The UFC has announced an exciting matchup in the lightweight division with two unbeaten prospects and TUF 27 Team Cormier members facing off at the TUF 27 Finale on July 6 in Las Vegas. Ireland’s Richie Smullen (3-0-1) will take on “Violent Bob Ross” Luis Pena ( 4-0) in a fight that almost guarantees excitement.
Both men had to withdraw from The Ultimate Fighter 27 competition due to injury, with Smullen pulling out prior to his opening bout due to suffering from rhabdomyolysis and Pena fracturing his foot following his opening bout in the tournament, however both have been given the opportunity to display their skills on the International Fight Week show.
Following the announcement of the matchup I had a chat with former BAMMA star Richie Smullen to get his thoughts on the call up to the UFC, his time on TUF 27 and his plans to become a household name in the UFC lightweight division over the next 2 years.
“It feels great to be called up to the UFC, I have known for a few weeks now” Smullen told me following the announcement. “Luis is a great opponent and I’m looking forward to fighting him, I always go for the hard fights” Smullen added.
Smullen’s time on TUF 27 ended abruptly just hours before his opening round fight with Allan Zinuga when the SBG man began suffering serious cramps during his warm up. It later transpired that he was suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a potentially very serious condition where the muscles break down and release their contents into the bloodstream which can lead to kidney failure. Despite the disappointment of how TUF played out Smullen enjoyed the experience
“The whole TUF experience wasn’t that bad to be honest. Obviously what happened to me with Rhabdomyolysis kind of sucked and not fighting, but I learned a lot about myself” Smullen said of his time on the show.
“I was obviously disappointed. The only thing that was going through my mind is how do I tell everyone what happened. (I was) more embarrassed on my behalf more than anything, going to a fight show and not fighting”.
Smullen remained philosophical though despite his clear disappointment “but look, nothing I can do about it now, if you Google rhabdo which I got, you will know it’s no joke but I’m still happy I went”.
Smullen will take on Pena who was a teammate on the show and a man that Smullen trained with regularly during their time in Las Vegas. I asked how it felt to take on a fellow Team Cormier member and how he felt he matches up against Pena
“Yes I’m fighting a Team DC member but like I said in an interview at the very start I’m Team SBG. I don’t mind the fact that I trained with Luis, there’s nothing personal there it’s just a sport. We could have fought each other in the house but we didn’t, now we get paid to fight each other on the big stage.”
“To be honest he’s a pretty well-rounded guy but I am well rounded. I just do what I do every fight, I’ll walk forward, put pressure on and leave it all in there.”
Smullen is well known across the European MMA scene for his fantastic submission skills, in particular his leg locks having won 2 of his 3 pro fights in such fashion. I asked Smullen if he had an opponent in mind if he got passed Pena and whether he thought his style would surprise a few in the division
“Nope, I haven’t thought about no one else at all, all my focus is on Pena now, not on any other lightweights”.
“I don’t believe I will catch anyone off guard as I’m known for it, but I do believe if you are good enough, they can know what you are going to do and still not stop you doing it to them. That’s a true black belt!”. He then further went on to say that his dream matchups would have been against either Rousimar Paulhares or Masakazu Iminari as “to leg lock one of them would just show the skill level I have in that field”.
Smullen is another product of SBG Ireland under the tutelage of John Kavanagh and training with the likes of Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson and Artem Lobov amongst many other talents. He was extremely appreciative of the talented training partners available and the coaching he receives from John Kavanagh “I train in a great gym with great training partners. My game has developed well over the years and John has put a lot of time and hours into me.
Despite the fact that he is yet to make his UFC debut, Smullen had a clear goal in mind when I asked him where he saw himself 2 years down the line
“2 years from now I see myself being a UFC vet and a household name”.
I finally asked Smullen if he had any messages to Luis Pena ahead of their showdown, to which he simply replied: “I don’t have any message for Luis bar have a healthy training camp and see you July 6th”.
The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale goes down on July 6th from the Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada.