Julianna Peña will end her two-and-a-half-year hiatus on July 13 in Sacramento, California when she will face Nicco Montano, according to a report by MMAFighting. The fight is not yet official, but it is reportedly verbally agreed upon by both parties.
Peña is stepping in on short notice after Sara McMann, Montano’s original opponent, revealed on Instagram that injury forced her out of the bout. The fight would’ve been McMann’s first since February of 2018.
Peña last competed in a headlining bout at UFC Denver on January 28, 2017. She faced the now-flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. Shevchenko submitted Peña in the second round of the bout, putting an end to her four-fight winning streak.
“The Venezuelan Vixen” first landed with the UFC after putting together a 4-2 professional record outside of the promotion. The solid start to her career landed her a spot on The Ultimate Fighter 18.
Julianna Peña defeated Gina Mazany, Shayna Baszler, and Sarah Moras on the show to get to the show’s finals. She represented Miesha Tate’s team well, defeating Jessica Rakoczy of Team Ronda Rousey to claim the trophy and sought-after UFC contract.
Peña then went on to defeat Milana Dudieva by first-round TKO in her next UFC appearance after winning The Ultimate Fighter. She beat Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano respectively by unanimous decision, which landed her the title eliminator opportunity against Shevchenko that Pena failed to convert.
Montano is also coming off of a long layoff for this fight. An Ultimate Fighter veteran herself, she joined season 26 after amassing a 3-2 professional record. The season was created to crown an inaugural champion in the women’s flyweight division that the UFC established in 2017.
Montano was successful against Lauren Murphy, Montana Stewart, and Barb Honchak, defeating them all by unanimous decision to move on to the finals. She was originally set to face Sijara Eubanks of Team Eddie Alvarez, but Eubanks experienced kidney failure while cutting weight. Roxanne Modafferi stepped in to face her teammate, Montano, for the crown.
After five rounds, Montano became the first woman in the UFC to hold the flyweight title on December 1, 2017. Her reign would not last long, however.
Montano was expected to defend her belt against top-contender Shevchenko at UFC 228, but she experienced complications with her weight cut, failed to make it to the weigh-ins, and was subsequently stripped of the title.
Things went from bad to worse for Montano. She was then suspended by USADA for six months after testing positive for ostarine on October 25, 2018. The former champion told MMAFighting that USADA was unable to verify that the positive test came from a contaminated supplement, but the agency did not find evidence of intentional ingestion.
Both Julianna Peña and Nicco Montano will look to jump-start a resurgence for their respective careers on July 13 in Sacramento.
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.