Ailin Perez’s mission statement is crystal clear.
As she sits with UFC.com backstage at the UFC APEX, where she’ll take on Hailey Cowan at UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs Spann, there’s no mystery as to how she got here or what she expects to happen next.
"I started my career with the purpose to get a better life for my son. It was back in 2017 when he was born. And with the same purpose I had to try to make it to the UFC when I first started is also the purpose that I have now to become champion."
The Argentina native speaks via translator, but an inescapable aura of complete confidence colors every single word she says, words that all lead back to her son.
“I have a five-year-old son who is waiting for me in Argentina. He is the being that gives me strength to do all of this. I can't wait to see him."
“No one works harder than her,” says manager Martin Pakciarz. “All the coaches who have ever worked with her say she is the first to show up and last one to leave the gym. She also is a single mother who does everything for her son while maintaining a pro athlete lifestyle. She handles it all very well and she is a great mother.”
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Pakciarz promoted Perez as president of South America’s Samurai Fight House, where she held the belt.
“I found her fights on YouTube and I thought she was a fun, aggressive fighter who always went for the finish. I reached out to her on Instagram and she told me she was looking for a new manager. So it worked out. Ailin was my first ever client.”
Also a two-time South American MMA bantamweight champion and two-time South American Sanda champion, Perez has shown an ease at moving between 135 and 145 pounds when the occasion calls for it. But despite dropping her UFC debut in Paris last September to bantamweight Stephanie Egger, she has no particular designs on moving up.
"My weight class is 135. That's the weight class I would like to continue in. While saying that, I am here to live the life of a UFC athlete. So if I get the call at 145, I'm more than happy to accept it. I'm here to take on anyone. So whatever the UFC wants, I'm happy to take it."
This thread surfaces several times in talking to Perez: yes, she’d like to stay where she is, but anyone who wants some is welcome to come get some. A notable figure who apparently wanted some was none other than Norma Dumont. Shortly after defeating Karol Rosa last September, the featherweight called out Perez…just one week after Perez had lost her debut. It seemed curious at the time, and still does. But Perez would certainly entertain the idea.
"Of course," she says in perfect English before dropping back into her native tongue. "This is my moment. If someone wants to fight me, they have to get in line because it seems like a lot of girls want to fight me at this point. And, of course, if she wants to fight at 135 I'll fight her, if she wants to fight me at 145, I'll also fight her. But my question to Norma Dumont is the following: if you're so highly ranked, why are you trying to get a fight with a girl who just started out in the UFC? Why aren't you trying to call out the UFC champion Amanda Nunes? But, at the same time, I would fight her. Her trying to call me out instead of the champion shows a lack of courage on her part."
We’ll see if that fight comes to pass, but first things first: Hailey Cowan. The newcomer has an identical record to Perez (7-2) and boasts some high-level wins during her time in Invicta and LFA.
“She's very strong and she's a complete fighter; she's comfortable going anywhere in the fight. At the same time, while I do think she is somewhat technical, I don't think that she's extremely technical.
“One thing I'm excited about: she was saying things about me that you shouldn't have said about me, and I'm looking forward to shutting her up.”
As she says this, the names of other fighters with her name in their mouth come into her mind. She smiles mischievously.
“To all my haters who want to criticize me: I just want to give you guys a word of thanks. Thank you. Because without you guys, I wouldn't be here today. I'm going to keep working to be the best I can. Your comments only make me stronger.”
Some fighters go for years trying to get people to remember them. Just one fight into her UFC career, Perez seems to have succeeded in that regard.
“I think she is going to be a fighter that everyone will have an opinion about,” Pakciarz continues. “Whether you love her or hate her, you are going to care about her fights. And she wants it all. She says she want to be UFC champion. And I believe her. She has accomplished everything she has proposed to herself so far. So why not Ailin?”
Why not, indeed? Thoughts like these will be running through her mind as she makes her second UFC walk Saturday evening with her son—and her homeland—on her mind.
"I feel a great sense of pride to be able to represent my country, but, at the same time, I feel a great sense of responsibility. There's so few of us--and me being the only current female Argentine fighter in the UFC--it's very important for me to be able to represent my country in the best way I can. I want to continue trying to open doors for the people who are going to come after me here, which I know will happen. This Saturday I'm going to do everything I can to make sure the flag is flying high."