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Exclusive: Julianna Peña on Her Next Fight, Family, Fans, Those Cornering Skills and More

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Julianna Peña is one of the brightest young talents in MMA. At just 25 years old, the “Venezuelan Vixen” has gone 2 – 0 in the UFC and, in 2013, became the first ever woman to win the Ultimate Fighter. Despite suffering a major injury setback so early on in her career, Peña is back with her eyes firmly set on climbing the women’s bantamweight rankings. I got the chance to talk to her about all of that and more.

Peña had a very busy July, and not just because of her appearances during UFC Fight Week. “I was on the road for 21 days starting from July 6th through July 27th. I went from the UFC Fan Expo to Sam Sicilia’s fight in San Diego, to being a special guest in Seattle with Uriah Faber and then to Chicago to corner Elizabeth Phillips. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my fans and interacting with them because they are the Soul of the UFC.

On the subject of Phillips’ fight, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to ask about her teammates performance, as well as her much tweeted about cornering skills that were on display before and during that fight. “Elizabeth fought Jessamyn as an amateur on short notice and with 4 or 5 months of MMA training. This time she was ready and I could not have been more proud.” With a smile, she added “And yes. I’ve been told my cornering skills are top notch. Guys in my gym have argued about if I’ll be in their corner or another’s corner and I have to tell them to relax, I’ll corner them both. The twitter posts just re-emphasized what I already know.”

Peña is clearly passionate about cornering her teammates, but the next move in her own fighting career was announced recently; a UFC 192 bout with Jessica “Evil” Eye in a fight in which a win would propel her up the division, something Peña knows well. “Jessica’s a tough girl. I’m looking to put on a relentless show and after I win, I should be in title shot contention.” She also said “I don’t care who I fight as long as I have my required time to get ready, which won’t be a problem now because I am training full time.”

Peña’s confidence and determination shines through, something which was also evident when I asked her about comeback from the serious injury she suffered after winning TUF 18. “I did overcome a massive setback and I think that just shows a small fraction of my character, determination, and will to survive. I felt very overwhelmed emotionally and was stressed out to what I thought was my max. I literally couldn’t take one more second. I knew I had an opportunity to channel that into my fight and that’s exactly what I did. It felt amazing. The weight instantly lifted.”

Her TKO victory in that comeback fight with Milana Dudieva was impressive and one of the most popular wins of the year among fans. However, winning The Ultimate Fighter is probably the biggest achievement of her career so far. “Winning the Ultimate Fighter was a blessing that I worked hard for. It was huge for gaining experience and invaluable in my development because it taught me how to eat properly, recover properly. It helped me become closer to the company. It helped prepare me for when people ask me for a picture or autograph. It showed me how self-belief, hard work, determination and the will to win can overcome any obstacle.” When asked if she would consider a coaching role in a future series, her answer was resounding. “If I was asked to coach I would absolutely jump on the opportunity.”

All fighters obviously come from different backgrounds and get introduced to MMA in different ways. With that in mind, I then asked if fighting was something Julianna always wanted to do. “I did not grow up knowing I wanted to be a fighter but, I was ALWAYS fighting! I come from a pretty big family with lots of cousins and we would spend more of our time rough-housing which made me tough. My older brother would kick my butt when we would play together, and from my sisters… well, let’s just say I learned to fight with words from them.

So, in that case, what were the aspirations of a young Julianna Peña? “As a little kid, I dreamed of being on TV! Either as a TV host or interviewer. I was always singing with a microphone in hand, and I knew all the lines to any Disney movie. This drove my sisters crazy. To me as a kid, I was living the dream, I just didn’t know it yet. Being a UFC fighter has brought the best of both worlds to me. I’m kicking ass on TV!

Watching Peña fight, her athleticism is plain to see, which is not something that a person obtains by accident. So, before discovering MMA and indeed for the majority of her life, Peña was already a very active person. “I come from a very busy family. We were always doing something that required movement. From sweeping floors to riding bike rides on the Centennial trail. We played a lot of basketball, soccer, and volleyball as a family, and I have fond memories of watching my mom sweat her ass off to Jane Fonda step aerobics tapes in the living room and my dad wrestled. Although I wasn’t on any varsity team for any one sport, I could hang playing whatever it was we were doing. MMA came to me by default. I took a cardio kickboxing class with my sister at a place that also taught MMA. It was love at first punch.”

