Vernon Ramos walked into the Octagon during the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America as the last man standing from Team Escudero in the welterweight division. His mission was clear: win, or watch Team Gastelum send four fighters into the next round.
Ramos already had the odds stacked against him as the last fight of the entire quarterfinal round, but he was definitely competing for something bigger than just a win in the UFC or a place in the next round of the tournament.
A native of Panama, Ramos grew up around violence and he understood from a young age that it was just part of his life, but in 2012, when he lost his father under mysterious circumstances, the future Ultimate Fighter hopeful had his entire life changed in an instant.
As Ramos recounts on the show this week, his father was a big fight fan who used to wear a UFC hat around the house as he supported his son's dreams to make it to the big show one day. But after returning home one day, Ramos' father gave him a big hug and told the young man that from now on he needed to take care of his mother. Ramos asked his father where he was going and he just said “for a walk.” Ramos' father opened the door and closed it behind him and that was the last time the welterweight fighter ever saw him again.
The worst part for Ramos and his family were the rumors that followed his father's disappearance, with some saying he was murdered, and ultimately never knowing what happened to him. Now Ramos carries his father's hat with him at all times as he competes in The Ultimate Fighter with a chance to bring a win home for his dad while hoping that somewhere he's seeing his son live his dreams.
His opponent this week is Team Gastelum fighter Wilmer Fernandez, who endured his own tragedy before coming to the show after losing his mother to liver cancer just three days before he left to do The Ultimate Fighter. Just like Ramos, Fernandez is competing in this tournament for a chance at a better life and as a way to honor his fallen parent.
In the fight preparation leading up to the bout, Gastelum knows that to get Fernandez ready, he has to work on his footwork and speed to stay away from Ramos, who is a well known Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Gastelum assumes Ramos will want this fight on the ground, so the key is getting Fernandez ready to stick and move without ever allowing his back to hit the canvas.
Unfortunately, in the midst of training for the fight, a lingering injury is revealed as Fernandez begins to favor his right arm. Apparently, the welterweight hopeful injured his shoulder earlier in the season and he's been doing his best to hide the pain. The constant strikes to his arms or just using his hands to punch while feeling the blunt force trauma of those hits are beginning to reverberate up his arms and into his injured shoulder.
Fernandez gets some treatment on his arm courtesy of the UFC doctors, but he knows that to survive the fight with Ramos he needs to hit hard, move away and never let his opponent know that he's less than 100-percent.
Once the fight begins, Fernandez certainly doesn't show any signs of wear and tear on his arm as he hits Ramos with fast flurries of punches throughout the first round. Ramos counters with looping shots of his own while attempting to get the fight to the ground, although Fernandez is able to shrug him off.
Late in the round, Fernandez finally connects with his best punch of the night, as he tags the Team Escudero fighter with a huge right hand that puts Ramos down. Fernandez rushed forward with punches, trying to get the finish but, to his credit, Ramos played good enough defense to survive the storm and make it to the second round.
Ramos took over in round two after he recovered during the rest period, and he finally put Fernandez down on the mat and began working for submissions. Ramos got Fernandez moving so he could improve positions and he eventually took the back and began fishing for a rear naked choke. Fernandez did a good job staying patient before reversing positions late in the round. Ramos tried one more armbar before the end of the round, but Fernandez slipped free.
Thanks to Ramos' comeback, it put the fighters into a sudden victory situation, but Fernandez was definitely feeling the effects of two hard fought rounds as he started the final five minutes. Ramos was fresher, and he attacked with a series of hard shots and then started launching head kicks at Fernandez one after the other.
While Ramos never landed flush, the one thing he noticed was that connecting with Fernandez's right arm made him wince. Instead of firing back, Fernandez kept his right arm close to his body to defend and it was clear to Ramos and his coaches that the Team Gastelum fighter was trying to mask an injury so they began targeting that area to completely take over for the rest of the round.
When it was over, Ramos was declared the winner and as tears of joy streamed down his face, the Panamanian fighter clutched his father's beloved hat as he paid tribute to him with his victory.
"I'm very happy because I was able to go and do my best," Ramos said. "Give my heart, because that's what I went there for. There were moments in which I was tired, there were moments in which I was hit very hard, there were moments in which I thought I lost, but it was my heart. I could only listen to one voice - my dad's telling me ‘don’t give up, son. Go on until the end. Fight hard. You can do everything.’ I did it for him."
Once Ramos officially punched his ticket to the next round, UFC President Dana White announced the matchups for the semifinal round that will kick off on next week's episode. The fights are as follows:
Enrique Marin (Team Gastelum) vs. Hector Aldana (Team Gastelum)
Vernon Ramos (Team Escudero) vs. Erick Montano (Team Gastelum)
Horacio Gutierrez (Team Escudero) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (Team Escudero)
Cesar Arzamendia (Team Gastelum) vs. Enrique Barzola (Team Escudero)
The next fight will kick off the welterweight semifinals as Enrique Marin takes on teammate Hector Aldana, with Team Gastelum split in two as their fighters prepare to face off with only one of them making it to the live finale at UFC Fight Night in Mexico on November 21.
Will Team Gastelum shake apart in the wake of Marin and Aldana fighting this week or will the situation bring them even closer together? Will Team Escudero learn something by watching this all unfold that could help them when their fighters face off in a couple weeks?
Tune into the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 to find out.