Julianna Pena’s longtime coach said the UFC was very sly when it approached him roughly one week ago about a potential fight.
First, it was a question about whether they could travel to New York for a fight. The answer to that, Rick Little told MMAjunkie, was yes.
But when he realized the promotion’s intention, which was to book Pena (8-2 MMA, 4-0 UFC) a fight with Valentina Shevchenko (13-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) rather than champ Amanda Nunes (13-4 MMA, 6-1 UFC) at UFC 205, the answer was unequivocal.
“We don’t know what Amanda is doing,” said Little, who’s worked with Pena at his Sikjitsu gym in Spokane, Wash., since her professional debut. “The answer is no.”
Today, Shevchenko tweeted she had signed a bout agreement for the Nov. 12 pay-per-view event and long-awaited UFC debut at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“I did my part and signed (the) bout agreement,” she wrote on Twitter. “Looks like she wants to escape.”
Little, however, said Pena never agreed to the fight and never wanted the matchup in the first place.
“I don’t know why she even has a contract if it isn’t something they said we were going to do,” he said. “Or maybe they assumed it would be something we’d jump on.”
A UFC official did not immediately return a request for clarification on the promotion’s offer to Pena and Shevchenko, who respectively stand at No. 4 and No. 5 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA women’s bantamweight rankings.
Despite reports of Nunes’ planned title defense against ex-champ Ronda Rousey at UFC 207, Little said he hasn’t heard anything official from the promotion. For that matter, he’s skeptical about whether or not Rousey will actually be ready by the event on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.
“We don’t believe Ronda is even coming back, and until we see that, why would we sign a bout agreement with anybody else?” Little said. “It’s not even open for discussion. Amanda on Twitter said she’d fight us. Amanda made it clear we are the next deserving person for the title.”
As recently as this past month, Nunes signaled she was tired of waiting for Rousey (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC), who was brutally knocked out this past November by now ex-champ Holly Holm (10-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) and hasn’t fought since. Nunes named Pena as the deserving contender.
That was good news for Pena, “The Ultimate Fighter 18” winner, who previously heard the champion call for a title eliminator with Shevchenko.
Pena and her team believe she deserves a title shot after dispatching onetime title challenger Cat Zingano (9-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in July at UFC 200, which upped her current UFC winning streak to four fights. In a previous interview with MMAjunkie, Pena signaled she was unwilling to accept much else.
“If they don’t want me to fight for the title, why not let me fight Ronda?” Pena said. “Why don’t they let a girl who’s coming off a loss fight a girl who’s never been beaten in the octagon? Why does (Ronda) automatically jump ahead and get a title shot?”
Pena’s fire stems from a longstanding grudge with Rousey that sparked when the two rubbed shoulders on “TUF 18,” on which Rousey served as an opposing coach to Pena’s coach, Miesha Tate. Pena wants to settle a score if she’s not fighting for a belt.
“Either let me fight Ronda, or let me fight for the title,” Pena said. “Or she fights for the title and then has to fight me. I’m the real champ anyway, so why don’t they fight it out and come see me when they’re done?”
Pena’s coach said his team’s next move is unclear if Rousey is confirmed to face Nunes at UFC 207. Pena could wait for the winner of the title bout or serve as a replacement if one combatant is unable to compete. The next move will be dependent on the UFC’s next offer.
Little said under normal circumstances, Pena would fight any opponent at the drop of a hat. In this case, however, they’re holding out for the big ones.