The Ultimate Fighter
You can invite Alex Perez over to watch the fights. But don’t take it personal if he decides to pass on the offer.
“I’m constantly breaking down everything,” he said. “I get very annoyed when I go to people’s houses to watch fights and you hear people going, ‘Oh, &*&* him up,’ or ‘Oh, he’s a $%$%$, he got hit in the balls.’ They don’t understand. (Laughs) I’ve been in there. Knock on wood I haven’t been poked in the eye too badly. I’ve been hit in the groin a few times, but people don’t understand that and it does bother me a lot. So usually I’m at home watching them by myself. I’m breaking down fights and I pick up things. I pick up trends from fights, and I like to see what they do wrestling, jiu-jitsu and striking wise. Everybody’s evolving, so I like to see what they’re doing and what their game plan is. I like to study fights like that.”
But is he still getting invites?
“I do, but I’d rather just stay home,” laughs Perez, who’s had a lot of time to break down fights during his nearly year-long layoff from the Octagon. This weekend, he makes his first start since a March 2019 win over Mark De La Rosa when he faces Jordan Espinosa, but don’t assume that Perez is bitter about missing fight time due to injury. In fact, he sounds more positive than he ever has.
“I’m always positive, man,” he said. “No need to be negative.”
True, but it would be understandable if he was, especially as the flyweight division made a big comeback in 2019. But the 27-year-old refused to let injuries get in the way of his good vibes.
“What can you do about not fighting?” said Perez. “You gotta look at the bright side of everything. There’s always gonna be negative stuff going on, but as long as you can keep your head straight and focus on the positive stuff, the negative stuff will eventually go away.”
Has this always been the mindset of the Lemoore, California product?
“I’ve always been like this,” he said. “I’m very blessed to wake up and do what I love to do for a living. Yeah, it sucked that I wasn’t able to fight for a while, but, on the bright side, I was able to go to the gym, help my teammates out, teach my classes and still get in there and learn and work on things I needed to work on. So I gotta look at the positives, and one negative and 20 positives isn’t too horrible. I know people going through way worse than what I’m going through.”
And it’s not like Perez was invisible since last March, as he’s been a regular visitor on fight weeks for his Team Oyama squadmates. It’s kept him busy, and working under head coach Colin Oyama has added new aspects to his game that only come with experience.
“I’ve always loved coaching because it makes you break down technique,” he said. “I started helping and coaching at a young age in wrestling, I’ve broken down technique and as you describe a technique, it makes you do it right. You can’t go out there and show bad technique, so it makes you fix your mistakes while coaching; it keeps you mentally sharp and keeps you on the ball. And cornering guys, I get to corner with one of the best in the game, coach Colin Oyama, and I get to see what his thought process is and what he does. He’s the main guy, so I like learning from him and seeing what he does because there are times when things don’t go your way and I like to hear what he tells fighters, or if things are going your way, what he’s telling them in the corner. It helps me understand the game all-around. It’s not all about fighting; it’s about the mental edge. It helps a lot.”
Now it’s time for the No. 12-ranked Perez to put those lessons to work against the No. 11-ranked Espinosa. It’s the Californian’s official return to the flyweight division after beating De La Rosa at 135 pounds, and a new landscape than it was the last time he competed at 125 pounds.
“I feel like the division has always been good,” Perez said. “It’s just that sometimes it wasn’t getting enough attention. (Former champion Henry) Cejudo did help it, but now the division’s wide open. I see a lot of matchups coming up, a lot of good guys, a lot of up and comers, so it’s an exciting time for the division. It’s a good mix of guys and I feel like the flyweights are on point right now. We go out there and put on shows for people. People are excited about watching flyweights again.”
And Perez is expecting to add to that excitement this Saturday in Raleigh.
“If you go out there and do what you trained to do, exciting fights will happen,” he said. “I’m out there fighting for me and trying to get my two checks.”
Maybe even three.
“Maybe even three,” he laughs. “I just can’t wait for the whole experience. I miss all of it. I worked so hard to get here and not fighting for almost a year makes me think, man, this easily can be taken away from me. So it motivates me that much more to work twice as hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. And every time I go in there, I fight like my job is on the line.”