Benito Lopez fought the fight of his life on Aug. 22, but even with that gritty three-round split decision victory over Steven Peterson on the eighth week of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, the unbeaten bantamweight didn’t know if it was enough to earn a UFC contract.
It was, though it took a second for it to sink in.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that I was really excited,” Lopez said. “I’ve been chasing this since I was 12 years old, so 11 years now, and I feel like it was my destiny. I felt like that before and it sounds cliché, but then when it finally happened, I thought it might be fake because I didn’t know if I would get it. (Laughs) There were two first-round finishes before me and those guys put on good performances, and I didn’t get a finish. I went to war and got a split decision. I tried to finish, but the guy was tough and stayed in there.”
If anyone would have been expected to get a fast and flashy finish, it was the 23-year-old Californian, who had ended five of his first seven wins, all in the first round and three in less than a minute. And that was just as a pro.
“My first seven amateur fights were all in less than a minute and I just like coming out of the gates hot,” Lopez said of his fighting philosophy. “I realized that a lot of people really aren’t ready for that and it throws them off. They want a feeling out process, they want to get comfortable, find the range and find the timing, but if you just go out there and get on them real quick, a lot of people are uncomfortable with that and sometimes they panic.”
That approach has made the Team Alpha Male product one of the top prospects at 135 pounds and one of the most exciting as well, and with an affable personality to go with his all guns blazing style, he’s got star potential. But to get that UFC deal, he had to walk through fire against a fighter who wasn’t rattled by the fast start in Peterson, and then it was time to show another part of his fighting personality.
“I knew in my mind that I was gonna go for the kill and I thought I was gonna finish him in the first round,” Lopez said. “I really did believe it and I did try to do it. I got a little tired trying to take him out in the first so I lost the second, but the third round I knew I had to win.”
With the win, Lopez moved to 8-0, and in a lot of ways he was the perfect representative for DWTNCS. He didn’t just show up to win, but to put on a crowd-pleasing show. But as he puts it, that’s natural for him.
“I didn’t go out there to try and put on a flashy or exciting performance because (UFC President) Dana (White) was there and it was an opportunity,” he said, “I just feel like that’s my style. It’s natural for me to throw flying knees and go for the kill. I wasn’t pushing for anything extra. Obviously in the third round I had to dig deep. I was just thinking that I worked 11 years for this; I’m not gonna blow it just because I don’t have enough oxygen in my body. I was getting tired, but I just had to put my mind somewhere else and bite down and make my body do what it had to do.”
That type of hustle, grit and willingness to dig deep is ingrained in Lopez’ being and has been from the first time the Oroville native began training.
“I sacrificed a lot for this,” he said. “I would say a good portion of my childhood. When people were out going to movies and going to this or going to that, I was going to tournaments, competing in amateur boxing and in a lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. I was always taking buses and traveling for training, and when I was 18 I moved out to the Sacramento area and started training out here. When I did that, I missed out on a lot of birthdays and family events. In a way, I feel like I watched my family go through the years from the outside.”
But today, it looks like all the sacrifices are paying off. Lopez knows it, but he’s not letting up yet because it’s all just beginning for him.
“I’m staying focused because I know what I’m sacrificing for is going to make a better life for my family and me in the future.”