Meet Luis Pena, or as his fans call him @violentbobross ahead of his debut on Wednesday's episode of @UltimateFighter: Undefeated. #TeamCormier #UFC #TUF #UFCMinute #FS1 pic.twitter.com/MAc5R6Up5l
— UFC News (@UFCNews) April 30, 2018
As a member of The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated cast, Luis Pena is still far off from his goals in the fight game, but when asked if he wouldn’t mind becoming the first Italian to win a UFC title, “The Violent Bob Ross” is all in.
“Without a doubt,” said the 24-year-old lightweight. “That’s something that’s crossed my mind a lot. I’m a big fan of (UFC vet) Alessio Sakara just because he is one of the first breakout Italian fighters. So I hope to follow in his footsteps and one-up it.”
Okay, so how did Pena, who was raised in Arkansas and fights out of Missouri, get in with guys like Marvin Vettori and Alessio Di Chirico when it comes to waving the green, white and red flag?
“I was born to parents that were in the Navy and I was adopted by a family where my father was in the Navy,” said Pena, who was born in Naples. “Out of the three Italians on the show, I was the only one that’s actually a native.”
There you go. It’s just another intriguing wrinkle to add to the story of Pena, whose nickname alone made him one of the most talked about members of the TUF 27 cast even before the show began.
“I’m not gonna lie, I did notice it, and it made me feel great,” he said. “For me, it was an affirmation of all the hard work and dedication and sacrifice that I had put into my career. I’ve come a long way to get to The Ultimate Fighter house.”
In that way, Pena’s story is not unique, because each of the competitors on the show has had their own struggles to make it to this point, even though some will look at those who ultimately make it to the UFC as folks who got there through a game show. It was the old knock on TUF from its beginning in 2005, and while that has quieted over the years, there are still some who hold that belief.
“People are gonna talk and I imagine people are gonna talk even more once I get bigger,” said Pena. “The detractors’ talk is not a big deal to me, especially about coming off The Ultimate Fighter. Trust me, I’ll prove myself.”
He’s already been doing it step by step, whether as a wrestler with Olympic aspirations, an amateur MMA fighter, or a pro on the regional scene. And it’s clear from talking to him that hard work and sacrifice aren’t issues for him.
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“A little over a year and a half ago, I was essentially living in a closet in my gym as an amateur fighter just so I could make it into the professional ranks and hopefully one day make it into the UFC,” he said.
Days like that will let you know in a hurry whether you’re built for this or not. Pena could have made a phone call to family and friends at any time to say, “Hey, can you send over a few bucks?” but he didn’t.
“I pretty much kept that all to myself,” he said. “I don’t really like to burden my family with that kind of stuff. This is the life I chose; it’s my weight to bear.”
These days, as Pena tells his story, those back home are hearing about his struggles to get here for the first time, and while he appreciates their concern, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’ve had people reach out and tell me that they wished they would have known how bad things were, and it’s not even like that for me,” he said. “It’s all a part of the process. You’ve got to put your time in and pay your dues to get to the point where I’m at now.”
It’s almost as if he’s embracing the tough times, returning to them each time there’s a bad practice or dicey moments in a fight. That’s a grit he’ll never lose, so he’s not going to regret those days. He embraces them. That’s rare.
“There were definitely times when I’m sitting there, waking up in the gym every day and I was hating my life,” Pena admits. “But you’ve got to tell yourself there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. (Former UFC featherweight champion) Jose Aldo went through the same thing. If he can do it and be the champion and be undefeated for ten years, you can do the same damn thing. So I just kept telling myself that and I have to thank my wrestling background as well. I wrestled for ten years before I ever got into any other martial arts training and I feel like the grind from my old wrestling days helped me stick through those tough times mentally.”
So when he showed up with a 4-0 pro record to tryouts for TUF, he knew there would be pressure to succeed, but he was fine with that.
“I saw this as being my shot at my path to the title,” he said. “I live my life by the motto that pressure makes diamonds and I almost always rise to the occasion when I’m put in those high pressure situations. So there was a lot more pressure there, but I was comfortable with it.”
Now, he’s got to win three times to get a UFC contract and a place in what many believe is the sport’s toughest weight class. According to Pena, it’s perfect timing.
“It feels like this is something that started when I was five and I told myself that I was gonna be the greatest in the world at something,” he said. “I just had to figure it out. At one point in my life, I thought it was gonna be football and then I thought it was gonna be wrestling. Now I know it’s gonna be mixed martial arts.”