UFC women’s bantamweight Julianna Peña suffered a devastating knee injury during training this week, but while the initial extent of the injury raised some eyebrows, everyone did a double-take on Thursday when UFC president Dana White took aim at Peña’s gym.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 winner was knocked out of her planned UFC 171 bout with Jessica Andrade due to the knee injury.
The initial prognosis was that Peña suffered tears in her ACL, MCL, LCL, meniscus, and hamstring, according to a UFC Tonight report. She will fly to Los Angeles next week to have surgery and begin rehabilitation.
Asked about the injury during a Thursday gathering with media, White unloaded on Peña’s gym and training partner.
“Apparently, when she came into the gym, and again, she was hysterical when I talked to her, crying,” White said, qualifying his comments. “She was training in her gym and one of her training partners, a guy, was saying to her, ‘oh, you're wearing your Ultimate Fighter shirt. We're real scared,’ this, that and talking smack to her and basically attacked her, jumped on her back and started cranking her neck and the way that she fell, her knee blew out.
“The most disgusting thing I've ever heard in my life. A year and a half to two years she'll be out. I told her, leave that disgusting gym and go somewhere else with new coaches, new training partners, whatever.”
MMAWeekly.com followed up with Peña’s coach, Rick Little of Sikjitsu in Spokane, Wash., who had a different take on the situation. He didn’t arrive at the gym until shortly after the injury occurred, but relayed how it was explained to him by other fighters at the gym at the time.
“It was supposedly just normal wrestling. He took her back and then she stood up with him on her back. She attempted to try a wrestling move, like a switch,” Little explained. “She twisted, and with the weight of him on her back, her knee buckled. So it was a twisting motion with him on her back.
“Her foot was planted, and when you hit a switch you spin real quick, and I don't think her foot spun. I think her knee collapsed and all his weight fell on her knee while she was spinning. I think her side of the knee took a lot of her weight and his weight.”
He added that Peña shouldn’t have been grappling, as she had done an intense strength training routine on her legs about half an hour prior to the training session, which could have contributed to the prospects for injury.
But Peña is known for an insatiable work ethic, and it’s difficult to get her to stay out of the gym, even when it might be the best thing for her health.
Little’s description of the incident is in line with Peña’s public comments.
Although she hadn’t yet responded to an MMAWeekly.com request for comment at the time of publication, she told Fox Sports that the injury happened during a grappling session with a training partner when her knee locked up on the mat in an exchange and hyper-extended, which caused the knee to buckle underneath her.
Peña told Fox Sports that she was “devastated” after the injury occurred, which may have lead to why White’s understanding of the situation was somewhat different than what Peña’s coach told MMAWeekly.com and what Peña told Fox Sports.
Having just come off winning The Ultimate Fighter and leading up to her first fight in the Octagon outside of the reality show, Peña was surely emotionally charged immediately after the injury.
Little assured MMAWeekly.com that there were no prior incidents between Peña and her training partner, Josh Gow, who he described as friends both in and outside of the gym.
“They're friends. They're family friends. They've trained hundreds of times, and she corners him when he fights. There's no bullying or nothing like that,” Little said.
“It's a normal training accident from a gym that's produced plenty of fighters and not had people pull out during camps or anything like that.”
Peña trains alongside the likes of Miesha Tate, Bryan Caraway, Sam Sicilia, and Michael Chiesa.
White did pull back a bit when it was brought to his attention during Thursday’s media gathering that Little had a much different take on the situation than what White’s understanding of it was.
“That's so far from the story that she told me right after it happened and she was hysterical and crying. Completely opposite story,” said White, which points to things never being as one-sided as they sometimes seem, especially during such an emotionally charged time.
“Completely different story than what she told me; so somewhere in the middle lies the truth.”