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Dennis Bermudez - Taking Cues from Barry Sanders

"Right now I’m just trying to get better everywhere, and I plan on being dominant in every position." - Dennis Bermudez

UFC featherweight Dennis BermudezAct like you’ve been there before.

It’s a saying you hear a lot in sports. On the football field, it’s often attributed to the way legendary running back Barry Sanders, like the late Walter Payton before him, would simply hand the ball to the official whenever he scored a touchdown. With Sanders – as with Payton – there were no elaborate celebrations; no Sharpies removed from socks, no cell phones hidden under goal posts, and no “Future Hall of Famer” blazers created to wear after putting six points on the board.

It was simply score, hand the ball to the official, and get back to going about your business. It’s an approach Dennis Bermudez is employing when it comes to his career in the UFC.

Preparing to compete on the first pay-per-view event of his career, the finalist from Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter isn’t allowing the larger scale production and heightened expectations that come from excelling on the show and earning a dominant win in his post-TUF debut change the way he prepares or carries himself.

“I treat everyday like the day before or the next one, and just try and get better in every aspect,” says the humble Long Island-based wrestler, who takes on Tommy Hayden in preliminary action this weekend as the UFC returns to Denver, Colorado for UFC 150. “I don’t try to hype myself up about it being a big pay-per-view or anything like that. I act like I’ve been there before; I act professional and just do what I’m trained to do.”

“Barry Sanders is my man!” interjects the 25-year-old Long Island native when I mention the former Detroit Lions running back as someone who exemplified the “Act like you’ve been there before” mantra on the field. “He was one of my idols growing up. I remember four years after he retired, I still felt like he was coming back.”

Though Sanders never made a triumphant return to the gridiron, Bermudez did return to the cage in impressive fashion after coming up short against Diego Brandao in the finals of the featherweight competition on The Ultimate Fighter two seasons ago. “The Menace” collected his first UFC win back in May, scoring a unanimous decision victory over Pablo Garza on the undercard of the third UFC on FOX event.

It was a solid overall performance – one that showcased the wrestling skills Bermudez honed at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and the conditioning that helped him get into the Ultimate Fighter house in the first place. While fans and critics came away impressed, Bermudez exited the cage feeling a little unsatisfied.

The resilient wrestler doesn’t want to be just another fighter who spends his UFC career earning opportunities based on the time he spent on The Ultimate Fighter. He aspires to be much more than that, and uses everything he encounters as a chance to continue developing as a fighter, identifying the positives from his loss to Brandao and working to improve upon the things he wasn’t initially pleased with from the bout with Garza.

“A loss is a loss, and it’s not part of what I’m about, you know?” Bermudez asks rhetorically, referencing his loss to Brandao on the Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale. “I wasn’t going to try and be very negative about it. I looked back at the fight, and I did a lot better than I remember doing in the fight, watching it from the outside, and I just improved on it. I just used it as fuel.

“It took a lot of pressure off,” he says of getting a victory in the Octagon under his belt.  “I like to entertain – have a fast-paced fight with a lot of action – and a part of me felt like I kind of laid on him. I was looking for the opportunity to really punish him, but there were very few, so in my head, actually fighting, it wasn’t as exciting as it was from the outside.

“During the fight, it seemed a lot more boring, but if you watch the fight, there were a lot of big slams,” laughs Bermudez. “I didn’t realize I had him that high. I just like to put on fast-paced performances, and I didn’t feel like I delivered the best fight I could have overall. I reached one of my goals – to get a UFC win. I’ve got bigger and better goals, but I knocked off one of the small, short-term goals.”

With his first official UFC victory out of the way, the first pick of Team Mayhem looks to make it two-in-a-row when he returns to action against Tommy Hayden at UFC 150 this weekend in Denver, Colorado. While the thin air and altitude of “The Mile High City” got the better of a number of competitors the last time the Octagon was built inside the Pepsi Center for UFC 135, Bermudez doesn’t foresee having any problems with his conditioning come Saturday night.

“I’m not very worried about it; I actually think it plays to my advantage,” he admits. “I’ve got a great gas tank, and I like to try and get to the bottom of it, but it never happens.”

Hayden dropped his short-notice debut to Fabricio Camoes back in January, the first career loss for the Jorge Gurgel student who has only been beyond the first round three times in his nine career fights. And while the pairing might confuse fans and media, Bermudez isn’t bothering to get caught up in questioning the matchup.

“The UFC knows what they’re doing. They’ve got a plan for everybody they match up, and that’s why they’re the best organization out there. I have faith in them and what they’re trying to do, so I’m just going to go out there and do my job.”

The fact that fighting is now his sole occupation pushes Bermudez, who scraped by like many fighters stuck on the regional circuit prior to earning his opportunity to compete on The Ultimate Fighter. Now that he no longer has to schedule training around trying to make ends meet, Bermudez is ready to take his career to the next level, and start crossing off some of those bigger goals on his “To Do” list, as well as whatever other random tasks he needs to accomplish from day-to-day.

“One of the biggest benefits that came from being on The Ultimate Fighter was not having to work a job while training,” he admits. “That’s a big struggle and problem for up-and-coming pro fighters – they don’t make enough money fighting to be able to just fight, so they have to get a side job or a full-time job. They have to find other revenue outside of what they’re getting from fighting because it’s just not enough. I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt, and now I don’t. We’re not shipping packages at UPS anymore.

“I train people on the side because I enjoy doing that, but that’s a huge positive. My day is based around training, and then doing anything else that has to get done – whether that’s grocery shopping, washing the car, getting an oil change, whatever. Training comes first, and then I do the other little things.”

Next up on his list of things to do is collecting a second consecutive win Saturday night against Hayden. Just as he keeps his approach bare bones and blue collar, Bermudez keeps his thoughts on how he achieves that goal simplistic and straightforward too.

“It’s a fight, so I’m going to go out there and fight. We’re going to throw leather at each other. If he tries to take me down, that’ll be a mistake, but right now I’m just trying to get better everywhere, and I plan on being dominant in every position.”

Once he’s victorious, He won’t call anybody out, talk trash about others in the featherweight division, or break out a celebratory post-fight dance routine. Instead, Bermudez will put on his sponsor’s shirt, have his hand raised by the referee, politely answer Joe Rogan’s questions, and start thinking about when he can get back in the gym to continue improving.

After all, he’s already been here once before, and he plans on being here many more times in the future too.