Julianna Pena thinks Kayla Harrison played part in Amanda Nunes’ split from ATT, rips her for making career off ‘beating tomato cans’

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Julianna Pena can’t help but laugh when she remembers everything Kayla Harrison said about her over the past several months before ultimately re-signing with PFL in March.

“How easy is it to say, ‘I’ll beat Julianna with one arm tied behind my back,’ and then sign a seven-year contract to PFL right after, the next day,” the UFC bantamweight champion said on The MMA Hour. “It’s easy to talk s*** when you know nothing’s going to happen from it.

“So that’s my whole angle. Kayla’s just running her mouth because she knows nothing’s ever going happen of it, you know? She just signed her life away to PFL. So best of luck with that. I hope it’s good. Make your career off of beating tomato cans. That’s great.”

Harrison memorably told TMZ that could beat Pena with one arm following Pena’s upset win over Amanda Nunes in December at UFC 269. Shortly thereafter, Harrison warned Pena in an interview with MMA Fighting “to be careful about what she says and who she says it to.”

The comments came during a time in which Harrison was exploring her options in free agency, although any doors to a potential superfight with Pena slammed shut for the foreseeable future once the undefeated Olympic champion re-upped with PFL.

Still, considering the tournament structure of PFL and the level of competition Harrison has faced during her back-to-back $1 million runs, Pena can’t fault Harrison for her decision.

“Here’s the thing, though — I understand it,” Pena said. “Make your other milli. What has she made, $2 million with them? Make your money, girl. Do your thing.”

For now, Pena has plenty of other business to worry about as she gets ready to defend her UFC bantamweight strap in a rematch against Nunes in the summer.

Pena stunned the MMA world when she submitted Nunes with a second-round rear-naked choke at UFC 269, including Harrison, who was seated cageside for the festivities. Following the result, Nunes parted ways with American Top Team — her home gym of seven years — to instead open a private facility with her own personal coaching staff. Pena was one of many people who were surprised by the move, and she can’t help but wonder whether Harrison’s continued presence at ATT played a part in Nunes’ desire to go elsewhere.

“A part of me thinks that she’ll go back, but I was a little bit shocked to hear that she fired her entire team after losing a fight. That was pretty crazy,” Pena said.

“I can tell you, during [UFC 268] fight week, I saw one of her interviews during fight week, it was a few days before our fight and they were like, ‘Hey Amanda, how do you feel about the fact that Kayla Harrison is the team captain?’ And she was like, ‘What?’ It was news to her and you could tell how, like, visibly uncomfortable she was from the question, and she was like, ‘She’s not team captain. I’m team captain. That’s my [job].’ You know what I mean? And I saw the wheels turning. So it’s got to be one of those things where it’s like, the room wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

“But at the same time, it’s like, you guys call each other friends, right?” Pena continued. “Like, you guys are constantly saying that you are friends and training partners, but then [Harrison] was so upset that I beat Amanda because then that means that she’s not going to fight Amanda? So it’s like, who needs enemies with friends like these? It’s like, ‘We’re training partners, we’re friends, and now I’m devastated that you lost because now I can’t kick your ass.’ Like, what? Awkward.”

Pena said on The MMA Hour that she is currently in negotiations with the UFC for her rematch with Nunes and that July 30 at UFC 277 appears to be the tentative frontrunner for a date, although nothing has been finalized. The bout will be preceded by Pena and Nunes serving as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 30, which already wrapped filming and is set to debut on ESPN+ in May.

As an alumnus of TUF herself, Pena said her experience coaching on the show was generally a positive one, although she also learned something new about her Brazilian rival.

“She’s a little bit more high-maintenance than I was originally expecting, so I’ll say that,” Pena said. “And it was fine. I’ll tell you this, my whole pure main objective of wanting to be on The Ultimate Fighter and coaching on The Ultimate Fighter was to give back to the sport and to give back to the team, whatever the team would be. It has everything to do with the team and not so much as myself as an individual, although that helps, but just to be able to have a team and to help them grow and see how their careers go in the UFC. So my priority wasn’t necessarily trying to push Amanda’s buttons. It was more so like, ‘I just need to make sure that my team wins and beats the crap out of her team.’

“It wasn’t like a big personal thing on a personal level, but it was personal in the sense that my main objective was that my team killed her team. And that’s all I cared about.”

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