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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC on FOX 23’s Julianna Pena

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MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst — and aspiring professional fighter — Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC on FOX 23’s Julianna Pena, who looks to earn a title shot this Saturday (January 28, 2017) inside Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 champion, Julianna Pena, will battle with kickboxing expert, Valentina Shevchenko, this Saturday (Jan. 28, 2016) at UFC on FOX 23 inside Pespi Center in Denver, Colorado.

Despite making her UFC debut back in 2013, Pena has fought just four times. A large part of that inactivity was because of a bad injury following her victorious TUF run, as Pena shredded her knee in training. Since her 2015 return, Pena has quickly risen through the ranks. Opposite tough veterans like Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano, Pena’s toughness and athleticism have carried her to victories. She’ll look to do the same opposite perhaps her division’s finest technician on Saturday night.

Let’s take a closer look at her skill set:

Striking

I normally do my best to find some complimentary things to see in each section, but from a strictly technical standpoint, that’s hard to do in this case. Pena can hit hard and flurry, but her actual striking mechanics are really not good.

Pena is able to get away with mediocre kickboxing at such a high level in her division for several reasons. First and foremost, she’s larger than most of her foes and a superior athlete as well. Secondly, the primary purpose of her striking is to land herself in the clinch, so she rarely spends much time trading blows.

Finally, there aren’t many knockout artists in the women’s Bantamweight division.

In short, Pena’s offense is pretty predictable. After throwing out a stiff — not in the good way — jab or hook, Pena will soon flurry into a combination of hooks and crosses. These punches definitely hurt when they land, but they are also quite predictable. Additionally, Pena’s head remains still and her chin raises, which is a defensive nightmare. If you don’t believe me, the following link puts that pair of problems on full display (GIF).

Alongside the occasional kick while moving forward, that’s pretty much Pena’s entire offensive kickboxing arsenal. Her defense is no better, as Pena waits with her feet planted before swinging wildly or backing straight up under fire.

Wrestling

Luckily, the clinch is there to save her from all those problematic habits.

Pena lands the vast majority of her takedowns from the clinch. She is definitely capable of taking a shot into a single- or double-leg against the fence, but even then, it begins in the clinch. When forced to shoot from the outside, she tends to over-extend on her shot, meaning there is little power or drive behind it.

Once in the clinch, Pena is hyper aggressive with her trip attempts. At times, she’s able to simply secure a tight underhook and/or body lock to force her foe to the mat, but that’s less common against more skilled foes like her past two opponents. When faced with a women she cannot so easily out-muscle, Pena will attempt both the inside and outside trip. When she looks to either technique — for what it’s worth, she generally finds more success hooking outside the leg and driving down with the underhook on the opposite side — Pena fully commits her body weight to the takedown.

That leads to a lot of success in throwing her foe to the mat, but it also tends to get her reversed. Both Eye and Zingano found success by waiting for Pena to attempt a trip and backing away from it, leaving her out of position to do anything but pull guard.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Pena’s jiu-jitsu is the most refined aspect of her game. She may possess some strong submissions, but her ability to cause and win scrambles is what’s allowed her to defeat such strong opponents.

As mentioned, Pena ends on her back shockingly often for a fighter who tends to dominate from top position. From her back, Pena does an excellent job of securing an underhook and using it scramble into a sweep or clinch. In this week’s technique highlight, I took a look at one of the ways this can be done.

From top position, Pena is a very strong positional grappler who works to actively batter her foe while advancing position. Whenever still in the guard, Pena does her best to stand over her foe, keeping her hips very heavy and trapping her opponent. Doing this, she’s usually able to advance to half guard quickly, where she can posture to strike and take advantage of any openings her opponent gives.

After feeling Pena’s weight and punches, it’s not uncommon for her opponent to turn and give up the back. As her foe turns away, Pena keeps her weight heavy and latches onto the seat belt grip. Once there, Pena is very much in control and will threaten with the rear naked choke.

Alternatively, Pena will flatten her foe and secure an underhook, allowing the pass to mount. From that position, Pena’s balance is exceptional, as she climbs very high before dropping hard elbows and punches. Regardless of her opponent’s attempts to buck, Pena remains in dominant position and continues to work (GIF).

As Pena transitions between dominant positions, she is looking for submission opportunities, usually in the form of a choke. For example, as Pena looks to pass half guard, her opponent could try to sit up with an underhook, much like the technique in the video above. In that case, Pena will counter with a guillotine choke, squeezing from half guard to prevent the transition, or moving into mount/guard to finish.

Conclusion

Much like the current champion, Pena’s size and physicality allow her to overwhelm opponents. It doesn’t have to be pretty — Pena is undefeated inside the Octagon for a reason. Once again, she may be at a technical disadvantage, but she’s going to be a full weight class bigger than Shevchenko. Plus, if able to out-work the Russian, Pena’s endless gas tank could definitely trouble Amanda Nunes’ conditioning.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

Source:: mma mania