It’s only natural for children to mimic their parents.
The odd word here, or facial expression there, but ground and pound? That’s a whole different ballpark.
When you are a mum in the UFC, this comes as an occupational hazard.
After giving birth in January 2018, standout bantamweight Julianna Pena admits to struggling with the balance of family life and keeping active in the Octagon.
Now with baby Isabella a little older, she can attend practice with her mum, which is great in terms of freeing up Pena to train with greater regularity but has thrown up an unexpected headache.
“I was training recently and was working on ground and pound,” explained the Venezuelan Vixen. “At the end of the session, one of my coaches comes up to me and asks if I realised she was watching everything I did. That night we were at home playing and the next thing she is throwing shots on me. I didn’t know what to think.
“I want to raise a strong, independent daughter but it is hard to know what’s right at that age and whether she should be seeing me being violent at that age. Either way, I need to make sure what I do is done with my heart in the right place and as she gets older she will see that.”
As a standout fighter, Pena has been a role model for years, but the switch to motherhood and helping her daughter along the path in life has been pronounced.
“I want to be able to give my daughter an example to follow. Sometimes you can give them all the advice in the world, but I want to give an example to follow that you can do anything you set your mind to. If she sees me working hard and reaching for my goals then she is going to feel empowered to do the same in her life.”
Pena appears on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi this week at UFC on ESPN Holm v Aldana, where she will take on Germaine de Ramdamie in a pivotal clash in the 135lbs division.
The 31-year old has only been seen six times in the Octagon since smashing her way through the competition to become the first female winner of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2013.
A mix of injury and time out to start a family has limited her cage time, but her standing as an elite fighter remains unbowed.
Pena fought for the first time as a mum in July last year, seeing off the challenge of Nicco Montano, and now steps straight in to take on number-one ranked de Ramdamie.
There is an air of frustration for Pena, but a steely determination to now get the opportunities she feels are rightfully hers.
“Including the Ultimate Fighter, I am 8-1 in the UFC and there are other women with less than that who have been fighting for titles and have been able to leapfrog me. Injuries and becoming a mother have kept me out of the game, but I was able to win my last fight and I am here to fight again and I want to fight as much as possible.
“Every time I have fought in my career, I have fought a top-five girl. I am fighting the toughest girls in the division so I can’t ask any more of myself than that.”
In de Randamie, Pena is taking on one of the toughest women in the business, having only lost to double champ Amanda Nunes in her 6-2 UFC stint, which has included a spell as the promotion’s inaugural featherweight queen.
Pena is confident of the outcome however, and sees the work done by Nunes as the route to victory this weekend.
“I have seen her lose twice to Amanda and I think she wrote the blueprint on how she can be beaten. I’ll be going in there and looking to do the exact same thing, if not finish her. That’s what I plan to do. It is not going to be the easiest thing, but you have to find a way to win and that’s my goal. Germaine is standing in my way and it is my job to wipe her out of there,” she says,
And, should she have her hand raised at the Flash Forum, there is only one fight Pena is contemplating next.
“There is no other answer besides fighting for the title,” she says. “If Amanda doesn’t want to fight by the end of the year at 135 and defend her title then she needs to give it up. If you don’t fight for your belt in over a year then you have to give it up. It is time to fight for the belt and let somebody else go for it.
“I am clear cut the next in line.”
UFC on ESPN 16 Holm v Aldana from the Flash Forum, Fight Island, Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning and is available exclusively on the UFC Arabia App. Prelims start at 3.30am, main card from 6.30am.
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