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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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Bellator

Michael Page Not Focusing on Opponent Ahead of Boxing Debut

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest spoke to Bellator’s Michael ‘Venom’ Page, as he makes his boxing debut this Friday at the Hayemaker Ringstar Fight Night.

Page (12-0 MMA) is renowned for his entertaining fight style inside the cage, with most of his knockout and submission victories ending up in highlight reels online, that almost always go viral.

‘MVP’ was supposed to make his boxing debut on the undercard of David Haye vs Tony Bellew in March of this year, but due to ongoing negotiations with Bellator, his debut was delayed. Shortly after Page signed with Haye’s promotion “Hayemaker Ringstar.”

Q: So, Michael, we’re about five days out now from your big boxing debut, and still we have no name of an opponent? Can you break the big news, who will you be fighting next week?

I honestly couldn’t even tell you his name right now! I know I’ve got an opponent, but I haven’t even looked at him because it has changed so many times. I don’t like to pay too much attention to it, because it’s added stress. For me it’s just a case of turning up, and firing punches at whoever is across the ring.

Q: Is this fight 10 or 12 rounds? Given a standard boxing fight is a lot longer than your typical 15-minute MMA bout, has there been an emphasis on cardiovascular work in your training camp?

Depending on the opponent, I think it’s 6-rounds. The preparation has been different, I’m having to stress out my shoulders and core a lot. The kicking distance as well is very different, getting used to having people a bit closer. I’m getting used to the corners of the ring, I’ve done it before but not to this extent so I am familiar of it, but my body wasn’t really used to it.

Q: So, is this kind of like a one fight deal for Haye’s Ringstar promotion? Regardless of this fight’s outcome, will you return to MMA?

Not at all, I’m taking it seriously. Otherwise, I would have just had a super fight against a big name like McGregor did. This is why I can’t just jump into a 12 round fight, I need to adjust my body and get it prepared for boxing.

There’s no future plans yet, I’d like to have an MMA fight again before the end of this year, as I haven’t fought this whole year, but another opportunity for boxing may come up and I might get a chance to jump on that, so it depends.

Q: Were you frustrated that Bellator booked Paul Daley vs. Lorenz Larkin, and if you could send a message to Daley right now what would it be?

I have no interest in him anymore. It feels so pathetic and unnecessary now. I don’t think he deserved that fight with Larkin right after the shocking display he put on in Wembley against Rory MacDonald. But good on him he beat Larkin, however he calls me out immediately after then goes on to say he’s past that fight, it just doesn’t make sense.

Credit – michaelpagemvp – Instagram

Q: A statement we hear a lot is “MVP is the only guy outside the UFC that I want in the UFC” People criticise the talent in Bellator and say you’re fighting nobodies, what do you say back to them?

The amount of times you hear “you shouldn’t fight this person, you should have fought that person.” Everyone’s got an idea of what the correct steps someone should make are, but at the end of the day it’s their career. People are so fickle and easy to forget. If you are a fan of somebody, just be a fan of them regardless of win or loss.

Q: I’ve got to ask about how things are with Bellator, because from the outside looking in it’s quite unclear. How is it relationship at the moment?

Yeah I get on with most of the guys, it’s like a small family. I’ve still got a couple of fights left with them, they’re growing very well, the only problem is I feel like they’re focusing a bit too much on ex UFC fighters. For me it says you’re classing yourself as second best. Bellator generate some amazing superstars and young talent, they should continue to promote them.

You can watch ‘MVP’ make his boxing debut this Friday night, as the Hayemaker Ringstar Fight Night will air at 21:00PM on Dave.

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BAMMA

Exclusive: Alex Lohore “Didn’t Know” Who Richard Kiely Was Before BAMMA 32 Booking

Harry Davies

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We spoke to the recently crowned BAMMA welterweight champion Alex Lohore, as he prepares to defend his title against Richard Kiely at BAMMA 32 in Dublin.

Lohore (13-1) won the vacant BAMMA welterweight title last month at BAMMA 31 in London. Fighting his longtime rival Nathan Jones on the night, Lohore knocked out “Mr Bag & Tag” with a knee in the first round.

Q: Obviously the rivalry between you and Jones had been going on for years, but you finished it in brutal fashion. Did you to speak to him after the fight?

