There must be more difficult assignments than facing the only Uruguayan fighter on the UFC’s first card in Uruguay, but it’s hard to think of one at the moment.
Yet the young man tasked with facing Rivera’s Eduardo Garagorri this weekend is actually embracing being the “bad guy.”
“I really like to fight as a visitor,” laughs Humberto Bandenay. “For some reason it motivates me even more to have the public against me, the visiting underdog. That said, I'll always do my job regardless of where we fight, period.”
Already with his back against the wall following back-to-back losses to Gabriel Benitez and Austin Arnett, the 24-year-old Bandenay did make a strong positive impression in his 2017 debut as he scored a Performance of the Night knockout over Martin Bravo, and it’s that potential that has kept him positive two years into his stay on the UFC’s featherweight roster.
“I'm not where I want to be, or where I should be,” he said. “But I'm very grateful for the opportunity that the UFC has given me. I haven't shown what I'm capable of, which can be frustrating, but I know the next two years are going to be very good for myself and my team.”
That confidence comes along with youth and talent. It’s also been bolstered by a recent move from his native Peru to Brazil, where he now trains with the well-regarded Astra Fight Team.
“I'm working with Astra Fight Team because I already knew the quality of their program and the level of training and the elite fighters who compete under that banner,” Bandenay said. “They've already contributed a lot to my game; they've made me a very tough fighter, and I'm excited to show the improvements I've been making.”
It’s never easy to leave home to chase a dream, especially when working in Peru got Bandenay to the point where he earned a call from the UFC. But as the fights get tougher and the talent level rises, Bandenay had to be honest with himself and shake things up a bit in order to keep up with his peers in the Octagon.
“The level of MMA in Peru is good, but to compete at the UFC level, I need to be in Brazil or the USA,” he said. “It's always difficult to be away from your loved ones, especially your family, but it is part of the sacrifice that one makes in order to achieve their goals. I love my country and my people. Unfortunately, this is just a reality of the path I've chosen.”
Bandenay is confident these sacrifices will pay off, and with his first two years in the big show done, he’s looking forward to the next two.
“I'm just going to move forward, step by step, show what I'm capable of doing in the Octagon, win fights, entertain fans, and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “I'm very excited, and I hope the fans are, too.”
Even the fans in Montevideo cheering for Garagorri?
“I'm happy for him that he's making his UFC debut,” said Bandenay of his foe. “He's a good fighter and I know he'll be ready for a war. He better be, because for me it will be a war.”