Heading into XFC 18 on HDNet, Reggie Pena knew he was in for the biggest challenge of his career facing off against former UFC middleweight John Salter, who ended up being a handful early in their main event fight.
“He was a lot stronger than I expected,” said Pena of Salter. “He had great wrestling – I knew that coming into the fight – so I was trying to establish my jab from the beginning because I knew he would be trying to take me down.
“Unfortunately in the first round, he was able to establish his wrestling. He took me down and I spent a lot of time trying to get him off me. On the feet, I felt like I had control and that he didn’t want to stand with me. I knew if I could get past the first round, I would be okay, my cardio felt great. Coming into the second round, I established my jab and waited for him to take a shot, and was able to secure a guillotine.”
While he may have appeared to be the underdog going into the bout, Pena was confident he could compete with his more experienced opponent.
“That was a challenge to move up in competition, but the general public doesn’t know that I’ve been training with high-level guys my entire career, so I knew I would be prepared against Salter,” said Pena.
“I’m pretty much known on the Florida circuit and everyone kind of knows what kind of fighter I am, to put that on a bigger stage and have people see that across the nation means a lot. You’ve got to expand. It’s about expanding your name and creating your brand. So it’s a big step in building my name up.”
Getting the opportunity to headline a show broadcast nationwide didn’t so much weigh on Pena’s shoulders as much as it invigorated him to step up his game.
“That’s kind of what I strive for, that pressure,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “It’s that hunger – that pressure – that after so long you learn to feed off it.
“Knowing that I had so many people watching me back home and all around – all the eyes on me – yeah, it created pressure, but I was excited to take advantage of the moment.”
With a big win on a big show, no one would begrudge Pena for basking in some glory for a bit, but that’s not what he intends to do at all the remainder of the year.
“What’s next is up to the XFC, but I want to stay on track and put this win behind me,” he said. “It’s the same thing that if I’d lost, just put it behind me.
“You’re only as good as your last match and you’ve got to keep moving forward. It’s fun, people are excited for me in victory, but the job’s not done. I’ve got to get back to work, put June 22 behind me and move on to my next opponent. Whoever, wherever that may be, I’ve got to make sure I’m ready and not still riding the wave of (defeating) John Salter.”