A few months ago, Manny Bermudez was the hot prospect on the regional scene, the one fighter the UFC needed to sign to the roster, the greatest thing since pizza. Such talk didn’t escape the ears of the 23-year-old.
“I heard it, but I heard it from all the people I know, so…”
He laughs, figuring they were just being nice.
“I come from a pretty small town and a small community, so everybody knows everybody,” said Norwell’s Bermudez. “And having the people have your back, it’s great, but at the same time, I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing. I love all the support, but if everybody told me I sucked, I’d still be doing the same thing I’m doing right now. But it was a nice comparison to the pizza, though.”
Bermudez smiles, even as he’s in the dieting phase of training camp for his May 27 bout in Liverpool against Davey Grant. There are a lot of smiles these days, as he got his UFC contract and his first UFC win, a February submission of Albert Morales. Now he’s off to England.
“I started training a while ago and I never thought I’d be fighting overseas like this,” he said. “Even when I thought about fighting in the UFC, it was always different places in the U.S. It was never Europe and stuff like that in my head.”
But here it is, and it’s fun to watch a fighter like Bermudez make his way around the UFC because he’s enjoying every minute of it. He talks of walking around Orlando in the days before his UFC debut, meeting and talking with Morales before the bout, and then on fight night taking in what he calls a lot calmer atmosphere in the Octagon.
“One of the things I realized in my debut is that fighting in the Octagon’s a lot calmer than when I fought locally,” he said. “Those fights were just crazy, and when you get into the Octagon, it’s so much more professional and a different pace.”
It was on the local scene where Bermudez built his reputation and his unbeaten record, and while he fought the usual level of competition as he rose up the ranks, one name does stand out to those who follow the New England scene, and it’s Saul Almeida.
In November 2016, Bermudez took a split decision over Almeida, and though the Brazil native isn’t a household name, he has been a gatekeeper of sorts, as he’s battled Tateki Matsuda, Matt Bessette, Calvin Kattar and Rob Font before they made it to the UFC.
“He was definitely a tough fight,” Bermudez said. “He’s not a great finisher, but he’s just a tough, durable, tall guy that knows how to win fights. At that point in my career, I knew the UFC was a possibility, but it didn’t feel real. So me fighting Saul was just another fight for me in my head. I learned a lot from that fight; it was one of the few times I’ve gone to a decision.”
He hasn’t had to go 15 minutes since, but if he does, he’s ready. Maybe he can thank Almeida for that.
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“When you get in there, everybody’s got two arms, two legs and no matter how much I’m getting drawn into his game, I’m still there fighting and I’m as much as a pain in the ass to fight against as he is.”
He got a fight out of Morales in February, and that’s no surprise, but in the end, Bermudez’ top level submission game proved to be the deciding factor. In other words, he lived up to the pre-fight hype.
Don’t tell him that, though.
“I’m my own biggest critic, so I’m the first one to point out my mistakes in that fight,” he said. “And I know how I was feeling during that fight, so I know I need to get a little more broken into the Octagon and there’s always room for improvement. But I do think I belong with all the guys in the 135-division.”
Next up is Grant, and with the Brit fighting at home, Bermudez will be the “bad guy” in Liverpool. Again, it’s no big deal for “The Bermudez Triangle.”
“Saul had a pretty good group of people supporting him and there were a couple times I fought in Connecticut against hometown kids,” he said. “You notice it (the boos) on the walkout, but it’s not really a big deal because you can either let some boos get to you or you can focus on the guy trying to kick your face in across the cage from you. (Laughs) I manage to put it in the back of my head, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
If Bermudez sounds like the happiest fighter in the UFC right now, if that’s not accurate, he’s at least in the top five. But if you really want him to be number one on the happy meter, just give him a UFC fight in Boston.
“There’s nothing like fighting in front of your friends at home, but at the same time I love the atmosphere of the UFC. I love the professionalism that goes into it, and now it feels like it’s really my job to do all these things. But once the UFC goes into Boston, I would so love to see my friends in the crowd too.”