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SCMMA Pair Featured at Fight Hard

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

Fight Hard MMA returns to the St. Charles Family Arena on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.

The card is an all-pro affair. Weigh-ins will be held at 6pm Friday at the Family Arena.

Leading up to the card, we take a look at two of the top, young talents on the card, both of which happen to train out of the same gym.

'I don't feel like the last fight really told the story'

If it seems like Luis Pena is always at the gym, it's because he is. The 23-year-old has spent the better part of the last 14-months living and training inside St. Charles MMA. Pena carved out small living quarters in one of the corners of the industrial building that shares a parking lot with a St. Charles movie theater.

"When I leave the gym it feels weird," Pena "It feels odd when I'm not at the gym actually, I don't mind it. It keeps me honest. You can't get away from the work when it's here staring you right in the face 24/7."

His opponent for Saturday, Chris Petty, is no stranger. The two battled inside the Fight Hard cage as amateurs, with Petty notching a first round stoppage. Something Pena is determined to make different this time around.

"I'm focusing on controlling the pace for this fight," Pena said. "I need to get everything under control right away and make sure we fight the way I want to fight and not the way he wants to fight."

In their previous encounter the two competed at welterweight, now as pros, the two will enter the cage as lightweights.

"I do think about that fight because he beat me. It's hard not to think about that fight." Pena said. "I hate to make excuses or anything, but honestly I wasn't training for like two weeks leading up to that because I had come off a nice nine-week training camp for the fight I had just fought prior to that. Also, we had bumped up to 170 for that fight, and that was at a time when I was having to eat to make 170. I don't feel like the last fight really told the story of what could happen between us."

Petty and Dakota Bush fought in July in a bout that was eerily similar to Petty vs. Pena. The fight started with a brief exchange and Petty jumped onto the back of Bush fighting for a rear naked choke. Bush was able to defend the submission and eventually ground out a very close split decision victory.

"I used the Dakota fight a lot to see where he has been since the last time I saw him, to see how far he's come," Pena said. "It was very similar. I think Dakota and I made the same mistake in our fights, but Dakota was able to capitalize and defend well, better than I was. Hopefully, this time, I don't make that same mistake."

Pena feels that he's seen everything Petty, who trains out of Gladiator MMA in Jackson, can throw at him. This is just one of the reasons his confidence is sky-high entering this bout.

"What separates me in this fight is the fact I watch Petty's fights and you don't see him unleash the techniques like knees and elbows. You don't see him get as vicious as veteran guys." Pena said. "I think that's one advantage I have. I've been fighting for a long while and I've had fights where knees and elbows were legal as an amateur. Not only that but I'm just coming off a two-month training camp at American Top Team, training with some of the best fighters in the world. I feel real confident going into this, and I've seen pretty much everything he can throw at me."

The long and rangy Pena moved here from Arkansas. The former wrestler has a veteran's poise when it comes to his approach to fight night.

"I've been competing all my life," Pena said. "I've had a lot of fights as an amateur so I don't feel too much pressure at all for this fight. Honestly, it's just another day at the office, except I get paid this time. If there were any other name on the contract, I'd be thinking the same thing, go out there and beat his ass."

'It feels like it means something'

Charles Johnson was one of the more decorated, wide-skilled athletes to enter St. Louis MMA.

A three-sport standout at nearby Hazelwood East, Johnson was an all-state selection in track and field, cross country and wrestling. He was part of state championship teams in both track and football and was a two-time AAU National Champion in the 3,000m run as a member of the U-City Xplosion track Club. In college, he earned all-conference honors while at SEMO running both cross country and track.

Johnson's successful 14-3-1 run at amateur MMA came to a halt this summer when he made his pro debut. Johnson finished Austin Ward via second round TKO at a Blue Corner MMA event in Kansas City.

On Saturday, he is slated to take on Mark Chappell. Chappell and Johnson fought each other in 2012, with Johnson getting the third round submission win.

"He's a guy who takes a lot of last-minute fights," Johnson said. "But he's always game, he's always in there coming straight forward and looking to snag an arm or something. He catches a lot of people in a lot of submissions."

Johnson comes across cool and confident. He points to the fact that Chappell is taking the fight with little prep time. This, he feels, combined with Johnson's advanced skill set, sways things heavily in his favor.

"I pretty much want to dictate the pace in there," Johnson said. "I have five minutes to play around with some things. I see that I can take the fight anywhere. I'm respectful of Mark. But jiu-jitsu-wise, grappling-wise, stand-up-wise, I'm not worried. He's not going to have the tank. He's taking it last notice. He hasn't really been training, probably working. He has the mind to put himself out there and do it but I don't think his body will keep up with what he wants to do so I'm just going to be patient."

Johnson, 25, was originally slated to face Demetrius Wilson but contract a contract snafu prevented that matchup from taking place.

"I worked my butt off just in case because I was looking forward to it," Johnson said. "I had a feeling that it would fall through. I never really got my hopes up. I'm the kind of guy who is like, be ready for anybody."

Johnson has been with St. Charles MMA for two years and he has become a common name to the Fight Hard fans, having fought for the promotion five times.

"I've seen a lot of the different promoters and promotions in the Midwest and there is no other venue that big," Johnson said, referring to the Family Arena. "Growing up running track I ran at the highest level as an amateur in front of big stadiums full of people and I've always managed to rise to the occasion."

When Johnson first got interested in fighting he showed up at a Fight Hard event where Fierce Taylor and Damien Newman put on a performance that is still etched Johnson's memory bank.

"I was with Ken Porter and I saw Zach Freeman fight at the Family Arena and I saw Fierce Taylor fight Damien Newman and that was the first time I had went to Fight Hard and I loved it. There were so many people. It was so energetic. Everybody was feeding into the fight. I feed off it. The more people, the more eyes that are watching. It feels like it means something."

Photo courtesy of Bob Barton Photography