Where to begin…
I want to first say, I knew nothing of Julianna Pena and the way she fights except for what I saw during the elimination fights. I knew she had been armbarred by Sarah Moras. I knew she was a suck-up trying to play both sides. She will tell you that she told Ronda Rousey that she wanted to be picked by her before she knew Miesha Tate was going to be there. I hope at least that the people in the Queen’s Army are smart enough to put together that we had no contact with the coaches until after we saw both of them there when they called us in for Dana White’s epic speech that first day. She knew Miesha was a coach before she tried to convince Ronda she wanted to be picked. Another thing I like about Ronda: she’s too smart for that. She didn’t fall for it. But that’s Ronda. It spoke to me of both her and Juliana’s character from the get-go.
Training for a fight on TUF is a strange animal. You can’t really game-plan based on your opponent. It could be anyone at any time. So instead of training things in your game based on weaknesses your opponent might have, you just train your strengths. So that’s what I did. I worked a lot one on one with the coaches, and that’s kind of how it went. The rest of the team did a team practice. Whoever had a fight got to work with a coach one on one. And being the first one that got to work with the coaches in this way, I have to say, I loved working with them from the start.
The first day of practice would be a dream for many hardcore fans of WMMA: Ronda and I just rolling. I had mentioned earlier how I was worried about Ronda and I both having strong personalities. We could very well clash. And both of us being proud people, both of us probably knowing that many in the WMMA community were begging for us to fight, I had some concern about training together getting overly competitive. Maybe she would want to show me exactly who she was, which I would definitely try to not let her get away with. But, as it turns out, Ronda is as secure with herself as I am. Zero ego. We rolled, we sparred, we trained. No one-upping, no pissing contest. Training. Two of the best females in the world just training together. It was awesome. And spoke again of her character to me.
Many out there believe I shouldn’t have had to do this show. That the UFC should already have signed me. That, in some ways (and I hope my Team Rousey family understands I mean no disrespect in saying this—love you guys), I was better than all this. And in some ways, Ronda treated me as such, like a comrade and not a “student.” It was a relief. She never once made me feel like she thought she was better than me, but at the same time, getting across that she very much believes she will kick my ass when we meet in the cage one day.
I think it could go without saying, but I don’t like Julianna. Many of the girls in the elimination fights knew her and didn’t like her. I didn’t know her, so I generally gave her the benefit of the doubt. She did not win me over. She tries too hard to get people to like her, exploits herself in all the wrong ways, and too easily turns her back on her friends. I don’t know how she will come across as the season goes on, but like I said, I believe at least the Queen’s Army won’t be blinded. All the others, fuck ‘em. All that being said, one other thing about Juliana: the girl doesn’t stop. She keeps scrapping.
I was never, at any point in the week leading up to the fight, ever nervous. Not even a little. Technique, skill set, all of it—she had nothing for me. As it turns out, in retrospect, one of the things that many might believe to be an advantage was probably my biggest disadvantage going into this fight. I couldn’t get up for the fight.
I can’t explain to you the odd feeling it is to walk out to fight in the UFC gym. There is no one there but the 14 people on the show and a smattering of special guests that Dana or the UFC invited in to watch. There is no music, no uproarious cheering, no screaming voices, no one yelling or chanting…it was a glorified sparring session to me. I have fought for some of the biggest shows and venues that have been available to women. I have been on network television, pay-per-views and streamed events. I have fought the biggest names that my division has to offer. I never feel pressure at those things; I feel energized. So it’s hard when I am stepping into a cage that I train in twice a day, in a small warehouse that I train in twice a day, and think of it as the most important fight I have had to date. I mean, I knew in my head that it was, but my body, my heart…this was me showing up in the gym to spar. And you know what happened? I completely kicked her ass the first round. Period. But then, when she came out the second and fought for her life, I did not.
