UFC champion Julianna Peña feels right at home in Chicago

    CHICAGO – Chicagoans may not know it, but there’s a UFC champion living in their backyard.

    Julianna Peña calls the Windy City home these days. In case you haven’t heard of her, Peña stunned the ultimate fighting world last month when she choked out Amanda Nunes for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title.

    Her taming of the “Lioness” is being called one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.

    “She definitely didn’t underestimate me. She got exposed.”

    Peña’s journey to the top started when she was just a child.

    “I’m the baby of four kids. My brothers and sisters – they kicked my butt pretty good. I definitely think that rough-housing at an early age is what sparked that aggressive nature in me. I didn’t really know where to channel that until I found mixed martial arts.”

    But it’s her fighting nature to never give up that made her a champion, pushing through what obstacle after obstacle.

    “I’ve torn many ligaments. I’ve dislocated many joints. I’ve had to come back from injuries that were virtually impossible to come back from – having a C-section and getting your guts ripped out.”

    Her toughness makes the 32-year-old Spokane native a perfect fit in Chicago. Peña moved here five years ago when the UFC brought her in for Latino Heritage Month.

    After one whiff of the chocolate scented air in River North, Peña knew she was home.

    “The food is a problem here,” Peña laughed. “I love the food in Chicago. I’m a big foodie. I enjoy cooking. I enjoy lots of food and music – the culture here. I’m very into music. I love to dance. Back in Spokane, I was the minority, but when I came to Chicago I was like ‘my people!’”

    Peña says her phone has been a lot busier since winning the title, but she’s focused on her craft and finding the balance between being a professional athlete and a mom.

    “You just find a way. Any mom out there – it’s not even just moms – anybody can relate to the fact that you just have to find a way to make things happen. Whether it’s asking a grandmother or friend to watch your kid, or whether she tags along with you – which is what she does for the majority of my training sessions – you just find a way to make it work.”

    A rematch between Peña and Nunes has yet to be scheduled, but when it’s all said and done, UFC President Dana white believes it will be the biggest women’s fight of all time.

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