Yeah I did have a chat with him. I was telling him that it was a great fight and we should train together sometime, but he was he wasn’t really keen on it. I guess he was still a bit sore about the defeat.

Q: In the cage after your win, you called out Richard Kiely, now you’re fighting him. Are you happy you got the opponent you asked for?

Everyone keeps saying I called him out, I didn’t call him out, he called me out! I didn’t even address his name, I said ‘this Irish kid has been running his mouth we’re going to go out there and shut him up.’ I didn’t even know who he was. He’s been mentioning my name and talking a lot of rubbish on my social media disturbing me and my fans.

Q: The finish against Jones was picture perfect. From the elbow, to the right hand, to the knee, was it the best of your career?

Yeah I think it is, by far! It was perfect technique. I knew as he was going he back he would try to duck in for the takedown. Because I was throwing the head kick anyway all I needed to do was just switch it to a knee. I couldn’t ask for any better.

Q: Given it’s in Dublin and Richard is Irish, How do you feel about going into enemy territory at BAMMA 32?

That’s great, that’s why I’m doing it! I need to be comfortable in every environment, so going out there will test. I wanted to be on the Dublin card, now I can teach him a little lesson too, I can’t wait.

Q: As you know the Geordie Shore star Aaron Chalmers has brought a lot of attention to BAMMA recently, what are your thoughts on him? 

He’s good man. For someone who doesn’t come from a fighting background and does reality TV stuff, he’s doing good. How can people say he should fight someone more experienced, because he is taking  guys that are on his level and he’s doing good.

He’s helping MMA fighters because he has got a big following so more people are going to be watching MMA and learning about MMA so it’s a good thing having him on board.

BAMMA32 will take place at the 3Arena in Dublin on November 10th. Tickets are now on sale at ticketmaster.ie. The card will air live on both UNILAD’s Facebook page, and Dave.

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Bellator

Exclusive: Andrey Koreshkov eyeing fight with Rory MacDonald

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Former Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov is coming off of an interesting past two years. In 2015 he beat current welterweight champion Douglas Lima, via a dominant unanimous decision, in order to win the welterweight title. He returned in 2016 and beat former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson via another dominant beatdown. It seemed like Koreshkov was going to be the champion for a very long time, making elite fighters look like they had no business being in the cage with him.

Koreshkov’s world came crashing down one night in Isreal. The Russian was beating Douglas Lima in a rematch, he was up 20-18 on the score-cards, and it seemed like he was going to walk away with another successful title defense. Koreshkov forced Lima’s back against the fence and started winging punches at him, Lima started to do the same as he looked to get off the fence, and then it happened, a huge left hook caught Koreshkov on the chin and it was lights-out. Lima was once again champion, and Koreshkov’s reign was cut short.

What was next for Koreshkov after losing the title? Perhaps a move to middleweight? Bellator’s middleweight division has fewer contenders than the welterweight division and could promise a quicker path to the title for the Russian. Koreshkov is a big welterweight, standing at 6’1, he certainly wouldn’t be small in the higher weight class. Speaking to MMA Latest, Koreshkov was quick to shut down the idea of moving up. “No, no, I work hard at welterweight and I’d like to stay there.”

Sticking with welterweight, Koreshkov knew it was going to be tough to get another title shot after his fight with Chidi Njokuani, but he seems to know the key to fighting for the title “It’s not about how many wins, but rather, the quality of my wins”, with that in mind, he promised the gameplan against Njokuani was to “stand and bang”. Koreshkov fulfilled his promise, against Njokuani he came out guns-blazing, giving Njokuani all he could handle on the feet before eventually taking him down and finishing him with some nasty ground and pound.

Koreshkov also got the chance to explain who he’d like to fight next, should he not get a title shot. “I don’t have any favorites, I know that there are a lot of tough fights at my weight class, but if I had to choose, I would say Rory MacDonald.” Unfortunately for Koreshkov, MacDonald is booked against his former opponent Douglas Lima, as the two are set to fight for the Bellator welterweight title in January.

A fight against MacDonald would promise fireworks as the two are known for their ruthless style. There’s a strong chance Koreshkov may get his chance against MacDonald next, as the former champion is certainly either next in line for the shot, or set to fight the loser.

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