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After a long road to the UFC, Perez plans on staying a while

 


As the phrase goes, “With friends like these, who needs enemies,” and it makes Alex Perez chuckle when he recalls the buddies who call him “Mr. Crab” just because he hasn’t put his 2004 Hyundai with 220,000-plus miles on it out to pasture yet.

That moniker could be overlooked, but it was the one that they gave him and which he carried for much of his career that could get any friends kicked to the curb in a hurry.

“I had three amateur fights, and they gave it to me after my second and third fights,” said Perez of his first and now retired nickname, “The Decision.” “The first fight, I TKOed the guy. The next two were against better guys and it took me a little longer to adapt, so my friends gave me the name ‘The Decision.’ People were like, ‘That’s a stupid nickname,’ but you don’t choose your own nickname. (Laughs) That was better than some of the names they came up for other guys at the gym.”

These days, it’s simply Alex Perez on fight night, and that’s just fine with the 25-year-old from Lemoore, California, who makes his second visit to the Octagon on Saturday to face Eric Shelton. Just a year ago, Perez was coming off a first-round submission win over Andrew Natividad that upped his win streak to three, and a month later he would make it four in a row by defeating Tyler Bialecki. But there was no indication that he would soon be in the UFC, despite a 17-4 pro record.

“It’s crazy knowing where I was at last year around this time, contemplating what it was gonna take to get in,” he said.

But five months after his win over Bialecki, the window opened thanks to a fight on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Perez won that bout, taking less than three minutes to submit Kevin Gray, and with that victory, he got a UFC contract. Even better than that, in December he was going to debut close to home as he took on Carls John de Tomas in Fresno.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to top that,” he said of his first Octagon bout, which he won by second-round submission. “It’s probably one of the best feelings, especially because I fought so close to home. It was super loud going in and I couldn’t even hear my music. Some people are never gonna get to fight close to their home or in their hometown, so you couldn’t ask for a better debut or a better result.”

Now he’s right back in the Octagon, and while he missed weight on Friday for the Saturday matchup, that doesn’t dilute the quality of the fight or the reality that a victory could put the winner in the top 15. Perez knows what’s at stake, even this early in his UFC run, but he doesn’t want to focus on that right now. He just wants to win.

“I try to not look too far ahead,” he said. “Shelton’s one of the toughest guys in this division and that’s why I wanted to fight him. But I know what it means if you start your UFC career 2-0. I know what that can do, and I also know what can happen if you start off your career 1-1. So it’s a big fight, like every fight is, but I’m ready for it.”