keep walking, I knew I'd be fine."

More than just fire, Peña unleashed a fiery fighting spirit in that career-defining second round. Particularly telling was the look on Nunes' face. Once the picture of supreme confidence, fear and doubt suddenly appeared in her eyes. That is when Peña brought Nunes to the mat, locking her in a rear-naked choke and shocking the fight world with a stunning victory against the seemingly unbeatable Nunes.

"Her eyes were getting as big as plates, and I could see her wilting," Peña said. "In that moment, I started thinking, 'I think I could finish her on my feet. I think I might be able to f-cking knock her out.' And all I could see was a sea of white, which were my trainers jumping around shooting, 'Go! Press her! Press her!'"

Peña finished the fight with her submission, and has been basking in a whirlwind of glory ever since. That includes starring on the newest season of "The Ultimate Fighter," which premieres on ESPN+ on May 3, where she will coach against Nunes.

"My entire career, I've wanted to coach on 'The Ultimate Fighter,'" said Peña, who won the show in 2013. "When you get your black belt, all of a sudden they say you become a white belt and your job is to give back to the sport. This is my time to help guide this new crop of up-and-coming fighters in the UFC. It's something I've always wanted to do, and I'm really happy to have this opportunity."

Peña's first title defense will be a rematch against Nunes. Back-to-back victories against Nunes would elevate Peña to an entirely new realm of greatness – but she has even grander ambitions: Peña wants a fight against Ronda Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC).

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"That has always been a fight that interests me," Peña said. "When Dana White allowed women into the UFC, he just handed Ronda a belt. She didn't have to compete, she didn't have to do anything. He just said, 'Hey, welcome to this promotion, here's this shiny belt.' After he gave her the belt, she had to fight Liz Carmouche. At that point, I'm on 'The Ultimate Fighter.' I wasn't fighting one person, I had to fight four people. When I came out as the winner, I was ready to face Ronda."

When Peña won 'The Ultimate Fighter,' she fought on Miesha Tate's team against a team led by Rousey. Although Rousey has not fought since her loss to Nunes in 2016, Peña still vividly recalls her discussion with Rousey from nearly a decade ago.

"Ronda told me, 'You're going to give me a tougher fight than Miesha Tate could ever dream about – but when that day comes, I'm still going to kick your ass,'" Peña said. "And I said to her, 'We'll see.' So, of course, I want to fight Ronda. That was a fight I was gunning for before I tore out my knee (in 2014). When I came back, she lost and ran off and hasn't come back. But I have a feeling that she wants to come back.

"It bothers her that she left on two knockout losses, and that she never came back to avenge those. If she ever does get an itch to avenge those losses, I would love the opportunity to compete against her and fight her. I don't think that that's going to happen. Let's face it, she's a star. She's killing it in the WWE, and she can make a ton more money doing what she does over there instead of doing the real sh-t. But if she wants to challenge herself and come back to the real stuff, I'll be here."

While a fight against Rousey would be a massive payday and a pay-per-view headliner, Peña has plenty to focus on in the present with a date in the octagon looming against Nunes. She has remained confident, believing that her victory was no fluke, instead the result of more than a decade of perseverance and dedication to the craft.

"I've been on the scene since Dana White allowed women into the UFC," Peña said. "So that night against Amanda was a reminder that I'm here. I've been here all along. I haven't gone anywhere, and I'm here to stay. I want people to follow me on my journey as I tread through these uncharted waters as champion.

"I'm going to get in a fight against Amanda again, and guess what? I'm going to get hit again. That's something I already know, and I'm comfortable in those uncomfortable positions. That's what I do every day so I can survive there and so I can thrive there. That's what separates the elite from the average.

The title fight against Nunes embodied Peña's fighting spirit. She was willing to stand up and fight – and show she was tougher in the cage than Nunes, an unimaginable notion prior to their fight. She believes that history will repeat itself when they run it back, when she can prove there is no doubt over who is the best in the world.

"You are your only limit," Peña said. "If you don't believe in yourself, how are you going to expect other people to believe in you? No one can take away the amount of work I put in. When you put in the work, when you grind hard, you can confidently go in there and say, 'I'm going to kill them.' There is a little dog inside you that says, 'I'm not quitting.' Well, now I've got a big dog inside of me that's literally going to bite somebody's head off if they come near me. That's how focused I am. That's how ready I am. That's how hard I've been working. No one can take that away from me.

"For me, it's all about the road to the rematch against Amanda. And I have an unwavering fight inside me that I know I can do it."

ONE Championship announces game-changing media rights deal

ONE Championship has arrived in the United States.

Their new media rights deal with Amazon Prime Video was announced Wednesday, a five-year agreement where Prime Video will broadcast a minimum of a dozen live ONE Championship martial arts events annually.

ONE, which is the globe's largest martial arts organization, is already a top-five global sports property for viewership and engagement. The promotion offers world-class MMA, as well as muay Thai, kickboxing, and submission grappling.

There is a distinct uniqueness ONE brings to fight fans in the United States with all of those disciplines. The most captivating muay Thai roster in the world now has a slot in U.S. primetime, as do the submission grapplers, who are some of the true icons of the sport. No other promotion in the U.S. offers anything beyond MMA, so ONE now separates itself with the ability to show something completely new at the highest levels of combat.

The first shows on Amazon will be critical for ONE, and it will be important to give something different to fans. If presented correctly, muay Thai could have a huge audience. This is game-changing news from ONE, and a world of potential now exists for their future.

The Pick 'Em Section:

Here are my picks for this Saturday's UFC Fight Night card, which I think will be a breakout performance for Rob Font:

UFC on ESPN 35 main event: Rob Font vs. Marlon Vera

  • Pick: Rob Font

UFC heavyweight bout: Andrei Arlovski vs. Jake Collier

  • Pick: Jake Collier

UFC featherweight bout: Andre Fili vs. Joanderson Brito

  • Pick: Andre Fili

UFC lightweight bout: Jared Gordon vs. Grant Dawson

  • Pick: Grant Dawson

UFC featherweight bout: Darren Elkins vs. Tristan Connelly

  • Pick: Darren Elkins

Last week: 2-3

2022 record: 52-22

This story first published at SI.com/mma.