You know how when you go to the gym and spar, there’s always that guy? Maybe he’s a new guy, maybe he’s just that guy that only has two speeds, but he always ends up going way too hard. You know him. Every gym has him. Maybe if you were in 100 percent fight mode, you would whoop his ass. But it’s just sparring, and you know this. That is the same feeling I had when Julianna came out round two. Never felt this way before. She fought for her life, and I just wanted to hold her down and put my finger on her mouth and whisper, “Shhhhhh…” I knew she was spazzing and fighting balls out. So I checked out. “Shit. I will just get her next round.” And it was too late…
Julianna showed up that day and fought for her life. I didn’t. Bottom line. Like her or not, she fought for her life at a time when I felt she didn’t even deserve to be in the cage with me. I still to this day say 99 out of 100 times, I win this fight. She just happened to do whatever it took to have her 1/100 happen on that day. The most frustrating part of all of this being that all the new fans of WMMA and of the QoS will only hate because I was so confident going into this fight, it comes off as arrogant. Julianna Pena is not better than the Queen of Spades. But many will believe it after this…foolish mortals.
I was devastated. Over 11 years of work. Of fighting for gas money. And here it is, what I finally deserve. And I couldn’t get up??? WTF? It’s over. My shot. I still say I was the best female in that house. And for whatever reason, I didn’t fight like it. Watch it again, people. I had zero urgency. And I would pay for that by losing to arguably the girl with the least amount of technique in the house. If there’s one thing that all of you in the Queen’s Army should take from this, it’s how far the need to fight for your life can take you. And nothing can really make you feel better during a time like this. Of course, there’s a long season left. And anything can happen, and I should stay ready…but none of that helps the way you feel right then after the fight in the locker room.
So Ronda took me out of the locker room and into the lobby of the gym. They showed a small part of our conversation, but they didn’t show the parts that were the most important to me. She said, “Shayna, this isn’t the only way to get what you want, it’s just one way. And, honestly, for you, it isn’t even the best way.” She told me that the reason I was her No. 1 pick wasn’t just because she believed I would win, but because I was her biggest threat on the show, and it’s wise to keep me close. I looked straight at her and said, “You will see me across the cage from you.” She replied, “I know I will,” with 100 percent belief, “…..and I will beat the shit out of you.” We laughed. It was huge that as a potential rival for her belt one day, she was completely understanding. In this sport, more than any other sport, the best fighter does not always win. That’s the simple truth. And it’s why so many love this sport.
I had no idea Ronda took it so hard when I lost until I watched the show. Manny Gamburyan told me every day until the end of the season that I broke all their hearts that day. But to see Ronda so bothered, and then shouldering the responsibility…in the end, the part that sucks the most was disappointing all of them. They truly believed in me. And why shouldn’t they? I am one of the best in the world, the contract gift-wrapped for me. And I just let someone grab it. Disappointing the coaches is something I wish didn’t happen. Their confidence in me…it’s just a big ouch.
So, the fight picks happened. Team Tate picking off our injured guy, like expected. But, in what is the act that sealed my loyalty to Ronda, she walked up to Miesha and said what she did about how she was going to beat her up even more for celebrating in my loss. Now, Miesha and I have always been friendly. And whether she meant it as offense towards me or not, Ronda took it that way. For Ronda to have my back like that…I dunno. Loyalty is something that has become one of the most important things in the measure of a human in my eyes. The fact that I had just let her down, she knows I am gunning for her belt one day…but she still had my back. It spoke volumes to me.
Ronda came back to the locker room and said to me, “There’s a difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend,” and if you look back on June 6 on her Twitter, she actually tweeted this.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but would very much come to understand it as the show progressed. Even if you celebrate your friend winning, if that’s truly a friend on the other side of the cage, you still share tears in their loss. I’m not a crier. I didn’t get it. Some people are different. And like I said, I’ve never had a problem with Miesha. I don’t think she meant it as an offense when I lost. But I know that Ronda shared tears with me. And she had my back. And I know she still believes in me. And I will go on forever to say that the QoS and the Queen’s Army will forever be a part of Armbar Nation, until the day when we face each other on the battlefield.
Photo: Shayna Baszler (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)