"Not too many people that set out to achieve a goal actually make it, so to be one of those few people is a dream come true. I feel really lucky to be where I’m at and it’s proof that hard work pays off." - Matt Dwyer
Talk to a UFC newcomer and there are a couple things you’re bound to hear every time.
Beyond the genuine enthusiasm for being called up the big leagues, the tales of long hours in the gym, hard work paying off, and clichéd statements about treating this fight like any other fight, the one thing most admit to is that hearing Bruce Buffer belt out their name on fight night is going to be a “need to check myself” moment.
Over time, some fighters have become so comfortable with the pre-fight process that they actively engage the UFC announcer. Buffer had a back-and-forth flow with Dan Hardy whenever he introduced “The Outlaw” and he exchanges fist bumps with Cole Miller every time the featherweight veteran steps into the cage. Earlier this summer, bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw hollered with excitement and energy as Buffer introduced him ahead of his successful title defense against Joe Soto at UFC 177.
But for those fighters, it’s a “been there, done that situation” – they’ve been under the bright lights, listened to the crowd roar and heard “The Veteran Voice of the Octagon” strain his vocal cords announcing their hometown.
But that first time is always a trip.
Heavyweight bomber Derrick Lewis admitted as much following his debut win over Jack May back in April. The 29-year-old Louisiana native was ready to go, but then Buffer started running down his stats and bellowing his name and “The Black Beast” froze up.
It’s one thing to envision Buffer introducing you before a packed house, but when it actually happens, the fact that you’re standing under the bright lights on the biggest stage in the sport, seconds away from striding out into the center of the Octagon for the very first time comes crashing home.
Matt Dwyer has already thought about how he’ll handle that moment.
“That’s going to be pretty wild so I’m going to have to block that out,” the 7-1 welterweight, who makes his debut this weekend in Halifax against Albert Tumenov, laughs. “I’m going to give the thumbs up, wave to the camera, and try to pretend it’s just like every other announcer.”
The 24-year-old joins the fraternity of Canadian welterweights to step into the Octagon and is the third fighter from Toshido Martial Arts in Kelowna, British Columbia to earn a spot on the UFC roster, following in the footsteps of Rory MacDonald and Ultimate Fighter alum Sarah Moras.
“It was only a matter of time before these guys started to make their way to this level,” David Lea, Dwyer’s head coach at Toshido, says. “There is a legacy now at our club and everybody knows what I expect, everybody knows what it takes to get there, so if they have the drive and the dedication, we have the tools to get them where they want to get. With a guy like Matt that is super-motivated, it was just a matter of time.”
The call to face Tumenov couldn’t have come at a better time either, as Dwyer had just explained to Lea that he was facing an all too familiar predicament for fighters on the regional circuit.
Just two weeks after earning a second-round technical knockout win over former Ultimate Fighter finalist DaMarques Johnson, the six-foot-four-inch tall fighter his coach describes as a “string bean” was packing his bags to head to Northern British Columbia to make some extra money to bankroll his future training camps.
“I had just finished telling my coach that I was probably going to have to go up North for a bit to make some extra money so I could come back and train,” Dwyer, who has won five straight heading into this weekend’s contest with the 13-2 Tumenov, explains.
“As soon as I mentioned that, he was like, `For sure – you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’ He went and checked his email and just came bursting out of the office and said, `You’re not going up North now, Matt!’
“I was in awe. I cried right there,” he admits with a laugh. “It means everything to me. Not too many people that set out to achieve a goal actually make it, so to be one of those few people is a dream come true. I feel really lucky to be where I’m at and it’s proof that hard work pays off.”
The matchup with Tumenov is a look to the future of the welterweight division – a pairing of two emerging talents under the age of 25 just getting their feet wet in the UFC talent pool, both with plenty of pop in their hands, as 16 of their 20 combined victories have come by way of knockout.
“I know why Joe Silva put this fight together – they’re both highly aggressive when it hits the ground as far as striking goes and they both put it on the line every fight,” Lea, who takes a sport-specific approach to training at Toshido, assesses.
“If your goal is to be the best mixed martial artist, I feel it’s a massive waste of resources and your time to train in anything that doesn’t get you to that goal. You only have so many hours in a day, so are you going to practice collar chokes or are you going to practice how to not get knocked out in the guard with elbows?”
The approach helped put MacDonald and Moras on the fast track to the UFC and has now done the same for Dwyer, who is focused on continuing the pattern his fellow Toshido products have set by winning his Octagon debut this weekend on Canadian soil.
“It feels good knowing that everybody wants to see me win and is showing me all this support, and I would feel so alive to be able to bring a win home for the home team. It would be amazing to come home a victor. It will be such an amazing feeling.”
Of course, he has to survive Buffer first.