Outside of MMA, there are many things Peña enjoys, but chief among them is spending time with her family. “I mentioned that I have a pretty large family. Right now, we have 8 nephews! Our family is getting ready to welcome the first niece in October, the same month as my next fight.  I spend a lot of time with my family, spoiling the boys rotten. I also spend quite a bit of time with my closet friends.” She then went on to discuss some other interests she holds. “Music was also another big theme growing up as a Peña, I get that from my dad.  I love to listen to music, find new artists, watch videos and have dance parties alone in my undies. I enjoy getting my sweat on with some hot yoga. I’m all over the place when it comes to hobbies. I can’t stop spending money on makeup,” before adding, with a laugh “and there’s nothing like eating whatever I want when I’m not training!”

The day to day life of a fighter is something that people are always curious to find out more about. For Peña, it depends on if she’s in fight mode. “When I’m training, I wake up and have breakfast. Then work out, come home and eat and take a nap. I run errands, spend time with family or friends, snack, work out again, come home and eat and sleep. When I’m not training, see larger response to the previous question. Oh, and lip gloss…lots and lots of lip gloss.”

Another thing about Peña that one can feel is her pride. Namely, the pride she has in her family and her heritage, which I asked if that served as a motivational factor for her. Peña’s reply was full of enthusiasm. “Yes! When I’m in Houston on October 3rd, I will feel right at home. There is a huge Latino population there, and I know they’re going to be cheering for me. I will give them a fight to remember!

Peña’s popularity among fans is undisputable, but, as is increasingly becoming the case with certain female MMA fighters, she is seen as a role model to young girls who want to succeed, not just in MMA, but in sports in general. Something she is very proud of. “First off, being called a role model is such a huge compliment to me. I am very flattered to think that what I am doing is giving young girls dreams of doing the same thing. It’s also a little scary, because I am not perfect! All I can say is, I’ve been marching to the beat of my own drum since I was in diapers. If the drum beat you hear growing up doesn’t match that of everyone else, that’s OK. Keep on marching girl! And be kind to each other.

I would like to sincerely thank Julianna for taking the time to speak with me, but, before wrapping up the interview, Peña had some special words for her fans which I believe should serve as the final words to this article. “I love my fans! I could spend all afternoon talking about them. Your support and love keeps me motivated. You guys mean so much to me. My fans are the soul of the UFC. Your continued support is everything and I cannot stress that enough! I love you loyal guys and I thank you! I bleed for me but I also bleed for you!

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Exclusive: Alexander Gustafsson eyeing summer 2018 return- wants title shot next

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Top light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson hasn’t fought since an impressive knockout win back in May, against Glover Teixeira. “The Mauler” is currently on a two-fight winning streak, and for many people, is seen as one of the most logical names to fight for the title next.

Currently absent from the Octagon since May, speaking to MMA Latest, “The Mauler” explains why he’s been on such a long layoff. “I have had an injury in my shoulder,” Gustafsson told MMA Latest. “I had a surgery a couple of months back where they put in a titanium plate to keep my collarbone in place. But that plate was taken out last week so I am back to training and slowly but surely getting better with all the rehab. I’m excited to be back in the Octagon soon.”

After so many obstacles, Gustafsson details when we can expect him back in the cage. “If everything goes well with rehab, I’ll be back in the octagon in the beginning of the summer – right in time for the next title match!”

Volkan Oezdemir was calling out Gustafsson for a European number one contender fight, Gustafsson explains he was never interested in the fight. “No, my prior goal and my only interest is the title fight,” Gustafsson said. “If Volkan wins against DC he will probably be my next opponent.”

The title fight is “absolutely” what Gustafsson believes is next for him and don’t expect to see him in a number one contender fight first. “As I said previously, the title fight is my number one interest.”

With Daniel Cormier and Volkan Oezdemir fighting for the title at UFC 220, Gustafsson shares his thoughts on the matchup. “It’s an exciting matchup – DC is the more experienced fighter and he is a more complete fighter than Volkan,” Gustafsson said. “DC has also been in this situation before, Volkan has not.”

Back in July, Jon Jones failed his second test for PED’s after beating Daniel Cormier to regain his light heavyweight belt. Before the fights with Daniel Cormier, Jones went to war with Gustafsson back in 2013. Gustafsson shares his thoughts on Jones’ second failed test. “Disastrous is my first thought,” Gustafsson explains. “But for the sport, it is good that the truth is out. I wish Jon good luck in his rehab and he is one of the most talented fighters in the UFC.”

Gustafsson was also asked if he eyeing a rematch with Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones before the end of his career. “Of course, I feel good and I’m motivated,” Gustafsson said. “I would like to get the opportunity to match up against both DC and Jon before I retire.”

