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Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Atlantic City, New Jersey. Newkirk, Oklahoma.
Those are just a handful of the outposts where Dennis Bermudez competed prior to earning his place on the UFC roster after advancing to the finals of the featherweight competition on Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter a little less than six years ago.
Since then, Bermudez has become a fixture in the Top 10 and continued to traverse the country competing inside the Octagon, picking up victories in places like Denver, Anaheim, San Jose and Las Vegas. One place the 30-year-old veteran hasn’t been able to compete thus far, however, is his home state of New York, but that all changes this weekend.
Saturday night, Bermudez will share the cage with Darren Elkins when the UFC on FOX card lands at the newly renovated Nassau County Coliseum in Long Island.
“It hits on three different levels,” Bermudez said regarding this weekend’s co-main event assignment. “One, it’s in New York where I was born and raised. Two, I helped get it legalized in New York – I went to Albany three or four times with Lorenzo Fertitta and some other high caliber guys in the UFC to talk to senators to plead our case. And three, this fight in particular is on Long Island and I just bought a house on Long Island, so it’s literally in my backyard, which is awesome.”
But as any fighter who has enjoyed a “home game” in the past will tell you, there are some challenges associated with being the guy who grew up in or current resides in the host city that you don’t have to contend with when you’re competing elsewhere.
While the option of sleeping in your own bed and potentially having a larger, more vocal cheering section in attendance on fight night are terrific, being the “hometown guy” often means increased media obligations both before and during Fight Week. The biggest headache, however, comes in the form of the old high school friends and long lost cousins, twice-removed, that find your cell phone number for the first time in years, eager to catch up and find out if you’ve got spare tickets and a couch they can sleep on.
That’s the double-edged sword Bermudez was dealing with heading into Saturday’s showdown with Elkins, but the no-nonsense competitor took the same straightforward approach he deploys in the cage to dealing with the myriad requests that came his way.
“I’m pretty blunt and kind of cold-hearted because I just give it to people straight like, ‘No, you can’t stay at my house’ or ‘No, I don’t have tickets for you’” laughed Bermudez, who carries a 17-6 record into the Octagon. “I give it to them straight because it’s show time – I’m focused on what I have to do; I don’t have time to worry about their feelings and emotions.”
Saturday’s contest will be Bermudez’ second appearance of the year and continues an unintentional pattern for the Long Island resident, who has chased a winter appearance with a mid-summer booking for three consecutive pairs of fights now.
“It just kind of happens that way,” said Bermudez, who would like to make a return in November to close out the year. “Fight in July, fight in November and wrap up 2017; that wouldn’t be bad.”
But before thinking about the rest of the year, “The Menace” has a tough assignment to tackle this weekend.
Though his name rarely comes up in discussions of the top talents in the featherweight division, Elkins is as game as they come and showed that in full last time out, rallying from being down two rounds to score a dramatic third-round knockout win over previously unbeaten prospect Mirsad Bektic.
It was a thrilling performance that should be the frontrunner for “Comeback of the Year” thus far, but in many ways it was also a quintessential Darren Elkins showing, as the Indiana native has a made a career out of being a notoriously tough out and a dangerous matchup for anyone looking to make hay in the 145-pound ranks.
And “The Damage” has been on Bermudez’ radar from the time he arrived in the UFC six years ago, so the hometown favorite knows he’s in for a tough fight.
But after 23 road games to start his career, Bermudez is finally getting to compete on his home turf and he has no designs on catching a loss in Long Island.
“He’s a super-tough guy,” he said of Elkins. “He’s been around for a long time and I’ve always known that I would have to fight him at one point and time. I’ve been prepared to fight him since after the Ultimate Fighter show, but I asked my manager to be on this card, so after that, we were just looking for an opponent.
“I wanted to fight at home and in my head, it doesn’t matter who they put in front of me; I’m going to win.
I think I’m one of the top guys in the division – I’ve got a win over Max Holloway, who is the current champ – so it doesn’t matter who they put in front of me; I’m going to make it happen.”