For a light heavyweight division in need of young stars, the UFC 218 bout last December between Dominick Reyes and Jeremy Kimball had a lot of expectations on it. Both were exciting finishers with aggressive styles, and a Fight of the Night-caliber war was seemingly on tap in Detroit.
Then Reyes went out and finished Kimball in less than four minutes, submitting him with a rear naked choke. It wasn’t one of the knockouts “The Devastator” was building a reputation for, but it was just as impressive. And while no fight is easy, the Hesperia, California native made it look that way.
“Honestly, it felt like that,” Reyes said. “It was freaky. After the fight, I was like, ‘That was weird, that was too easy. It’s not supposed to be like that.’ But everything just kind of lined up and clicked, and I guess that’s the way it was supposed to be. Everything’s landing, I’m seeing everything and…I can’t explain it. It’s really cool.”
If they all happen like that, it couldn’t get any cooler for the 27-year-old. And though he’s had everything go his way en route to an 8-0 pro MMA record with seven finishes, he knows every fight isn’t going to feel like the last one, and as he approaches a May 19 battle in Chile with veteran standout Jared Cannonier, he’s ready for whatever “Tha Killa Gorilla” has for him. And yes, everything isn’t always perfect in the gym.
“We all have bad days, definitely,” said Reyes. “Usually camp starts off and it’s not the best – my timing isn’t there and I get a little bit panicky and I’m just like, ‘Relax, it’s gonna be okay. Stay the course, continue the process,’ and by now, I feel fantastic. I feel like I did last fight, where everything was clicking and I’m seeing everything and all my movements and all my timing is on point and I’m super excited to get in there.”
Fans are super excited to see Reyes and Cannonier get after it as well. For Reyes, it’s an opportunity to go 3-0 in the Octagon, a slate that would likely earn him a top 15 ranking. Then things really get amped up, but the former college football star isn’t getting nervous about a leap to the next level in his career. On the contrary, he’s enjoying the ride.
“That’s what the plan’s been the whole time,” he said. “Show up and show out so people notice, and get my name out there, build my name, make some money and have some fun. It’s been a fun experience. At first it was kind of overwhelming, but then that’s what I’ve been doing all this for. That’s the whole point of everything. So I started embracing it after the first fight and now it’s just normal.”
Cannonier is a step up, though, and once he enters the rankings, every fight is a big one against veteran competitors who dwarf him in terms of experience. But Reyes has talent, power, and determination, and if you ask him if he’s ready, he gives you the answer you want to hear.
“I believe I am,” he said. “I took some time off after the last fight to prepare for this. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take my time forever, especially with my division the way it is. I’ve been preparing for this whirlwind that’s about to happen once I win this fight. I win this fight and things are gonna start rolling pretty quickly.”
So how does one prepare for this?
“It’s accepting it and accepting where you are and understanding that this is what’s next,” Reyes said. “What are you gonna do, run from it? You accept it and embrace it, and it becomes who you are. I’m ready for whatever after this.”
And a year from now? The life of Dominick Reyes may be quite different than it is at the moment. It’s another possibility he’s embracing.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “You go out and handle business and every fight is life changing. You get that many more fans, now you’re 9-0 and 10-0, and that doesn’t happen in the light heavyweight division. And I finish guys. That’s what special about me. I don’t just go out there and try to point-fight. I’m there to finish, I’m there to excite the crowd, and I’m there to bring the light heavyweight division back. People are acting like it’s not the best division, and it is. It’s the most dangerous division, and they forgot. So I’m here to remind them.”