One of the UFC’s brightest young stars is injured, and according to the company president she’s going to be out of commission for two years. It was yesterday revealed by UFC Tonight that TUF 18 winner Julianna Pena suffered a catastrophic injury to her right knee during training that resulted in tears to her ACL, MCL, LCL, meniscus, and hamstring. MMAFighting.com reported the injury occurred during a grappling session on Monday at Sikjitsu gym in Spokane, Washington. According to UFC president Dana White, the injury is so severe that the 24-year-old Pena is expected to miss two years of action. She is set to get surgery on the knee next week once the swelling goes down. This is very sad news and everyone in the MMA world should wish Pena a speedy recovery as she embarks on what is going to be a dark time in her life as she won’t be able to compete in the sport she loves just at the time she was starting to get really good at it. According to her official biography on UFC.com, Pena said, “When I found MMA I realized it was the outlet I needed and was looking for.” About fighting in the Octagon, Pena said: “It means the world to me to be fighting in the UFC. This is as high as it gets, it doesn’t get any higher, and I’ve made it. It’s a great accomplishment for myself.” But for the next little while, she won’t have MMA in her life. Nicknamed “The Venezuelan Vixen,” Pena entered TUF 18 with a 4-2 record and was matched up against veteran Shayna Baszler in the preliminary round after defeating Gina Mazany to enter the house. Despite being a large underdog to Baszler, Pena was able to rally after being down early to defeat Baszer via second-round submission. She then submitted Sara Moras in the semifinals to earn a birth in the finale, and she won the show this past November with a dominating first-round TKO win over Jessica Rakoczy. Currently ranked in the top 10 of the women’s bantamweight division, Pena was set to face Jessica Andrade at UFC 171 this March before being forced to pull out with this knee injury. Andrade will now face Raquel Pennington. UFC Tonight’s Ariel Helwani was able to talk to Pena’s coach at Sikjitsu, Rick Little, who said the injury Pena suffered was the “most gruesome” he had ever seen in sports. According to Little, Pena’s injury was the result of an over-aggressive training session, which seems odd given the severity of the injury. Based on White’s tweet that “what happened at her gym is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard,” there’s obviously more to the story. There is already speculation that this wasn’t just an accident, but that someone in Pena’s camp held on to a submission too long, possibly a heel hook which is highly frowned upon to do while training with teammates. That is just speculation for now, though, though I don’t by for a minute that this injury was just an accident based on what White’s tweet. It was much more likely carelessness was the cause. This is very disappointing news as I believe Pena was a future title contender in the UFC women’s bantamweight division. Pena’s wrestling is excellent and she’s improving her overall game so rapidly that she would be a serious contender for the UFC bantamweight title within the next two years. Keep in mind her beef with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey from the show meant she would have been pushed up the ladder faster than others. But this injury will obviously delay that opportunity to fight for the belt, and it’s possible the injury renders that dream impossible. For someone who is only 24, it’s really not fair that Pena has had to deal with so many injuries and bad luck as such a young age. Before TUF 18 was filmed, Pena had been involved in a nasty car accident that left her with a broken nose. She had also suffered a broken arm in one of her fights, as well as the previous two ACL tears earlier in her career. But that’s life, and life isn’t fair. Pena was working as a waitress before TUF and also living at home with her family. With her career just about to take off, Pena was looking forward to moving out and embarking on a promising career in the sport. Now, she will be out sitting on the sidelines for up to the next 24 month after suffering one of the worst knee injuries ever to a UFC fighter, and she will have difficulty making a living while doing so. I hope the UFC helps out Pena financially during her time off because, after all, she is an investment for the company. The UFC does have an insurance policy that should cover part of Pena’s surgery, but it’s capped at $50,000 annually and might not cover all of Pena’s medical-related costs. So hopefully the UFC can do the right thing and help her out in her time of need. Hopefully we get the full story about what happened to Pena soon, but for now let’s all wish Pena good luck on her surgery next week and let’s hope she can beat the estimated two year layoff and get back in the cage sooner than later because she’s a tremendous fighter and has a bright future in the sport.
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