Julianna ‘Venezuelan Vixen’ Peña Shakes Up the MMA World

Dec 13, 2021
1:48 PM

Julianna Peña reacts after defeating Amanda Nunes by submission in a women’s bantamweight mixed martial arts title bout at UFC 269, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

“I’m not surprised, motherfuckers!””

When told by UFC commentator Joe Rogan on Saturday that she had just “shook up the world,” Julianna Peña —who was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, and trains out of Chicago, Illinois— borrowed the famous line uttered by Nate Díaz after he choked out Conor McGregor five years ago, giving McGregor his first UFC loss: “I’m not surprised, motherfuckers!”

But Peña’s second round submission of Brazilian legend Amanda Nunes was an even more even more stunning conclusion in the octagon, snathcing the UFC bantamweight belt from the woman who held the title since July of 2016.

Peña’s willingness to trade punches with Nunes in the second round was admirable, a bit reckless, but it also worked, which it rarely does. The 33-year-old Nunes entered the bout as the defending UFC bantamweight champion and the reigning featherweight champion, with 12 straight wins, five by knockout, and three by submission. With a resume including victories over former UFC champions Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, and Holly Holm, the Brazilian two-weight champion entered as a heavy favorite on all fronts and, to many, the greatest of all-time in women’s MMA.

It was Nunes who was supposed to be staggering her opponent, but the 32-year-old Peña, nicknamed “the Venezuelan Vixen,” was getting the better of these exchanges despite only three of her then-11 career wins coming by knockout. Something was off. 

Nunes hadn’t lost in seven years, and in that span, it was rare for an opponent to pop her with a jab without receiving a receipt. But Peña began pestering Nunes with right hooks, working off her jab, rattling Nunes’ head side to side like a tipsy abuela on Nochebuena. Nunes started uncharacteristically backing up—she rarely retreated against Cyborg in their bantamweight-featherweight title unification fight from 2018. What was going on now?

Over the next three minutes, blood began streaming Nunes’ nose as the stalking Peña’s swollen left eye began to shut.

Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the second round, Peña was able to ground Nunes, take her back, slap on a rear-naked choke and force the champion to tap, recording arguably the greatest upset in UFC history. 


At the post-fight press conference, Peña said she had been calling for the fight against Nunes since UFC 200 in July 2016, where Nunes first won the UFC bantamweight title by choking out the aforementioned Tate in the first round—that same night, Peña beat Cat Zingano, a legend in her own right who had not only recorded the first women’s TKO in UFC history (when she beat Tate in April of 2013) but also had beaten Nunes herself in September of 2014. 

“At UFC 200, when the T-Mobile Arena very first opened up, me and Cat (Zingano) were the first girls on the card, and I beat Cat,” Peña recalled. “When Amanda fought Miesha, I sat cageside, and I said, ‘I want that fight.’ When she (Nunes) became champion, she came here and sat before you guys, and you guys asked her, ‘Who’s next?’ and she said, ‘I think Julianna Peña.’ I’m like, ‘That’s great, that’s my fight, I want that fight!’ I called for it at the cage. So I’m expecting to fight Amanda.”


“Ronda Rousey just got knocked out by Holly Holm (in November 2015 for the bantamweight title), and she got to cut the line,” Peña continued. “And instead of Amanda fighting me, she took a fight with Ronda. And I’m like, ‘That’s not fair.'”

Peña said she had heard rumors that Nunes was avoiding her. (Nunes’) camp was over there in Abu Dhabi saying, ‘She is watching very closely. She does not wanna fight you.’ This is the rumor that I’m hearing, and it’s from her camp. And so I’m like, ‘I know she doesn’t want to fight me.'”

The match-up itself marked many historical first, much of which were not reported by mainstream media, of course, but are definitely worth indicating. 

Peña’s win over Nunes will forever be historic, but the clash between the Venezuelan-Mexican contender and the Brazilian champion marked the first-ever UFC title bout contested by two Latinas—not including Nunes’ win over Valentina Shevchenko in 2017, who had obtained Peruvian citizenship in 2008). Peña also becomes only the fifth Latina to become UFC champion in any weight class, following Carla Esparza, Nunes, Cyborg, and Jéssica Andrade, in that order.


Last September, Nunes also became the first mother and UFC champion when wife and fellow fighter Nina Nunes (born Nina Ansaroff) gave birth to their daughter. Having given birth to a daughter in January 2018, Peña later claimed that she’s the first true “mom champ” in company history, which caused some controversy

“The UFC absolutely needs to create a new belt for me and it needs to be the ‘Baddest Mom on the Planet,'” she said at the presser. “And, you know, I’m not trying to take anything away from Amanda. She’s a wonderful mother. But I gave birth to my daughter, and I feel like for giving birth, I’m the first mom champ.”

In the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, six of the 15 women listed are Latinas: Nunes, Peña, Esparza, Andrade, Marina Rodriguez, and Irene Aldana. On the men’s side, Mexico’s Brandon Moreno (flyweight) and Brazil’s Glover Teixeira (light heavyweight) are current champions, along with lightweight champion Charles Oliveira, who successfully defended his title last night by submitting Dustin Poirier to close out the night.

Regarding Peña, she may not have been suprised by the massive upsetbut most of us were… and still are. 



Bryan Fonseca is an award-winning content creator and sports journalist. He is also the author of Hidalgo Heights, and the founder, host and executive producer of the Ain’t Hard To Tell Podcast and Side Hustle. Twitter: @BryanFonsecaNY