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After two near-misses, Alex Perez is set to make his UFC debut in Fresno

Alex Perez
Alex Perez, Facebook

It would have been easy for Alex Perez to become discouraged.

Perez is set to make his big show debut at UFC Fresno this Saturday, but making it to the Octagon took longer than expected.

With 15 wins in his last 17 fights dating back to January 2012, the 25-year-old Team Oyama product seemed like a sure bet to bolster the UFC’s flyweight ranks at some point. Somehow the promotion and Perez kept passing each other by even as he repeatedly popped up on their radar.

Not only was Perez one of countless fighters who have auditioned for The Ultimate Fighter only to miss out on being selected, he also found himself competing in front of none other than Dana White when the UFC president was making the rounds to film his Lookin’ for a Fight series. The intention of White’s show is to scour every nook and cranny of the United States to find hidden talent, and while Perez actually managed to pick up a win with White in the building, he wasn’t the focus of the episode and admits that he could have done more to capture White’s attention.

“They weren’t looking at me specifically, they were looking at somebody else, but Dana White and all those guys were there,” Perez recently told MMA Fighting. “I dominated my performance, I just didn’t do it the way I should have done it to get a contract.”

Undeterred, Perez returned to the regional scene where he expected to take a booking with Tachi Palace Fights; instead, his manager threw him a curve ball that Perez readily knocked out of the park.

“I was getting ready for another fight,” said Perez. “I was getting ready to fight at 135 at Tachi Palace for the title and I had just got done doing my medicals in California and my manager calls me, he’s like, ‘Hey, can you make ‘25?’ I’m like, ‘Depending on the offer, you know?’ And he told me about Dana White’s Contender Series, he told me what it was about and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m down.’ So that’s how that opportunity came about. I was just fortunate that my manager did a great job getting me that fight.”

The Tuesday Night Contender Series is another Dana White vehicle used to discover talent, more akin to a traditional fight card after which White chooses one or two fighters to receive contracts. Perez finally earned his with a slick first-round submission of Kevin Gray in August.

Now Perez (18-4) gets to make his UFC debut at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., less than an hour’s drive from his hometown of Lemoore. He expects to have about a hundred seats filled by friends and family, who will be there to witness Perez fulfill a dream that he’s had for years.

“I set goals for myself to be in the UFC at a young age, I have all these goals I want to accomplish, but a good friend told me ‘things take time and when it happens, that’s your time,’” said Perez. “It couldn’t happen any better. I get signed to the UFC and then the UFC all of a sudden decides to be in Fresno so that has to be a sign that it was my time to be in the UFC.”

Perez’s athletic career began as a high school wrestler in Lemoore, though he described himself as “average” compared to the abundant talent in the Central Valley region of California. If anything, he’s beginning to be recognized more for his MMA exploits, something that he’s not exactly thrilled about.

“I don’t like all the ‘oh, is that you?’ I usually try to say no at first, I’ve had some people recognize me,” Perez explained when asked if his fighting career had boosted his local profile. “‘Is that you?’ I’m like, ‘No, that’s not me.’ ‘Wait, you’re lying,’ and my friend is like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s him.’ I’m like, ‘Aw, s**t.’ I don’t like all that too much. It’s been weird.”

Though Perez is uncomfortable with celebrity, he may have to get used to it if he continues his winning ways in the UFC. A spectacular debut could go a long way towards establishing his name, which is a good thing since he recently shed the uninspiring moniker of “The Decision” that may have played a part in UFC officials overlooking him for so long.

“Actually, my friend gave me the nickname,” said Perez. “I don’t know why I let him give me the nickname. My first amateur fight, I TKO’d the kid, and then the next two were decisions and after that they just called me The Decision. People thought it was funny and to me, I couldn’t care less what people think. It’s about what I do in the cage. Yeah, I do have decision wins, but to me a nickname is a nickname. If you’re called ‘The Great’ and you go out there and get knocked out in 10 seconds, it don’t matter, the nickname don’t matter. It’s a person who’s fighting.

“They just told me to change the name and I was like, ‘Okay’, and they’re like, ‘What’s your new nickname?’ I’m just going to be Alex Perez, no other other nickname. I’m not changing my name 400 times, I just dropped the ‘Decision’ part.”

Perez (not to be confused with TUF: Latin America winner Alejandro Perez or fellow newcomer Markus Perez, both of whom will also be competing this weekend) meets Carls John de Tomas in preliminary bout at UFC Fight Night 123 on Saturday that will now be contested at 135 pounds due to health concerns related to both fighters’ weight cuts.