"I’m going to keep climbing the ladder and get to the top. I'm not
planning on speeding to the top, but eventually that's where I want to
be, the top. That's the goal." - Dennis Bermudez
It’s brash, it’s bold, it’s bullheaded, and it sounds like something Brock Lesnar or, more likely, The Rock would bark before doing battle. It’s certainly a heavyweight’s mentality, but it’s actually from a featherweight’s body. Specifically, the confident quote is from the mouth of 145 pound star-in-the-making Dennis Bermudez.
While one can say it’s easy to talk the talk, if you’ve seen Saugerties, New York’s number one cagefighting son scrap, then you know “The Menace” walks the walk too. This aforementioned “come forward and drop the hammer” game plan was on full display in Bermudez’s most recent outing against the 8-2 Jorge Gurgel prospect Tommy “Wild Card” Hayden at UFC 150. It didn’t even last a round, but fight fans got to see Bermudez do a little bit of everything, including a neck cranking submission finish with astute authority.
“Going into that fight, I was thinking he's a good guy, but he hasn't fought anybody,” says Bermudez. “And I went into that fight thinking that I was somebody. That's what I do.”
The tussle was an exciting smorgasbord of punches, kicks, and takedowns, as Hayden and Bermudez flew at each other with what appeared to be a near reckless abandon. As the two dueled for dominance in the opening round, Bermudez blasted Hayden with a front kick to the chest straight out of King Leonidas’ school of striking in “300”, which sent “Wild Card” into the cage. Moments later, Bermudez sealed the deal with a muscles popping, standing guillotine choke to improve his Octagon record to 2-1 and his overall career to 10-3.
“It's definitely a part of my arsenal, and we work kicks like that in my striking,” tells Bermudez. “I don't really use it too often, but the distance was there for it and he was backing up. I like to use a big striking move to get guys against the cage and then attack them from there. When I got to the cage, he shot and I got him with the guillotine.”
Although the win was short, sweet, and awarded a Submission of the Night bonus, if Bermudez was being critical, his first UFC win against Pablo Garza in May was the better one. “If you look at Garza, he's a better fighter than Tommy Hayden and there was a lot of adversity in that fight because he’s 6 foot,” says Bermudez, who won the unanimous decision via superior wrestling with eight of nine takedown attempts successful and 13 guard passes. “I had to climb some different obstacles than I was used to. I think my takedowns were good and there were a lot of them. It was a little cleaner and not as sloppy.”
It has been a quick ascension to prominence in professional fighting for a 26-year-old who only started MMA in 2009. Only a few years removed from having to pay to fight as an amateur in Virginia, “The Menace” is preparing for his fourth fight in the UFC and has already collected three bonus checks. Before scoring back-to-back victories inside the Octagon, Bermudez made his debut in a Fight of the Night losing effort to Diego Brandao in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 14, and, while in the house, nabbed the Submission of the Season bonus with a guillotine choke win over Akira Corassani. Without question, Bermudez’s life has quickly changed for the better since his days working as a personal trainer and a P.C. Richards’ stock boy while trying to make it as a fighter.
“I didn't really notice at first, but now that I look back it's been huge,” affirms Bermudez. “Prior to the UFC, I was working two jobs. It used to be a luxury for me and my lady to go out for dinner, but now being in the UFC I can buy things that I want or we can go out when we want or I don't have to nickel and dime our groceries. This first year in the UFC kind of flew by. It's nice to say that I've been in the UFC for a year now and I can't wait until next year to say I've been in the UFC for two years, then three years, and, eventually, ten years. It definitely went fast. I’m going to keep climbing the ladder and get to the top. I'm not planning on speeding to the top, but eventually that's where I want to be, the top. That's the goal.”
Up next for Bermudez, a showdown in Anaheim, California against a fellow wrestler with heavy hands, Matt Grice, at UFC 157. A 31-year-old born and bred in the Oklahoma City area, “The Real One” is in his second stint in the UFC, this time as a featherweight. At 15-4, Grice won a lopsided unanimous decision over Leonard Garcia at UFC on FX in June, grounding the brawling Garcia with relentless takedowns and top control.
On paper, it reads like two bulls will clash horns in the center of the Octagon. “I know he's a wrestler who likes to throw hands, so it should be a good fight because I'm that same guy,” asserts Bermudez. Both fighters have NCAA Division I wrestling experience, with Grice at the University of Oklahoma and Bermudez at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. While wrestlers do have their own particular style, fortunately for fight fans, Grice and Bermudez are cut from the same bolt of cloth and like to attack, attack, attack.
“I would say there are three types of wrestlers in college,” explains Bermudez. “You have your defensive wrestlers that back up and try to counter wrestle. They back up, back up, back up, and then sneak a takedown. You have your super aggressive wrestlers who get in your face and grind you for every second of the match. Then you have your technical wrestlers who are sharp and precise. I'm that aggressive guy. My technique wasn't the best in college, but it wasn't uncommon for me to be down 8-2 and then come back and end the third period 16-15. I just keep coming and keep coming until the guy can't breathe. And then my takedowns come even easier. Pulling on the guys head, getting in the guy's face, and just constant pressure. I bring that same thing to the fight game.”
In preparation for the Grice bout, Bermudez is busy training all over his adopted home of Strong Island, NY, splitting time between Long Island MMA in Farmingdale, Bellmore Kickboxing Academy in Bellmore, and Long Island Strength and Performance in Lindenhurst. For striking, Bermudez is in the more than capable hands of Keith Trimble and sparring with TUF 15 finalist Al Iaquinta. As for head coaching and grappling, the duty of keeping the stubborn wrestler Bermudez honest on the ground goes to BJJ black belt Gregg DePasquale.
“The first place I ever trained jiu-jitsu was Blackman MMA in Harrisburg, PA and I was living in PA at the time,” remembers Bermudez. “My wrestling was more dominant than the guys were in jiu-jitsu. I thought, ‘why should I learn jiu-jitsu if my wrestling counters it?’ That was the case for the longest time. I've been so in love with wrestling and been doing it for such a long time that to learn a whole new sport was like, ‘ugh.’ I'm so good at this one and now I have to learn a whole new arsenal of moves and stuff like that? I was just like I don't want to do it, so anything I could do to get away from that I would. I moved to Long Island and my jiu-jitsu coach, Gregg DePasquale, is a black belt and the guys were really good here. I was getting tapped and I was like, 'What is going on here?' We brought in some good wrestlers like Ryan Needle, who was a multi-time high school All-American and my wrestling wasn't working against them. I had to find another avenue to beat these guys and jiu-jitsu is that. A combination of my wrestling with jiu-jitsu and I can tap them.”
This Saturday at UFC 157 in “The Heart of Orange County”, featherweights collide as Bermudez battles Grice. “I know he's a good wrestler, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try and take it where I'm good at in wrestling,” asserts Bermudez, who will look to impose his will on Grice for his third W inside the Octagon. “In my past when I wrestled in college or high school, I didn't watch a guy wrestle and think, ‘oh, I should do this or that because he does this or that.’ It didn't work out as good as when I would just go in there and do my thing. It didn't work out as well as it did when I would make it my fight.”
In short, if you can smell what “The Menace” is cooking, he’s going to “go in there, take control, hold the center, get them backing up, and lay the smack down.”