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Alex Perez's serpentine road to the UFC


Alex Perez</a> poses for a picture after his submission victory over <a href='../fighter/Kevin-Gray'>Kevin Gray</a> in their flyweight bout during Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series at the TUF Gym on August 8, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/DWTNCS)" align="center" />Alex Perez turned pro as a mixed martial artist at 18 years old with a simple goal. To make it to the UFC by the time he was 21.

Then his 22nd birthday passed, and his 23rd and 24th.

“At one point, I thought I was never gonna be in,” said Perez, who did his part to make a name for himself in the MMA world, compiling a 17-4 record. Sure there were setbacks, but he always bounced back, then watched as fighters without a resume like his got the call to the UFC.

“It was pretty frustrating for me to see because this is what I do,” the Californian said. “This is my job, I train full-time, and to see other people with less fights than me get in, it kinda hurt. At one point, it even made me second-guess myself. You don’t just need a win, you need to win impressively, and winning wasn’t the problem for me. So it made me think about what I was doing.”

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Even as it was announced that Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series was going to take place this summer, giving top prospects a chance to fight in front of the UFC President and perhaps get a contract, Perez, now 25, watched as fight after fight was announced.

Finally, his name was called, and Perez went into his Aug. 8 bout against Kevin Gray with a simple strategy.

“Either I was gonna lose by getting knocked out or I was gonna knock him out or finish him,” he said. “I was gonna throw everything I could at him and know that if I didn’t get the contract, it wasn’t because I didn’t try.”

Perez threw caution to the wind and went for a finish, not a win. He ultimately got both – and a UFC contract – putting Gray to sleep with an anaconda choke in less than three minutes. At long last, Alex Perez had arrived.

“I felt like I belonged a long time ago, I just needed my time to show everybody that I belonged,” he said. And when that time came, he delivered, becoming the latest member of the Team Oyama squad to make it to the UFC, a phrase that’s heard more and more these days when it comes to the Southern California standouts.

“It’s great because we’re all fighting for the same goal,” Perez said of the team led by head coach Colin Oyama. “We all want to win, and we all want to make it to the UFC and become UFC champs, so it’s easy to be around that atmosphere. It’s harder when you’re around people who don’t want the same things as you. Here, we’re pushing each other no matter what. There’s no easy way around it.”

Not that Perez wants the easy way out. He’s already been through enough hard times in the fight game that it’s become a part of his DNA. But in the future will we be seeing the version of him that showed up in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago?

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LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 08: (R-L) Alex Perez punches Kevin Gray in their flyweight bout during Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series at the TUF Gym on August 8, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/DWTNCS)“That’s the plan,” he said. “I’m gonna take the win over everything, but if I can go in there and stop some guy, I’m taking that. I’d rather finish a guy in the first round than go 15 minutes. The biggest key for me is to stay relaxed. When I get tense, I don’t fight up to my potential.”

When it mattered against Gray, he showed that potential. And now it’s a whole new set of challenges ahead of him in the UFC. But for one moment, in his hotel room after the fight, he got to enjoy the reality of achieving the goal he set for himself seven years ago.

“I thought, ‘Man, after all this time and everything I’ve been through, I finally made it.’ I couldn’t believe it. But it made me appreciate everything I’ve been through a lot more.”