You can still call Alex Caceres "Bruce Leeroy" if you want. Or you can just call him Alex. The way he looks at it, he's grown beyond the persona he crafted on "The Ultimate Fighter."
"I guess I've matured beyond the point where, it doesn't really matter," Caceres said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Nickname or not, I am who I am. My name is just an image."
Caceres has achieved growth as both a person and a fighter in recent years. In terms of the latter, he'll get the biggest opportunity of his up-and-coming bantamweight career at UFC 174, when he meets legendary former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.
As Caceres went on to explain, the fight came started as a suggestion by a fan on Twitter.
"Technically it was a guy on Twitter and he suggested the fight to me," Caceres said. "I believe the words more, through careful evaluation, I think the only fighter available to fight Urijah Faber at 135 is Bruce Leeroy because everybody else denied the fight or had a fight already or was injured," Caceres said. "So, that being the case, he asked me if I would like to fight Urijah, just a random guy on Twitter said am I ready and I said oh my god, that would be an honor to do that."
In reply, Caceres said it was a fight he wanted, but he wasn't sure, given that he's not ranked in the top 10, that a fighter of Faber's status would accept the fight.
"I said oh my God, that would be an honor to do that," Caceres said. "I'm not sure if he'd take the fight, I'm not sure if he'd do that because we're so far away in rankings, you know he's f------ Urijah Faber and I'm Bruce Leeroy. ... The more and more I started looking into it, I talked to my coaches, they said hey, if there's an opportunity, go take it."
Improbably, the bout came together, as Faber, who is now nearly four months removed to his TKO loss to Renan Barao, is ready to get back to action. Caceres admitted that it's a bit of a surreal feeling getting a bout he thought would be several more victories down the road.
"I thought I had 2-3 more fights before I got someone like Urijah," Caceres said. "Two-three people in the top 10 before I get to Urijah, let alone Barao. This happened so soon, it was surreal. Its an incredible opportunity for me. A lot of people were speculating, ‘he's going to be happy just to be in there with Urijah.' Well don't get me wrong, I am happy I get to fight one of the best, but at the same time, I'm going to take it from him.
Caceres knows there are skeptics of his abilities. He's grown as a fighter, particularly since dropping to bantamweight, with four straight wins (minus a no-contest) and three post-fight bonuses in that span. But Faber is also a huge step up in competition over his most recent foes.
"They said that about every opponent going into the fight," Caceres said. "Every person I went to fight, including Sergio Pettis, it was always I was going down in the first round like a crazy knockout, this guy's going to get beat the shit out of ... I hear that all the time, and its fine. They're fans of the other guys, and maybe they're not fans of me. Maybe because I'm relaxed and I smile all the time, they think I'm fragile. But my opponents say otherwise. The ones who were supposed to knock me out in the first round, didn't."
So what caused Caceres, to transform from Bruce Leeroy, the over-the-top reality TV show character, to a fighter unafraid to step up and take on a fighter the caliber of Faber? Here, things take an unexpected philosophical turn.
"I guess from The Ultimate Fighter ‘til now, I guess the whole process was me breaking out of cocoon, I guess at the first sign of light, I hurt my eyes and kind of burned my skin, so I rejected a lot of things, I started battling things in my path until I accepted who I was becoming, so I think this whole process from then ‘til now was the becoming of Alex Caceres more than changing, it was more of a metamorphosis, a complete change from when you're a different person. It was the same person I always was."
(Author's note: From here, Caceres went into a long breakdown of his philosophy, and we're not even going to attempt to transcribe it all. If you'd like to hear it in full, go to this link and start around the 15-minute mark).
And Caceres said, ultimately, that this level of awareness will carry over on to fight night, when he steps into the Ocatgon with Faber in Las Vegas.
"When I get into the cage, it's not about winning and losing. It's about going in there and performing," and making it a fight, and I know when I get in there and I leave the cage, I'll leave with more than when I came in, and I know nothing bad can happen to me. And at least, if something bad happens it's because I went in there to learn a lesson. I'm not afraid of losing, I'm going in there to fight. So with a whole heart, I'm not going to hesitate or be afraid of anything."