Alexander Hernandez and his Factory X teammates may call Englewood, Colorado home, but as the lightweight standout prepared for what ultimately became a fight with Mike Breeden this Saturday in Las Vegas, the location of his workouts changed to “Grit Mountain.”
“We said, let's not be too calm and take these moments for granted,” explains Hernandez. “Let's make sure that we have a high level of intensity, we're as gritty as ever and we're executing everything. That's when we introduced this idea of Grit Mountain, and we started hitting these outrageous sessions, these gritty, break you down, almost collegiate wrestling style grit sessions.”
The visit to Grit Mountain achieved its purpose for the 29-year-old, who was originally scheduled to face Brazilian veteran Leonardo Santos this weekend before an injury prompted a call to Breeden to step in.
“That's the name of the game - gritty intensity,” said Hernandez, who didn’t have that in his most recent bout, a close decision loss to Thiago Moises in February. Sure, the three-rounder was competitive, and many believed Hernandez won, but it wasn’t the same fighter who blasted his way through the likes of Beneil Dariush, Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Chris Gruetzemacher. And he knew it.
“This Moises fight, it was real annoying and real frustrating,” he said. “I came in there and I did a real good job of getting myself in this place of neutral objectivity and not being too overzealous, and I don't know if I overswung it or not or if it was just some things leading up to the fight or even that day.
"I never really felt too stimulated or up, and I was way too calm and chill. I was like, I'd like to feel more than how I feel right now, but this is what it is, let's just see where this takes us. And despite as much movement as I was producing, I felt flat. My punches didn't have the pop I wanted and I didn't have spring. I had movement and that's how I was trying to get myself going, but I didn't really have the spring.
“Even with that being said, me and my corner, we all thought we're tagging him, we're keeping him on his heels, in the third round we dropped him with a head kick when he shot and beat him up some more. He landed a good head kick on me at the end that kinda shook me a little out of my stance, and there were some things I didn't execute on just from feeling flat. But we all thought we won.”
The judges disagreed, and while the defeat stung, especially upon further review back at the hotel, but unlike past defeats, particularly his first UFC loss to Donald Cerrone in 2019, Hernandez didn’t let it eat at him.
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“I was really frustrated, but I didn't dig myself in any holes about it,” he said. “I didn't weep or mope about it. I just channeled that into a positive theory of grit. I'll never not maximize my intensity in that cage ever again. I will make sure that I always raise the bar of intensity to meet the demand and I will always execute that.”
Call it the continuing education of Alexander Hernandez, something that takes place daily in his new digs in Colorado, where he moved from San Antonio to get some new looks after a May 2020 loss to Drew Dober.
Hernandez fit in instantly with his new squad, and after being invited by head coach Marc Montoya to accompany him and teammates Brandon Royval and Luigi Vendramini to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi last year, he returned with a lot more responsibility.
“I was grateful that he gave me that opportunity,” Hernandez said of Montoya. “And it was a great decision on his part, a lot of wisdom there, because when we came back, we were different. It was a completely different version of myself and a huge level of growth happening in that time away. and I definitely got a lot of the mental work that I needed in conjunction with the physical.
"I got that synchronization that maybe I was lapsing on before. Maybe I was a little too grunt-like and a little too brutish in the physicality and I wasn't connecting some of the dots I needed mentally, and I was able to do that. I'm real coachable, I adapt real well. I like to think I'm self-aware and so I'll pick things up. It's not anything I'm coming up with on my own. I just do a good job of parroting what my coaches back home have taught me that maybe these guys haven't seen yet or are privy to, and I do a good job of impersonating coach when I need to.”
In the process, Hernandez has become a leader in the room, and as a leader, he’s not only showing his teammates the value of being a martial artist all year round and not just in fight camp, but he’s leading by example in how he deals with the ups and downs of the business. So the way he reacted to the Cerrone fight? That’s a thing of the past.
“The Cerrone fight launched me into a month-long depression, honestly,” he said. “It's like the world around me was completely shaken and I was completely beside myself and real upset. The dream you had and the vision and the opportunity, and all these things, and as you grow and go, you can get back to that and they can all be a big opportunity.
"Each one had a story around it. That one had its own story around it, the Dober fight had its own chaotic, COVID, self-taught and trained story around it that led me to Factory X, where my manager talked me off a cliff, telling me, ‘Let's get to a gym and you'll see.’ And I saw the light. And no knock to my guys back home. They still fly out and no one's better than them at what they do, they just don't do MMA; they do specifics.”
As Hernandez found out, specialists can only go so far in this sport at this level, with rare exception. But that’s okay with him, because he feels he has all the tools he needs to make his mark.
“I don't think I'm the best at anything, but I do think that I can be the best at blending,” said Hernandez.
Maybe that’s the secret that will get Alexander “The Great” to a world title. That, and his insistence that he’s “grown and matured in the game,” a nice place to be at before he hits his 30th birthday a year from today.