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Exclusive: Aljamain Sterling discusses upcoming fight and more ahead of UFC Fresno

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Alajamain Sterling is set to meet late-notice opponent, Marlon Moraes, at the UFC’s return to California. UFC Fresno is headlined by a featherweight fight between top contenders Cub Swanson and Brian Ortega.

Sterling was originally supposed to meet Rani Yahya before he was forced to pull out. Although the Moraes is a bigger fight, it doesn’t seem to matter much to the Brazilian Jui-Jitsu brown belt.

I don’t really give a sh*t honestly,” Sterling told MMA Latest. “I just want to fight, make money, whoop ass, and get paid, you know? That’s honestly all I really care about right now at this point in my career and I’m fighting to pay the bills. This what I chose to do and I have to keep the ball rolling. That’s honestly the way I’m looking at things right now and it is a bigger fight for sure. But at the end of the day, it’s another man standing in front of me trying to do the same thing, separate me from my consciousness, or detach a limb from my body.”

Sterling also shares his thoughts on his new opponent, Moraes. “I think he’s a great opponent,” Sterling said. “I think a win over him puts me in a position to fight for a number one contender spot or challenge for the world title.”

Another bantamweight who was also looking for a replacement opponent was Jimmie Rivera, but was a fight with ever a realistic possibility? “Yeah, it was,” Sterling said. “But it takes two to fight, so Rivera didn’t want the fight and here we are.”

So why did it take so long for a replacement to be booked? “Well if you look at the landscape of the top ten, top fifteen of the division, everyone was pretty much booked up,” Sterling explains. “So there really wasn’t no one readily available to fight, so that kind of left me to either take a stay busy fight or just kind of wait and see what happens.”

Sterling also discussed who he believes is next for him with a win. “Well it really depends on the landscape of the division right now,” Sterling says. “TJ’s (Dillashaw) talking about trying to fight Mighty Mouse, I don’t know if Mighty Mouse is going to take the fight and hopefully he, TJ, he’s fighting within our division so we can keep this division going. Right now this is the hottest division, I think, in my personal opinion. So for him to try to leave the division to go take a fight at a weight class when he didn’t clean out his weight class yet, that doesn’t make much sense to me. So hopefully the UFC keeps him rolling and keeps him active between the 135-pound division. I think TJ’s actually a really great fight for me stylistically, but right now the man I’m worried about is Marlon Moraes, he’s a tough opponent, has the legs kicks, and I can’t sleep on this guy.”

Speaking of TJ Dillashaw, Sterling was also asked if he watched the TJ vs Cody Garbrandt fight at UFC 217. “Oh definitely,” Sterling says. “I would have been, I’d be a fool not to watch that fight. I thought it was a great fight, I thought skillset was very close, I thought TJ was more well rounded. I think a lot of people called me crazy because I was saying TJ had a chance of touching him on the chin and knocking him out but if he didn’t it would be a five-round decision win for TJ. But he’s a very durable fighter, uses his brain, and he implements a great gameplan everytime he goes out there. I think the only reason he got dropped at the end of that first round was because he got a little frustrated and wanted the action to kind of pick up a little bit and in the second round he changed gears a little bit and he started to dictate the pace a little bit more. Cody’s just a big counter-fighter, counter-striker, hits hard, he’s really fast, and he’s athletic, but outside of that his skill set, if we’re looking at the skillset side of knocking people out I’m going to say his well-roundedness is not really all there, I’m not saying he can’t do it, he can’t do it all, but when he fights he primarily just strikes with his hands that’s pretty much it.”

Finally, Sterling gives his prediction for his fight Moraes. “I’m going to go out there and push the pace,” Sterling explains. “I’m going to put in work and cash out B.I.W.C.O. I think that second round I’m going to push the pace, get him, get on his legs early, fire those kicks, fire those punches down the middle, I’m going to be moving. I’m going to be moving, grooving, I’m just going to go out there and do my thing man, so I’m, we got to figure out what our skillsets are, what we bring to the table and I’m just going to, we’re just going to pull up a chair and see how we’re going to have to work this out.”

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Will Fleury discusses incident on “The Fighter” and upcoming bout on December 16th

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Earlier this week footage from EFC’s “The Fighter” emerged on social media. The video showed SBG’s Will Fleury being struck with countless illegal blows to the spine and to the back of the head. At first glance viewers would look and see the first strike then await the referee to stop the action and warn the other fighter. Unfortunately, that did not happen, at long last, the fight was stopped, however, instead of a disqualification win for Fleury. It was ruled a no contest. The video bodes the question to what the referee was doing as well as raising the awareness of fighter safety.

