Juliana Pena (top) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)Don’t Blink, Julianna Pena May Shoot Straight to the Top Joe Chacon January 13, 2014 Spotlight The Ultimate Fighter 18 continued the surge of momentum that women’s mixed martial arts has been enjoying over the past couple of years. The idea to build off of Ronda Rousey and bring both males and females into one season of the show paid further dividends for the women. Although the men were entertaining at times, it was the women who consistently provided a much needed spark to the tired series week in and week out. Perhaps the fighter who benefitted the most was Julianna Pena. Pena went from being completely unknown to one of the most intriguing personalities in the cast. The “Venezuelan Vixen” didn’t waste much time inside the fight house as she surprised most by submitting an overwhelming favorite in Shayna Baszler in the second round. Pena moved on to the semifinals and submitted Sarah Moras, also in the second round. At this point, it was Pena who became the favorite, and she took care of Jessica Rakoczy in the TUF Finale, as many predicted she would. Prior to the TUF Finale, Pena appeared on Fox Sports Live and stayed true to the character we saw throughout the season of TUF. Among other things said in the interview, she described Rousey as “pretentious” and referred to her as a “spoiled rich brat.” Pena appears to spout off whatever comes to mind in a way that also appears to be a calculated attempt to stir up some buzz about herself. If this sounds familiar to another fighter’s game plan to move up the ranks, you’re right; this is precisely what Rousey did as she transitioned from a relative unknown to arguably the biggest star in all of mixed martial arts. There’s one key reason as to why that worked out so well for Rousey. She has backed up the talk with phenomenal success inside the Octagon. Pena can draw attention to herself with words all she wants, but unless she backs up the talk with wins, her star will dim pretty quickly. That’s especially true because the talented roster of female fighters in the UFC is getting deeper at a rapid pace. Not only are these fighters talented, but each brings a lot of personality and charisma with them as well. Pena’s first opportunity post-TUF will come in March at UFC 171 against another rising star, Jessica Andrade. Andrade is just 22 years old and has already compiled a record of 10-3. She fought an astounding seven times in 2012. She fought in May twice that year and also had two fights just one week apart that September. Andrade kept busy last year too, as she fought four times, including twice in the UFC. The “Bate Estaca,” which means pile driver in English, is a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a Muay Thai specialist. She brings an exciting style of fighting with her, and her pairing with Pena should give fans one heck of a fight. Pena has the foundation to be a very good fighter. She has the combination of power and agility to allow her to be successful standing up or on the ground. Pena is going to have to be able to maintain her composure and keep Andrade from taking her down. She does have a very good base to stuff takedown attempts, and takedowns are an area where Andrade will look to win this fight. Pena has the tools to be successful in the UFC, and this is an excellent fight for her to gauge what she’ll need to improve upon. Any time a fighter becomes successful after debuting on TUF, it benefits the UFC and adds credibility to the reality series. More often than not, fans get excited for a fighter that looked good on the show, but that fighter ends up flaming out under the bright lights. At the beginning of each TUF series, we then sit there trying to remember who won during the previous series. If Pena can rattle off a few wins and continue dissing everyone along the way, it could make for one of the most hyped fights in the history of the sport, should she get a chance at Rousey. So many things have to happen, so let’s take this one step at a time and find out if Pena is for real. She’s one of the rare talents who seems to get exponentially better from one fight to the next. If Pena can stay focused, she’ll have a spot with the UFC for a long, long time. Look for her to go 3-0 in 2014 and have a shot at the belt during the big 2015 Super Bowl weekend card. She’ll be one of those TUF winners whose name people won’t forget.