As recently as a few days ago, Erick Gonzalez still had not picked out a walkout song. His August 6 bout against Terrance McKinney was fast approaching, and after considering some suggestions from his social media followers, he finally landed on what seemed like an obvious choice all along: “Dedication” by the late Nipsey Hussle.
Dedication, hard work plus patience
The sum of all my sacrifice, I'm done waitin'
I'm done waitin', told you that I wasn't playin'
Now you hear what I been sayin', dedication
Asked what it was about that song—and what makes any good walkout song for that matter—the lightweight was quick to answer.
“Something that has a story. Nipsey has his history of coming from the bottom to the top. And to me, that's kind of like my story. I started at the bottom and I'm making my way to the top.
“I want to build something that's going to be for my kids. I want to build something for myself, my family. And that song reminds me of it. I'm dedicated to the cause. I'm dedicated to my sport, dedicated to the UFC and everything that it has to offer.”
When the UFC offered a short notice debut fight last October, Gonzalez didn’t hesitate. It felt like the payoff for long years of dedication that started at a tender age.
“I started wrestling at the age of 13, so I was wrestling since my eighth-grade summer. I didn't know what I wanted to do. So my brother took me into wrestling and I kind of fell in love with the sport. I started doing MMA at the age of 15, out of a Gold’s Gym. It was a little, small area that they had designated for MMA. I had no idea what it was. So when I signed up, I had experienced my first leg kick and just fell in love with it. I loved the competition.
“I started actually taking it seriously the age of 22, 23. I went 6-1 in my amateur career and from there on, man, I just wanted to keep fighting. I loved it and put all my eggs in one basket and just never looked back. And now I'm here.”
The are no easy fights in the UFC, particularly for short notice debuts. Still, Gonzalez drew a particularly formidable foe for his first visit to the Octagon: Jim F****** Miller. With the precious few fan seats in the UFC APEX seemingly all occupied by Gonzalez’s friends and family, the SoCal native almost pulled off a miracle. Miller would end the tilt in the second round, but the first round was all Gonzalez, who had the UFC legend in jeopardy more than once.
“I had him on the ropes. I had him pretty much wobbled and ready to go. And I made a small mistake and it cost me the fight.”
Miller has been around long enough to notice those small mistakes, and Gonzalez aspires to do the same.
“You learn from every experience, whether it's a loss or when you're learning something. Learning from those losses is a big step. And I'm very excited to show the world that, on a full camp this time. I'm more excited for that than anything else.”
Speaking of no easy fights, McKinney promises to be a handful for Gonzalez’s sophomore outing. Despite dropping his last fight to Drew Dober, “T.Wrecks” has shown enough to make him must-see TV just three fights into his own UFC career.
“Considering how his last fight turned out, I think he might pace himself a little bit more in the first round so he could actually last towards the second round. Other than that, I don't really expect much of a change. He’s very explosive, very powerful, very, very fast. But we're all those things, man. Every fighter's powerful, every fighter's fast. We all have knockout power, no matter if you think you don't or you do. So I'm expecting the same Terrance.”
He’s also expecting to bring his first UFC victory back to his people in California, where the ties run deep.
“I represent Torrance. Born and raised in the South Bay. But my roots are all Mexican. So I have heavy, heavy roots in Mexico. Both my parents were born in Mexico. My mom came over the border. She came over illegally. The whole story to me is very important. She came over here to create a better opportunity for us. And I'm here now in the UFC. And she made that happen because of bringing me out here. I have a lot of people that believe in me in the South Bay and Torrance.
“So that means the world to me, to have the support and to be representing something that's bigger than myself. I'm representing Chicanos all over the world. I'm very happy to represent the Mexican-American Latino community, as well.”
It was in that community that his unforgettable fighter nickname, “The Ghost Pepper,” was born. After work one day in the family’s restaurant, they sat down for dinner after the store closed.
“My uncle brought these peppers, and I didn't know one of them was a ghost pepper. I just thought they were habaneros. And he was just like, ‘Hey, you won't eat these. You won't eat the whole thing.’ And me being a young guy, I just grabbed the whole thing and bit it. Man, I suffered the consequences. I started burning up, and I just never forgot that moment.”
If you’ve ever tasted even a sliver of a ghost pepper, you know the pain. Never mind that he ate the whole thing.
“When the fight nickname came around, there was this business guy. He's like, ‘Hey, I remember that day, you're the ghost pepper. How about you name yourself the ghost pepper?’ I was like ‘Ghost Pepper? That's a little different.’ I actually liked it and I ended up sticking with it. And I’ll never forget that day. And I like to think of it when I bring it into the fight. People go in there, I bring out a fight and I make it sting. And then when I get into the ring, I make sure that you don't f****** forget me.”
UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill took place on August 6, 2022 live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!