TUF Talk with Violent Bob Ross
When he had a breakout 2016, winning a couple of amateur titles and then two first-round stoppages as a pro, the hype started to grow. Luis Pena then added a viral kickboxing KO and two more big wins in 2017 - this time on FloCombat - and then people nationally began to take note. With his selection on this season of The Ultimate Fighter TV series, the buzz for "Violent Bob Ross" has become evergrowing.
Now on the eve of his first nationally-televised fight, Pena is all smiles as he tries to make sense of this crazy train he's been riding on.
"I can't lie, it's been great getting all this positive feedback," Pena said. "All my interviews, and little bits of personality that people have seen of me on the show. I've barely been featured yet, and I'm almost already one of the more popular guys on the show."
Pena has seemingly taken the positive exposure and numerous media requests and ran with it. It's safe to say he's embraced the spotlight.
"It's what you've got to do if you want to become a star in this sport," Pena said. "You've got to embrace it and take it as serious as you would training in the gym."
He got his first taste of national coverage when FloCombat covered one of his fights in Elizabethton, Tenn.
"FloCombat got behind me from the very beginning," Pena said. "From the first fight on their platform when I fought Damir Ferhatbegovic for Valor Fights, and ever since then they've jumped on the train and helped support me and get me out there to a much wider audience."
And it was FloCombat who he credits for helping flesh out the nickname that has attracted MMA fans since his first reveal on the Ultimate Fighter promos.
"Obviously, ever since I started growing my hair out, I've been compared to Bob Ross because of the resemblance," Pena said. "The actual nickname 'Violent Bob Ross' didn't come about until last year when I was getting ready to fight Kobe Wall for my fourth professional fight. FloCombat tweeted out a picture of me and one of the fans on there said 'when did Bob Ross' son start fighting', then someone else tweeted back 'no that's Violent Bob Ross' from there I just took that name."
Fans of the TUF TV series know that last week Pena was selected to compete in Wednesday's episode. Fig
"Strategically, the way the show works, you want to fight early," Pena said. "That means you have the most time to recover for the semi-finals. So I was looking to fight as early as possible."
While historically some fighters have struggled cutting weight outside of their normal scenarios, Pena breezed through what some consider the toughest part of fighting.
"This was actually quite literally, the easiest weight cut I've ever had in my life," Pena said. "We were on the George Lockhart system, and that just made things so much easier. Combined with my natural high metabolism and my own weight cutting techniques, it made things a lot easier. I remember stepping on to the scale at 153 pounds and three-quarters, and I was still sweating. I had actually eaten breakfast that morning before weigh-ins."
Adaptability has also helped Pena feel right at home inside the TUF house.
"I think my nomadic past has definitely helped my acclimation to the house," Pena said. "It was very, very easy for me to get comfortable in the TUF house, and to get comfortable around the guys. I never felt any animosity from anybody, and I never felt like I was in hostile territory. Even when things did get hostile."
A familiar face on the coaching staff also helped Pena adjust.
"When I saw the coaches were Cormier and Stipe, no offense to Stipe, I definitely wanted to be on Daniel's team," Pena said. "Daniel and I have a past. I met him in the in 2008 when he was getting ready for the Beijing Olympics. Him and Coleman Scott come out to the Arkansas Wrestling Academy because our coach Pat Smith was one of his wrestling coaches in college at Oklahoma State, and they came to workout with him and get ready. I had actually met him then, and he remembered me during the evaluations. Knowing I would have that kind of comfortable environment with the same level of practices and the level of coaching he was bringing, I knew I wanted to be on DC's team."
Now back at St. Charles MMA, Pena has resumed training under head coach Mike Rogers.
"Everyone's been real happy for me, been real positive," Pena said. "It's been awesome to not only to hype up the publicity for myself but to bring along some of my teammates and get their names recognized nationally. Everyone's been real exited, and I can't wait for them to see the fight this Wednesday, especially for the fans on the national level, this is going to kind of be like my coming out party."
In 2015, Pena moved from his home in Arkansas to St. Charles to train with Rogers. He quite literally moved into the gym, taking up a corner in the small facility that shared a wall with a spray-on bed liner company, and setup his room.
"It was more important for me to have a place to train than a place to live," Pena said. "So I just packed up everything I had and moved."
Now three years removed, Pena has the opportunity of a lifetime.
"The gravity of the situation didn't really hit me until I was walking around at Fox Studios," Pena said. "Looking at everything on the wall it really hit me. Three years ago I was laying down looking up at the ceiling, breathing in paint fumes, barely able to sleep at night. It's a lot to process but at the same time the whole reason I'm at where I'm at I knew, my belief in myself I knew I was going to make it. Now I'm here."
Pena's confidence and self-promotion have helped him stand out among the other TUF contestants, but he hasn't forgotten the reason he's there.
"It's all about paying your dues, is how they say," Pena said. "Riding out the grind and embracing the suck is all part of the process."