“To be honest I didn’t think I’d be getting ready to make my UFC debut at 22-years old.” - Alex Caceres
A year ago today Miami’s Alex Caceres was still celebrating an impressive victory over Jahmal McLennan. For the then 21-year old it was his fourth win in six professional fights. He figured it was a starting point for big things to come. He can work his way up in another MMA organization, and eventually get picked up by the UFC in four to five years. That’s what he envisioned in his head. Part of the vision was correct, but it was off by a few years.
This Saturday Caceres makes his UFC debut against his fellow Miami native Mackens Semerzier in a lightweight bout at UFC Fight Night in Seattle, Washington. This comes following a highly successful showing in The Ultimate Fighter, making it all the way to the quarterfinals, where he lost to Michael Johnson by decision.
Caceres’ brother heard about the TUF opportunity, told Alex and they took a road trip to North Carolina for the show’s audition. At worst they’d say no and he’d continue working hard to make it at some other point, but at best he’d make the cast and get his name in the world of MMA. Either way he never expected to be in the position he’s at today.
“To be honest I didn’t think I’d be getting ready to make my UFC debut at 22-years old,” Caceres said. “I thought maybe at 25-26 I’d get to fight in the UFC, but I took matters into my own hands. I went to the tryout, made it, threw myself into the fire, and here I am. This is an amazing feeling. I’m gonna have butterflies on Saturday.”
During his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, Caceres said he learned a lot, and grew as a person and as a fighter. He was one of the most fan-attractive cast members because of his smile during fights, his adventurous stories, and his swagger. Now that he’s made the big stage, as he calls it, he truly believes that his character and charisma will take him long, long way.
“I do believe that the combination of how I express myself in and out of the cage, and the way that I fight will shoot me to super stardom very quickly,” Caceres said. “They think I’m wild and crazy, and they’ll get wild and crazy each and every time.”
The ambitious Caceres doesn’t stop there. Yes he has the goal of winning a title in the UFC, and becoming a star within the sport, but when he says that he will shoot to super stardom very quickly, that statement goes way beyond the world of mixed martial arts.
“I envision my success in the sport leading me to doing other stuff like TV shows, and movies,” Caceres said. “This can all blow up really quickly. I really think I will accomplish all of this because of the kind of person I am. I take it one step at a time, but you better believe I put all my energy into whatever’s in front of me.”
If he does become a TV, or movie, star Caceres already comes armed with a Hollywood style nickname. People started calling him “Bruce Leroy” after the lead character in the cult classic 1980s film The Last Dragon. Caceres said people thought he looked like the lead character, a teenager who wanted to be like his idol, Bruce Lee. Caceres says he doesn’t relate much to Leroy Green except for one important aspect.
“I do idolize Bruce Lee,” Caceres said. “I have a whole bunch of different outfits I wear every time I enter the cage that you do see in The Last Dragon, but I don’t wear them because of that. I wear them because before that movie ever existed, Bruce Lee wore them, and I always try to pay homage to him.”
With his UFC debut a couple of days away, and visions of bigger things to come on his mind, Caceres also takes time to reflect on the struggles he faced to get here, and the people who helped him along the way.
“I had a good upbringing, but my family didn’t have much money, so I had to take jobs to pay gyms in order to train,” Caceres recalls. “I wanted to chase a dream, and had to apply all I had in order to achieve it. When things seemed at their darkest, doors opened up for me.”
One of the doors that opened up was at the Young Tigers Gym in Miami. Eric “El Tigre” Castaño, a former kickboxing champion, started the Young Tigers Foundation to help underprivileged youth to get off the streets, and into the gym without spending a dime.
“He helped me out a lot,” Caceres says. “Every other gym wanted me to pay, and I didn’t have the money at the time. We weren’t rich, and “El Tigre” let me train there for free while I was up and coming. He guided me, and I really benefited from his help. I’m happy I was able to meet him early on in life.”
Castaño, who also worked in similar fashion with lightweight Jorge Masvidal, knew there was something special about Caceres the very first time he stepped into his gym.
“I always saw the potential in Caceres,” Castaño said. “He is very explosive, and one of the most creative fighters I’ve ever seen. I knew he’d get to this point and beyond in whatever fighting discipline he’d choose, whether it’d be MMA, boxing, or anything else. It gives me so much satisfaction, and makes me so proud to see him make it to the UFC. He’s a very special person.”
Now Caceres will finally go toe-to-toe with Semerzier on Saturday. He will bring his that creativity and explosiveness to the Octagon. Caceres didn’t predict a spectacular win, but did promise that if the fight turns out to be boring he won’t be the man to blame.
“The fans are definitely going to see a whole lot of excitement,” Caceres predicts. “There will be no lowlights unless Semerzier wants to hug me for three rounds. On my part I promise there will be a whole lot of action.”