Julianna Pena’s Coach Refutes Injury Claims: “There Wasn’t Any Horseplay or Assault”

February 3, 2014

Julianna-Pena-TUF18-FinaleMuch has been made of the recent devastating injury to UFC bantamweight Julianna Peña.

The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 winner was knocked out of her planned UFC 171 bout with Jessica Andrade due to a severe knee injury suffered in the gym where she trains, SikJitsu in Spokane, Wash. The initial prognosis was that Peña suffered tears in her ACL, MCL, LCL, meniscus, and hamstring.

Most of the public scrutiny over the incident has fallen squarely on the shoulders of her training partner, Josh Gow, and Peña and Gow’s coach at SikJitsu, Rick Little. Much of that scrutiny has been propelled by UFC president Dana White, who unloaded on Peña’s gym and training partner, both with members of the media last week in New York and on Twitter.

“Apparently, when she came into the gym, and again, she was hysterical when I talked to her, crying,” White said in a media scrum in New York. “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.”

Little has heard the claims against him and his gym, and has a much different take on the situation than the one indicating that Peña was assaulted, attacked, or bullied in his 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 told MMAWeekly.com on Friday.

“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.”

Still trying to quell the critics that want to have a target for their outrage, Little issued the additional statement to MMAWeekly.com and other media outlets on Monday:

“Julianna is the heart and soul of our team and absolutely nothing was more devastating than carrying her to my car last week.

Years ago, the girl got hit by a drunk driver walking on the sidewalk and broke bones in her face and got up and called me. She got her arm broken in a fight and finished the round fighting back with one arm and begged me not to stop the fight on the stool. But seeing her laying on the mat last week and not getting up, I knew it was serious. She always gets up. Julianna even called Dana on the way to the hospital to say she might be out, but I sent a tweet from the hospital saying she was out even before the results because I was scared if she only had an ACL tear she was gonna still fight no matter what. like shes done before. She is the toughest person I’ve ever met.

The accident was plain and simple. It was a training accident that happened with her normal 145lb training partner for years. There wasn’t any horseplay or assault. I guarantee the guy would be in the same condition as her if there was.

The problem I have with all this is that my gym and her training partner got put on blast with no facts. Female athletes’ knees are very prone to injury. I have two professionals in my gym, Alyse Honnold and Elizabeth Phillips, both have had knee surgeries BEFORE they even joined my gym. Mike Chiesa needed knee surgery after his brutal 5 fights on TUF and Julianna’s knee blew up after her Shayna (Baszler) fight but she kept going. Most of the girls on TUF were injured or limped through and Julianna barely made it to the finale herself. Seeing Cat (Zingano) go down with a knee injury and Kelvin’s knee blow after the rigors of TUF, I feel for all of them because people don’t know the pressure there is to stay winning and keep Dana and the fans happy.

It is so difficult to keep a young, hungry, and driven athlete like Julianna from injuries. Especially having four fights in a row and right back to camp for another. She has been in camp since March 1 before TUF. No girl has had a schedule like that ever in any combat sport. Never did her training partners or workouts ever change. But anytime an injury happens in your gym its terrible and I’m 100% to blame.

My pros are hardworking blue collar guys and girls. Our team spark, centerpiece, and someone I love just went down and we are all so devastated beyond words. Looking over and not seeing Julianna on her spot on the mat that she’s always at for the last five years is something I can’t accept.

In hindsight we should’ve never taken the fight and let Julianna rest, but it feels like we aren’t a big enough gym to say no. I’ve watched (Sam) Sicilia throw punches with a broken hand, Chiesa fight three weeks after surgery, and I just can’t let this happen anymore. This sport has taken the life out of me.”

Thus far, Peña has remained fairly quiet about the incident, and has not responded to MMAWeekly.com’s multiple requests for comment.

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