New Year’s Eve. As 2017 gave way to 2018, Alexander Hernandez was in a good mood. Correct that, a great mood.
“That night, I was in a giant warehouse in Atlanta, raging my **** off with a few of my best friends and we were up until probably 5am,” laughed Hernandez, who was coming off a third-round stoppage of Derrick Adkins in November 2017, his first fight in over a year. It was at that moment he began to realize that his days of burning the candle at both ends were over.
“I was going a transition period,” he said. “I knew I wanted to fight. I was trying to make the final decision - am I gonna keep pushing on with this business career and simultaneously trying to uphold this mixed martial arts career, or was I finally going to jump off the ledge and dive all the way into this MMA career? That was the center of conversation amidst the partying and everything going on with my friends. I had just come off a good win in Oklahoma and I felt great. I got right back to the grind, and after that fight, that was around that quarter-life crisis I’ve spoken about in the past. I was thinking, ‘You know what you have to do, it’s just a matter of you pulling the trigger.’ It was a hard thing to do.”
That last night of partying in Atlanta made his decision easier.
“I woke up the next morning and ran five miles,” he said. “I knew who I wanted to be and proceeded. That was it. I told my friend, ‘When we get home from this trip, I’m quitting this job and I’m pursuing this wholeheartedly and I’m going to be in the UFC.’”
Hernandez quit his job as a Mortgage Loan Officer. A year later, the 26-year-old is a UFC fighter with two wins in the promotion, he’s ranked 11th in the lightweight division, and he’s getting ready for the biggest fight of his career – a January 19 showdown with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in Brooklyn.
That’s quite a year’s work. So what’s the New Year’s resolution for Mr. Hernandez this time around?
“It’s just onward,” said the Texan. “There’s not necessarily any change to the process or procedure. I’m just trying to get more big Ws in bigger, devastating fashion. I’m shooting for a minimum of three, I’m prepared for four, but whatever I’ve got to do to line up that belt by the Spring of 2020.”
It’s not a far-fetched notion if his first year in the Octagon is any indication. Coming out of nowhere on short-notice to knock out Beneil Dariush in 42 seconds last March, Hernandez followed up that star-making turn with a decision victory over Olivier Aubin-Mercier in July, but given his demeanor following the win, he might have needed a reminder that he left Calgary with the win.
“My coaches had to remind me, too,” he laughs. “Whenever you feel like you held yourself back, it’s a defeating feeling. I felt like I let myself down. I knew I beat Aubin-Mercier, but I knew that before I even started the fight. And so, for me, it was showing more than that, and I felt like I defeated myself. I was beating myself up in my head. After that, I got time to digest. As soon as we left the arena, I went right back and watched the film. I got time to break it down and I’m grateful for the extra time I got to spend in that cage and going through some weathering moments where I had to fight my way through arduous situations. It was a huge growing process, and for that I’m grateful.”
That’s an important line right there, that he knew he had Aubin-Mercier even before the Octagon door shut. He didn’t always feel that way before a fight, though, and those mixed feelings hit him negatively in June 2013, when he suffered the lone loss of his career to Jamall Emmers.
“I was talking to Kenny Florian and Jon Anik and they brought up that split decision loss I got way back when,” Hernandez said. “At that point in my career, a lot of times I’d show up and it was like I was in a dream or a daze almost. And I was so filled with emotions and angst, and it was a rollercoaster ride in the back of fear and confidence and doubt and certainty and uncertainty. And a lot of times, after I went out there, it was just like, ‘Let’s do it.’ There was too much of that. And that night, I didn’t have a hundred percent confidence in myself. It took time, and I had these huge mental mountains to overcome, and it happened with maturity and a number of life lessons and learning through different avenues of life, like my business side and different relationships. Now, I can’t imagine approaching any fight without absolute certainty that I’m gonna win, and I’m completely focused in the back. There’s no rollercoaster anymore.”
That’s made Hernandez a dangerous young man on fight night, and he’s got the eight-fight winning streak to prove it. It has him more confident than ever, so after the win over Aubin-Mercier, he was swinging for the fences.
“We were reaching a little higher up the tree for what seemed to be out of our reach fruit at the time,” said Hernandez. “(Justin) Gaethje, (Anthony) Pettis, guys like that. Then they threw (Francisco) Trinaldo at me. He was top 15 and I was okay with that. I just wanted the numbers by their names.”
The Trinaldo bout was ultimately scrapped when Hernandez was pulled for a more intriguing matchup with Cerrone. And Alexander “The Great” couldn’t have been happier.
“The second they dangled that Cerrone opportunity, it was very hard for me to get excited for the idea of Trinaldo after that,” he admits. “I couldn’t have written myself a better story in this matchup. It’s the perfect next step.”
Hernandez can’t wait to take it.
“I’ve got so much respect for the sport and the competitors that I have to face,” he said. “Some guys are more challenging than others, but there’s not a single person in the world that I don’t think I can beat. I just think, ‘You need to show up that much more that night and you need to make sure you don’t have those doubting moments.’ I don’t have holes in my game like that. I made damn sure of it long before the lights are on. So it’s always a battle with myself, being a perfectionist.”