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Matt Grice slugfest taught Dennis Bermudez he'll make it in the UFC

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Esther Lin

Early in his epic UFC 157 encounter with Matt Grice, Dennis Bermudez realized he had just received his big career gut check.

"He dropped me early," Bermudez told, "And I thought ‘damn, I've never been hit like that before. I can't let that happen again."

Bermudez got off the mat at Anaheim's Honda Center and didn't, in fact, let that happen again. Bermudez rallied to win a split decision in bout that finished high on most reputable lists of 2013's Fight of the Year.

But for Bermudez, the hard-fought victory over Grice was a matter of validation.

"You know, you don't have much of a chance to stop and think about it during the fight," Bermudez said. "You just have to keep going. It wasn't until I got back home after the fight, and the fans all started telling me ‘that was the fight of the year, that was a war, I'm never going to forget that fight,' that I started to realize that this was the sort of fight that put me on the map."

The bout with Grice is part of what is now a five-fight win streak for Bermudez, who meets Jimy Hettes on Saturday night at UFC 171 in Dallas.

The Ultimate Fighter 14 finalist from Long Island has been brought along in a methodical fashion by the UFC. That's been good for his career, as he hasn't been thrown to the wolves and has instead been allowed to progress at a smart pace.

Eventually, if he keeps progressing, Bermudez will have his opportunity to face a top-10 featherweight. But the 27-year old isn't going to sweat it in the meantime.

"The UFC knows what they're doing," Bermudez said. "They've got the best matchmakers for a reason. Of course I want to be the champion someday, but this is a deep division. My plan is just to keep winning and let everything sort itself out."

For the uninitiated, a quick glance at Bermudez's record could paint a deceptive picture. Four of "The Menace's" victories in his current streak have come via decision. But not all decisions are created equal. Three times in six UFC fights, Bermudez has taken home bonus pay, including a pair of Fights of the Night and a Submission of the Night. And of course, one of those two Fights of the Night was a serious contender for Fight of the Year.

"I mean, you don't want to get known as ‘The Decisionator,'" said Bermudez. "But I think if you look beneath the surface, I mean, did anyone walk away that night saying my fight against Matt Grice was boring? At this level, guys are real hard to put away. If you look at the featherweight division, there are a lot of submissions and not as many knockouts. If guys were easy to finish they wouldn't be at this level. So I think real fans know the score."

Hettes (11-1), Bermudez knows he'll face an opponent with something to prove. Hettes, who has 10 submissions among his 11 victories, suffered his first career loss in Sept. 2012 to Marcus Brimage, was out for more than a year, then fought a last-week replacement in Rob Whiteford in his return bout last October in England.

No disrespect to the game Mr. Whiteford, but in Bermudez, Hettes will look to make a statement against real UFC competition for the first time in quite some time.

"There are no secrets what's going on in this fight," said Bermudez, a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler. "He wants to use his judo to set up his ground game. I don't plan on letting him take me there. We'll see what happens."

After that? Well, let's put it this way: Don't expect Bermudez to get down on his knees and beg Dana White for a title shot.

"Calling people out isn't my style, man," Bermudez said. "That might work for other people, and good for them. I'm a fighter, I let my work in the Octagon do the talking, and if I keep getting the job done, things will take care of themselves."