MMA’s Domestic Violence Problem Is The Elephant In The Cage | Is The Sport An Enabler?

Image Credit: Luis Pena mugshot courtesy of Broward County Sheriff's Office

Mixed martial arts has a domestic violence problem.

The latest incident reared its head with UFC lightweight Luis Pena. On Saturday, Pena was arrested in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and simple battery.

According to the arresting officer’s report, Pena repeatedly struck his girlfriend and another woman with a closed fist.

He was subsequently booked at the Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, and the UFC decided to terminate Pena’s contract.

The Aftermath

The promoter released a statement about the situation:

UFC is aware of the disturbing allegations concerning the recent arrest of Luis Pena. Mr. Pena has been open about his struggles with mental health and substance abuse issues, and the organization has on multiple prior occasions attempted to help him get professional treatment. At this time, UFC believes Mr. Pena needs to deal with the health and legal issues in front of him and consequently has informed Mr. Pena’s management that his promotional agreement has been terminated.

Pena fought for the UFC seven times. After entering the organization, he won four bouts following “The Ultimate Fighter 27” reality show in 2018.

A Pattern Of Out-Of-Cage Violence

Additionally, on Tuesday UFC president Dana White discussed his thoughts on the situation.

“This was a bad case, and we knew that he had problems before that we were trying to help him with,” said White at the Dana White’s Contender Series 43 post-fight news conference. “This is a pretty nasty one. I don’t know if you guys read the police report, but yeah, this one had to happen.”

However, Pena’s case joins a trio of recent domestic violence issues by current and former UFC fighters. In addition, UFC legend Chuck Liddell was recently arrested and jailed for an alleged domestic violence incident.

The most blatant act of domestic violence from a former UFC fighter came from Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver. In March 2017 he was convicted on 29 felony counts after raping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend Christine Mackinday and her lover during an incident in 2014.

On June 5, 2017, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 36 years.

The Jon Jones Problem

UFC Hall of Famer Jon Jones was recently arrested following an alleged domestic violence incident in Las Vegas against his fiancĂ©e. Jones claims he never struck his fiancĂ©e, Jessie Moses, although the police report from the incident states that she was bloodied and “scared to even talk about Jonathan.”

On Wednesday, the former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones addressed the allegations on Twitter:

“I love how people are imagining the worst possible situation in their heads and making it somehow factual. I never hit my fiance and our daughters were woken up after our confrontation. My daughters didn’t see or hear us arguing.”

“That’s really the only thing I care to clarify..outside of that, looking forward to moving forward without alcohol. It’s the first time in my life where I’m actually ready to quit. Glad to have the support of my fiance, family friends and fans.”

Zero Tolerance

Following his arrest, Jones, 34, posted a since-deleted video on Instagram of him kissing his fiancée in a car. In addition, he posted a video of himself lifting weights with text captions that included a vow to leave alcohol behind.

Jones’ coach Mike Winkeljohn appeared on “The MMA Hour” this week and announced Jones’ banishment from the Jackson Wink MMA gym. Jones has been training at the gym in Albuquerque, N.M., since 2009, and he became a champion in the gym.

“This is a tough one,” Winkeljohn said on The MMA Hour. “There’s definitely no doubt about it. It’s one of the toughest ones. It broke my heart that I was even put in that position where I felt I had to do it. But it’s OK. It’s OK. What’s important to me might not be what’s important to others. I will stick by my guns and stay true to the guy that I want to be.

“I’m hoping after a certain period of time he wants to come back to the gym, he does it,” Winklejohn said. “Even if he doesn’t come back to the gym, I’m OK with it. In my own heart, I know that he might go on to win the heavyweight title.

“I’ll take myself out of a little bit of money. Whatever. That’s just not where my values are at right now. I just want to set the precedent for the rest of my guys in the gym and people as a whole. I’m all about forgiveness, but let’s go forward. Let’s fix these things. I know he can. I’m optimistic he can do that.”

The gym has done for Jon Jones what the UFC will not, provide a reality check.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.