Following all the in cage drama, Fleury was forced out of the show after being told he was concussed despite no medical tests being done on him. With everything said and done, Will looks back on the situation with frustration after all the errors made by EFC.

“The situation was a mess on a number of levels. There was huge potential in the show if they’d let me fight on. But they’ve made a series of inexcusable errors that have led to this ridiculous situation. I think they wanted to brush this all under the carpet and pretend it never happened. They basically treated me like I was a problem that they didn’t want to have to deal with.”

When looking at the in-cage issues Fleury does not blame EFC, as it was, of course, the referee’s fault. The manner in which they went about removing him from the show amongst other things is something he found speculative though.

“The EFC is a promotion, their goal is profit, not fair sport. In fairness, they can’t be held accountable for the referee’s incompetence. But, how they decided to deal with it afterwards was very questionable.”

Currently, in MMA, fighter safety is one of the most talked about things, from weight-cutting to late stoppages. Ireland, in particular, takes extra precaution with the introduction of Safe MMA. In his bout, Fleury’s safety did not look like it was in the best interest of the referee. Fleury recalls meeting the ref a week later and showing him the footage only to be taken back and annoyed at the referee’s response of not seeing any issue.

“If your role as a referee is to ensure fighter safety, he clearly failed miserably. Honestly, I think he’s just not competent for the job. I don’t know how long he’s been involved in the sport for but I met him at a show a week later and showed him the video. He didn’t really think any of the shots were to the back of the head, I got so angry, I couldn’t talk to the guy. Also, It was called a no contest because my head was moving apparently that doesn’t make sense either”

Considering his health was at risk due to the referee’s actions, Will is feeling fit and well with no issues coming out of the fight.

“Yeah, it honestly seems fine. I genuinely felt fine right afterwards and in the days after too. I was winning challenges in the house 16 hours after the fight. looking at the footage is very grim tho, who knows what sort of damage its done in the long term, hopefully very little”

For those who don’t know, Will is scheduled to fight Gordon Roodman on December 16th. Not exactly pleased with the new fight offer, he is glad to finally be able to showcase his abilities but doesn’t see this fight as any consolation for what happened.

“I wouldn’t say pleased. But it gives me a welcome outlet for my frustration and I finally have a platform to show just how good I am at whooping ass. No, It’s not really a consolation. I don’t think they give a shit about what’s fair. They just reckon they can make money from me. You can expect a 1st round TKO/KO”

Will has a very close friendship with teammate Ben Forsyth, having fought before he detailed how they became friends afterwards. After mentioning how it’d be cool to fight on the same card as Ben he details that getting those ever so scarce fights at the higher weight classes come first.

“Ben contacted me about becoming less of a twat so I gave him some advice and things blossomed from there. Yeah, that’d be great but our number one priority for both of us right now is just getting the fights.”

Will then went on to detail the hardship in getting fights on the regional scene.

“Yeah, it’s a serious struggle especially when you’re known to be a good fighter and people are trying to look after their records. there’s also just not that many guys. I’ve fought twice and I’m already the best Middleweight in Ireland. If it were up to me I’d have a lot more but still, that shows you how few guys there are. and if anyone has an issue with me being the best Middleweight in Ireland make 84 and I can prove you wrong”

For those who haven’t seen the footage mentioned above, here it is. Be sure to keep an eye out for Will in his upcoming bout a few weeks from now.

EFC was approached for a comment on this footage, however, have unfortunately not responded.

This is how my time on TF1 ended. 15 elbows, 11 directly to the back of the head, 3 to the spine with the other elbow after the referee tries to stop him. I had been dominating this fight up to this point and was keen to continue (I have to full fight footage proving this). I was told I couldn’t. The fight was declared a no contest rather than a DQ as I was “moving my head”. I was then booted out of the tournament because I was “concussed” (never did any tests to prove this and I was winning challenges in the house 16 hours after this happened) I was the best fighter in that house by a considerable distance and would have smashed any of the other 10 contenders if given the chance. I proved it in every training session and every legal moment in any of my fights. I’ve been denied the chance to earn a decent contract and get my title shot. I’m Will Fleury. I win shit these fucks have disturbed the natural order and I will restore it. #Bullshit #TF1 #irishmma #EFC #mmanews #mmafighting #trykeepmedown #rawbastard #resilientbastard

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