At the start of the year, Alejandro Perez was one of the top unheralded talents on the UFC, riding a seven-fight unbeaten streak into 2019 and scheduled to face surging Chinese prospect Song Yadong at UFC 235 in March.
Being slated to compete on one of the biggest fight cards of the year and fighting in Las Vegas for the first time were crucial positive steps for Perez, who won the bantamweight competition on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, but remained someone anonymous in the growing sea of talent climbing the ranks in the 135-pound weight class, despite his extended run of success.
But shortly after the bout with Song was announced, the 21-year-old rising star was forced to withdraw from the contest and was replaced by Cody Stamann. Two months later at T-Mobile Arena, the American wrestler was able to grind out a decision win, halting Perez’ extended run of success.
“I believe I needed to put more pressure on him during the fight and be more active with my striking,” said Perez, reflecting on his loss to Stamann. “I needed to have more confidence in my wrestling and to use all the weapons I have in order to get the victory.
“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure, just the normal pressure,” he said when asked if the burden of a seven-fight unbeaten streak and his first trip into the spotlight impacted his performance at UFC 235. “And I like having pressure on me because I use that pressure to motivate me to work hard.”
Not that motivation has been in short supply or anything.
While victory is sweet, tasting defeat has a way of refocusing your energies and creating a renewed sense of purpose in most competitors, especially those who still have major career goals left to accomplish.
In cobbling together his undefeated streak, which included stoppage wins over Ian Entwistle and Matthew Lopez and decision victories over Iuri Alcantara and Eddie Wineland, Perez pushed his way into the bantamweight rankings, climbing to into the lower third of the Top 15.
The loss to Stamann knocked him back a few positions to No. 14, where he stands today as he readies to return to action this weekend in a matchup with the man he was originally supposed to face in March, Song Yadong.
“I need to advance in my career and I need to establish myself in the Top 10,” Perez said regarding this weekend’s preliminary card pairing with the 21-year-old Chinese upstart, who has earned three straight victories since signing with the UFC. “I want to improve elements of my personal life, which will help me to become an even better fighter, and winning on Saturday will help me accomplish that.
“I will go at him with everything in order to win this fight and continue working towards my goals,” he added. “It’s time for me to show what I can do and the skills that I have.”
Even though his first venture to Las Vegas didn’t go as planned, Perez is thrilled with the opportunity to return to “The Fight Capital of the World” and once again be a part of one of the biggest fight cards of the year this weekend.
“I’m so excited,” he said of returning to Las Vegas and competing at UFC 239. “I want to be a very good representative of myself, my family, my country and I’m happy to be fighting (on this card) so I can show that.
“I like everything about fighting in Las Vegas — there is nothing but very good feelings, very good energy. I’m so happy to fight again here.”
And he’s eager to once again make the walk to the Octagon and get back into the win column by learning from the mistakes he made against Stamann and this time being the one responsible for ending a lengthy winning streak.
“I’m so focused and ready to win this fight,” he said of this weekend’s pairing with Song, who carries a six-fight winning streak and 14-4, 1 NC record overall into Saturday’s first televised preliminary card matchup on ESPN. “There are no easy opponents — everyone is a difficult opponent — and that makes me do my work every day in order to be able to reach my goals.
“I’m looking for a TKO and if that’s what happens, I’ll be very grateful and happy,” Perez added. “If it has to be a submission, I’d like that too. I’m even prepared for a war because it’s time for me to really show everybody what I can do.”
We’ll be watching.