Julianna Pena: People want to see me fight Ronda Rousey

Julianna Pena: 'I didn't get in this sport to be a top-10 fighter. I didn't get in this sport to be a top-five fighter. I got in this sport to be champion and to get that belt. I'm going to give it hell or die trying until I get there.'

It’s been almost 16 months since Julianna Pena won her season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and immediately moved into the conversation as a legitimate threat to any woman in the top 10 of the bantamweight division.

Just as Pena was preparing for her first fight after the reality show, disaster struck when she suffered a catastrophic knee injury that put her out of action for more than a year.

After months of rehab and recovery, Pena finally is ready to resume her career at next weekend’s UFC Fight Night card in Fairfax, Virginia, where she faces Milana Dudieva on the main card airing on FOX Sports 1.

"I feel like my knee is better than ever. I just can’t wait to showcase my skills again and just to refresh everybody’s memory that I’m still alive, I’m still in the game and I’m still hungry," Pena told FOX Sports. "I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been."

Pena gives the women’s bantamweight division an injection of talent that’s sorely needed, especially given the way Ronda Rousey has been rolling through contenders. There is a real excitement and buzz about Pena’s upcoming fight and she believes it comes down to a couple of key reasons why her return is so highly anticipated.

"There’s two things: First off I think everybody could see on the show that me and Ronda rubbed each other the wrong way and she kind of said some choice words about me that I wasn’t really happy about, such as I didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as Shayna Baszler. I regard that as a very arrogant comment…" Pena said.

"Here’s the other thing: I destroyed every opponent I had on ‘The Ultimate Fighter;’ I finished everyone. A lot of the girls these days they’re going to decisions, they’re point-sparring, they’re not trying to finish each other.  What they could see in me is I’m going for the kill every time. I’m trying to finish my opponents. I make it a gritty, ugly fight, the type of fight that needs to be made to hurt someone, to break their will and to finish them."

Pena believes the way she fights will draw comparisons to Rousey because they are the two bantamweights most well known for devastating finishes. But Pena is smart enough to know that she’s ranked at No. 13 in the world, and calling out the champion isn’t going to do her any good until she’s closer to an actual title shot. Pena is more than confident she will get there.

"I’m not naive enough to think that I should be able to jump the line. I’m not naive enough to think that my next fight should be a title fight against Ronda," Pena said. "One thing I think people want to see is they want to see that fight. They want to see two girls who go out there looking for the kill every time and trying to finish each other. They want to see us go at it. That’s something that’s too far in the future for me to talk about right now, but it’s not my fault reporters and everybody else wants to see that fight."

Pena will never allow her mind to wander away from the notion that she could beat any fighter on any given day, whether that’s Rousey, Dudieva or anyone else at 135 pounds.

"Do I want to fight for the title? Absolutely. Am I afraid of anyone? No. Will I fight anyone? Absolutely," Pena said. "It’s just a question that keeps being asked to me and I’m going to continue to believe in myself that I can beat anyone. Like Ronda says, no one has the right to beat me. I’m just going to do what I can to work my way up the ranks so I do get that title shot one day because I do believe that I am the champion and one day I will be able to prove that to everyone.

"I didn’t get in this sport to be a top-10 fighter. I didn’t get in this sport to be a top-five fighter. I got in this sport to be champion and to get that belt. I’m going to give it hell or die trying until I get there."

While Pena can’t escape questions about Rousey, she refuses to discuss fighting the women’s bantamweight champion without first discussing the task at hand, and that’s beating Dudieva.

Pena not only wants to come back strong after her knee surgery, but she also plans on dishing out a little revenge for a teammate who fell to Dudieva last year on a very controversial decision.

"One time I underestimated one of my opponents and I lost. I will never underestimate anyone I face again. But do I plan on unleashing all that pent-up frustration I’ve been feeling for the last year on her? Absolutely," Pena said.

"I also want to get this win for my teammate and dedicate it to Elizabeth Phillips, who beat her and got robbed on a decision. Elizabeth should have won that fight and they gave it to the wrong girl, so I’m going prove they gave it to the wrong girl. I’m not playing around. I want it more than her. I’m going to try to finish the fight in every second that there is."