Following the first two fights of his UFC career after competing on The Ultimate Fighter, Luis Pena was convinced that he was a natural-born featherweight.
Standing 6-foot-3-inches tall, Pena had the height to fight at a much bigger weight class but his body frame and overall size screamed for a cut to 145 pounds because he felt like he was constantly giving up strength and power to his opponent.
“I wanted to prove I could make the weight and that 145 [pounds] is going to be my weight and that’s where you’re going to see me win the belt,” Pena told MMA Fighting about his initial dedication to move to featherweight.
Unfortunately, Pena’s first fight in the division ended in disaster after he failed to make the featherweight limit back in March when he came in at 148.5 pounds — two and a half pounds over the mark for a non-title fight.
According to Pena, the problems with his weight cut started because of travel problems when he was leaving his home in San Jose to go across country where he was fighting in Nashville.
“To be completely honest, I got set back on Tuesday because we were flying out and my first plane out of Oakland got delayed three times,” Pena explained. “So I was sitting there for three hours and then my plane in Kansas City because of the delay in Oakland, I ended up having to sit in Kansas City for four hours waiting for the soonest flight to Nashville.
“I didn’t make it to the hotel in Nashville until around 10:30 p.m. so I got in a good two hours of training then but that Tuesday set me back so much. When the weight cut is as close as it is for me, losing that much time is a huge detriment.”
Pena apologized profusely after failing to make weight but he did go on to win his fight the next night against Steven Peterson to move his UFC record to 2-1 overall.
Following the win, Pena was ready to stay at featherweight for his next fight—hopefully avoiding the pitfalls from his first experience—but that’s when he got the call about a quick turnaround to jump on the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Greenville, South Carolina.
“The UFC actually got back with my managers pretty soon after the fight and asked them when I would be available and what the soonest time I would be available was and I told them it depends on what weight you guys want me to go. If you want me at 145, give me at least eight weeks, but if you want me at 155, I can be ready as soon as four [weeks].
“After that they came back to my managers and said that they were having trouble finding a matchup at 145 so they wanted me to take a fight at 155.”
The move back to lightweight was supposed to be a one-off but Pena admits that he’s been feeling great lately while training to fight at 155 pounds again and finally adding some size and muscle to his body.
“I’ve actually gotten quite a bit bigger since the last fight, just out of nowhere,” Pena said. “I kind of want to see how things go with this camp. I’m 25 about to turn 26 here in July and I feel like I’m reaching the end of my growing stages of my life but at the same time, I feel like I’m finally starting to put on man weight.
“For the longest time it was hard for me in camp to stay above like 165 [pounds].”
This weekend, Pena welcomes Matt Wiman back to the UFC after a five-year absence and his performance may ultimately dictate his future, but he’s definitely not opposed to staying at lightweight if he continues to bulk up in the offseason.
“With the way I’m feeling right now and how much bigger I am right now, as much as I want to go back down to featherweight, I kind of want to test the waters at lightweight,” Pena said. “Especially, if I can start putting on a lot more muscle and getting more than just putting weight but putting on real size then I’d like to test how I’d do at lightweight. Because that’s always been my detriment is the strength factor.
“As tall and long as I am, I’m always dealing with someone stronger than me but if I can add that element to my game, especially with all the other intangibles that I have, lightweight wouldn’t be as much of a challenge to deal with.”
As far as what he expects out of his fight this weekend, Pena can’t really predict what Wiman will bring to the table after such a long layoff but he’s ready for everything.
“We’re just assuming we’re going to see the best Matt Wiman we’ve ever seen,” Pena said. “We’re getting ready for that guy.”