Humberto Bandenay’s road to the UFC was far from easy.
The featherweight fighter began his professional fighting career almost five years ago at the age of 18 in his home country of Peru. At first, getting in a cage and scrapping with another trained man was just a hobby for Bandenay, as he was also attending college, working to get a degree in international business. But what began as a hobby quickly picked up steam.
With dreams of one day becoming a UFC fighter, Bandenay made a name for himself on the regional MMA scene, where he compiled a professional record of 12-4, including nine finishes, while picking up the featherweight title at FFC — a regional promotion in Peru.
That’s when earlier this year, California’s Team Oyama reached out to Bandenay and offered him the opportunity to train with them, as they were looking to add more Latin American talent to the team. UFC’s Marlon Vera helped Team Oyama make the connection. Vera and Bandenay knew each other from fighting together on several cards in South America.
But despite being determined to take his fighting career to the next level, the 22-year-old Bandenay wasn’t fully content with leaving his home in Lima to train in California, as his father was battling cancer.
“Right before I traveled to California, he was already in bad health,” Bandenay told MMA Fighting. “I actually left him in the hospital, and he told me not to return no matter what happens. But at that moment, I was actually saying, ‘no,’ that I would have to return.”
Bandenay came to California in March and was immediately booked to fight two months later in May at a King of the Cage event in San Jacinto. Bandenay submitted fellow prospect Salim Mukhidinov with an armbar in the first round. That impressive performance was followed up with another quick turnaround, as Bandenay was booked to fight on July 21 in Tampico, Mexico for Lux Fight League.
A few weeks removed from his bout, Bandenay received some bad news from home. His father had died, having lost his battle with cancer. Bandenay was faced with the difficult decision of abandoning his training camp to return home or staying in the U.S. to finish off what he started.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve made in the 22 years of my life,” Bandenay explained. “I was in California training with Team Oyama, and my dad had been dealing this illness and unfortunately he wasn’t able to overcome it and he passed. I wasn’t able to go to Peru; I wasn’t able to be with my family in that difficult time. I couldn’t be there, but my dad knew what we had talked about. He told me that no matter what, I had to keep fighting for my dream and then I could return to Peru, so that’s what I did. It was rough, but I had to do it.”
With his sights set on reaching the most prestigious MMA promotion on the planet, Bandenay pushed through his training camp, despite his unfortunate loss. Two days away from his fight in Tampico, Bandenay’s manager informed him that plans had changed. He would still be fighting in Mexico — but for a different promotion.
“‘You’re now in the UFC and you’re fighting Martin Bravo on Aug. 5,’” Bandenay recalled reading a message from his manager. “That was the best news I’ve ever received, I jumped on one leg and immediately [mentally prepared] myself for the victory.”
After the news, Bandenay ate a solid meal — as he was pretty advanced in his weight cut being just two days away from fighting in Tampico — and began getting ready for his short-notice bout at UFC Fight Night 114 in Mexico City.
On Aug. 5, Bandenay accomplished one of his many ambitions. The Peruvian fighter knocked out Bravo, the undefeated prospect and champion of season three of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, with a brutal knee to the head 26 seconds into their 145-pound contest.
“It was a mix of emotions,” Bandenay said. “It was an enormous feeling of happiness, knowing that all the work and sacrifices I’ve done in the past were paying off, and I was able to show it on the biggest stage of the world. It’s my dream and the beginning of what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Bandenay’s magical night in the Mexican capital, didn’t end there. Following the event, UFC officials announced that he would be taking home an extra $50,000, as his spectacular knockout earned him one of the two Performance of the Night bonuses.
“I was super excited,” Bandenay said. “At first, when the fight was over, I was very happy with the victory and everything, and then I get out and everyone saying, ‘you’re going to take the bonus,’ and they (his teammates and cornermen) were all talking about the bonus. And then later, when they confirmed the bonus, it was grand happiness on top of everything.”
After a remarkable UFC debut, Bandenay returned home to Lima where he will now look to take care of his family with his bonus and new job with the UFC.
“I’m actually going to help my family and that’s my main focus since my dad is no longer present,” Bandenay said. “So yeah, I’m going to take care of them and help them. Right now at my house there is my younger brother and my mom. My sister already has her family, but I’m still going to take care of them.”
Bandenay’s drive and determination hasn’t lost a step despite the emotional roller coaster 2017 has been for him. The young prospect eyes to fight again this year, and doesn’t appear to want any easy opposition.
“I feel like I can fight again this year,” Bandenay said. “I would love to fight (Jeremy) Kennedy or ‘El Pantera’ (Yair Rodriguez). I think I can beat them, and it would be amazing if I’d get the opportunity to fight any of them.”