"But being the co-main event and being one of the highlighted fights, fighting Amir, a big name, it only motivates me more..." - Jorge Lopez
After Jorge Lopez trained with mixed martial arts superstars Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, “Shogun” Rua and “Ninja” Rua as a teenager, and even went on to work with “The Axe Murderer” once he began fighting professionally in Las Vegas, you would figure that he has seen pretty much anything you could see as a welterweight prospect on the rise.
But then he made his UFC debut last September against Justin Edwards, and things were a lot different than he ever expected.
“It’s funny, I’m fighting and I can hear (UFC color commentator) Joe Rogan talking at the same time,” said Lopez. “I got taken down, I was being pressed against the cage, and I popped back up. I can hear him saying ‘and he pops back up like a spring.’ (Laughs) I can hear him saying these things and I’m fighting, and it’s really surreal. I see (Octagon announcer) Bruce Buffer in there and it’s like a dream almost. It doesn’t seem real until you’re actually fighting.”
It was the culmination of a strange week for Lopez, who entered the bout with an 11-1 record and all the expectations that come along with being a protégé of Wanderlei Silva. But from the time he showed up in New Orleans on fight week, he realized that this wasn’t like any other match he had experienced.
First he arrived in town at 190 pounds, 20 over the welterweight limit.
“(UFC site coordinator) Burt (Watson) was mad at me,” said Lopez. “I wasn’t dieting the right way. I had just fought four weeks before then, so I was a little too confident in my weight. I thought I should have been okay with my weight and I wasn’t. I was a lot bigger than I should have been.”
Lopez made weight at 171, but on fight night, he wasn’t as zoned in as he usually was.
“It was a crazy feeling,” he said. “Before we actually walked out, I was having a hard time waking up before the fight and having a hard time getting hyped up and feeling like I was about to fight. I was really low energy and it didn’t seem real.”
Seeing and hearing the people he had only seen and heard on television before didn’t help him shake the jitters, and by the time he “woke up,” he only had five minutes to erase Edwards’ two round lead.
“Not until like the third round, when I realized that I could be down on the scorecards, did I wake up,” said Lopez. “I remember thinking between rounds ‘I could be losing right now, I’ve got to pick it up.’ And I did. Something just snapped and I started playing my game as opposed to just worrying about everything else.”
Lopez won the third round battle but lost the war, dropping a 29-28 decision to Edwards. Ask him about the fight though, and he has no excuses or sour grapes. For him, it was a bad night, one that he got out of his system, and now it’s time to move forward.
“It was weird, but it’s good to get that out of the way, and I’m prepared to see all that the second time,” he said. “I learned a lot from that fight and kinda got the jitters out, I know where I’m at now, and it won’t be the same for me.”
And if there are other positives to take away from the defeat, the main one if not only does he still have a job, but the UFC brass was impressed enough with him to put him in the co-featured slot on this Tuesday’s UFC on FUEL TV card in Fairfax, Virginia. His opponent is former Ultimate Fighter winner Amir Sadollah, someone who just happens to be a familiar face to Lopez, who trained with his fellow Las Vegan when the two worked at the Xtreme Couture gym a while back. During those sessions, Sadollah was already an established UFC fighter and Lopez was a hungry up and comer looking for rounds and the chance to see where he stood against an Octagon vet.
“I guess the biggest reason why I would like to spar somebody like that is to know where I’m at, where I stand, and know where the top level guys are at compared to me,” he said. “And getting the good work in, that’s always good also.”
Lopez knows that what happens in sparring is different from what happens in a fight, but he also admits that he saw enough of Sadollah to have a good idea of what he’s going to show up with this Tuesday.
“I noticed a lot of holes in his game, and I kinda got a good feel to how he fights,” he said. “It’s no surprise that he’s a tough guy, and he never stops coming forward. I had seen that in his fights, but I also got to experience it in training. The few times that we trained together, it was the same thing. We’d be sparring and he would never stop coming – he’d always push me and push me. It’s something that I knew beforehand and that’s still who he is.”
With Lopez coming off nearly eight months off, as an injury took him out of a UFC 143 bout with Matthew Riddle (who replaced an injured Sadollah in the February match), you would think he would be concerned with ring rust as well as a hard-charging opponent come fight night. But it’s just the opposite for the well-rounded 23-year old.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work with Gil Martinez and Robert Drysdale, so I definitely think you’re going to see a different fighter,” he said. “I’ve been really focusing on improving every skill in my arsenal. Before, I was at a point where I thought, I’m good where I’m at, so I’m gonna keep training how I am now. But I wasn’t evolving. Now I feel like I’ve been evolving over the past few months and getting better and better.”
And there’s no better place to show that evolution than in the co-main event of a UFC card.
“Some people may see it as extra pressure, but I love that,” he said. “Being the first fight of the night in New Orleans was weird. I had never been the first fight of the night on any card in my life. But being the co-main event and being one of the highlighted fights, fighting Amir, a big name, it only motivates me more and pushes me more to want to show these guys how good I really am and what I can really bring to the table. I gotta show up on Tuesday night and prove that I belong here.”