Alex Perez has always been a practical young man. As such, he’s not ready to accept any “Welcome back” messages until he’s in the Octagon with Alexandre Pantoja this Saturday in Dallas.
“We ain't back yet,” he laughs. “But I'm getting there, getting closer than all the other camps.”
It’s been a little over 20 months since the world has seen the flyweight contender in action, and since his loss in a UFC 255 title fight against Deiveson Figueiredo in November of 2020, well, we’ll let him describe it.
“It's been a rollercoaster,” said Perez. “Obviously losing to Deiveson sucked, but I was blessed with my son, and fighting, it's crazy - COVID, my opponents getting COVID, injuries left and right, it's been a rollercoaster, but I'm definitely still blessed in my personal life, being able to spend time with my son and watching him grow. And obviously I'm still in the gym every day, training non-stop, so it's definitely one of those things that's been eye-opening.”
Matt Schnell (three times) and Askar Askarov were both scheduled to stand across from Perez in the time after the Figueiredo bout, but the fights never happened, leaving him to train for months without any payoff in the form of a fight. You wonder if it would have been better to just have a long layoff without the emotional tug of war, but Perez says it wasn’t the mental fight that got to him, but the physical one.
“Even if I had a year and a half off with no fight, I'd still be training,” he said. “It wouldn't be like I would be doing something else. It's my job to train. Mentally, it really didn't bug me, but physically, it kinda wore down on me. My last two weight cuts were probably the hardest weight cuts I've had. So I think it took more of a physical toll than a mental toll than anything because I would have been in the gym no matter what. I just got that much better at certain things when I was getting ready for certain people, and now my game's evolved a ton. I'm just getting better.”
And as far as the mental part of the game, he learned a valuable lesson, as well.
“The biggest thing that I learned is that you can't worry about the stuff you can't control,” Perez said. “It took me a while to learn that, but I'm ready to go. I'm anxious to get back in there, and I’ve just been visualizing everything. It's been a long year and a half. I don't get paid to sit on the couch; I get paid to fight, so I'm excited to get back in there and make some money.”
That money making begins this weekend with an intriguing matchup against Pantoja, who is ranked fourth in the world, with Lemoore’s Perez checking in at number six at 125 pounds despite his layoff. It’s the perfect return for the 30-year-old, who could conceivably find himself back in the title conversation if he wins. But Perez is not having that conversation. Not yet.
“People always ask me about title shots, and I'm like, 'Look, I can't even talk about title shots; I haven't won a fight in how long?'” he said. “I'm not worried about what's going on (in the division). It doesn't affect me in any way, shape or form, so it doesn't really matter who's at the top. My goal is obviously to win that title, whether it's Brandon (Moreno), Deiveson, Kai (Kara-France), Askar, whoever it is. But I gotta win first, win a couple, and see where that takes me. That's all I'm really worried about - getting this next one out of the way, winning, and seeing what's next. If the division changes, great. If not, then cool, I'm not worried about it.”
For the record, it’s been June of 2020 since Perez last got his hand raised against Jussier Formiga, not that he needed a reminder. He knows exactly what’s gone on and what he needs to do. Like Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.”
“I get in there and do my job, and if I do that, everything will take care of itself,” he said. “I've done that from the beginning. Just win fights and they can't deny you. It's kind of the same thing and the same process.”
Alex Perez Leg Kick TKO | UFC 250
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Alex Perez Leg Kick TKO | UFC 250
Not too glamorous, but effective. Maybe it’s fatherhood creeping in. If so, do Perez’ friends tell him he’s no fun since becoming a dad?
“They told me that before,” Perez laughs, ready to get back to work and get in a fistfight. It’s what he loves.
“I'm a competitor at heart,” he said. “I love to compete. Don't get me wrong, I compete every day, and everyone says you can't win training, but I try to win training. I love the competition; I love being in there. Your body takes over, your mind takes over - the fight or flight natural reaction comes into play, and that's what I miss the most. I want to prove myself against someone else that's the best in the world. I asked for this Pantoja fight because I want to fight the best guys in the world. I want to prove myself against everybody.”
UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes, took place on Saturday, July 30, 2022 live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!