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Alexander Hernandez: Donald Cerrone ‘just another step in the ladder to the top’

Alexander Hernandez (pictured) fights Donald Cerrone in a lightweight bout on Jan. 19 in Brooklyn live on ESPN+
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The opportunities keep on coming for Alexander Hernandez and he hasn’t shied away from one yet.

That includes his upcoming lightweight matchup with Donald Cerrone on Jan. 19 in Brooklyn, a fight that only materialized after the UFC pulled Hernandez out of an already scheduled bout with Francisco Trinaldo that was supposed to take place a week later at the since-canceled UFC 233.

Hernandez had an eventful Year 1 in the UFC to say the least, debuting on just eight days’ notice with a 42-second knockout of Beneil Dariush at UFC 222 in March and following that up with a unanimous decision win against Olivier Aubin-Mercier at UFC on FOX 30 in Calgary, Alberta, in July. The latter bout was the 26-year-old’s first fight outside of the United States.

Now he’s facing the biggest test of his career in Cerrone, a beloved fan favorite who recently broke the record for most wins (21) and most finishes (15) in UFC history. In contrast, Hernandez’s journey is just starting, but he’s refusing to be in awe of his opponent as he heads into a clash with “Cowboy”.

“In my mind, I don’t count myself as an underdog against anybody,” Hernandez told MMA Fighting. “I have and I continue to see myself as a champion. Cerrone, just like anyone else, Trinaldo would have been, is just another step in the ladder to the top. I’m not over-concerned, the beauty of it is that he has his notoriety, so I’m grateful for him for taking the fight and helping me boost my career and grow my notoriety. Aside from that, I will treat him like every other stepping stone and crush him like a pebble aside.

“There’s nothing special in my mind about this matchup and the work goes on. It’s not like, okay let’s rev up and train even harder. I can’t train any harder. I train and nothing changes, it never does. I’m just excited to have the opportunity.”

Much like how his first UFC fight came about, Hernandez couldn’t have seen this one coming. He’d been told that the UFC was looking to have him change opponents from Trinaldo to Cerrone, but wasn’t sure it was a done deal until it became public. He joked that this kind of news often makes its way to him at awkward times.

“When I know, the whole world will know,” Hernandez said. “You know how I find out half the time? I’m on the shitter and I look at my tagged images and I see 50 of me and a new opponent and I know the deal is done.”

That said, Hernandez’s team was doing everything in their power to make the date with Cerrone happen. The Jan. 19 show will be broadcast live on the ESPN+ streaming service, marking the first event of the UFC’s ESPN era, and Hernandez was picked out as an ideal opponent to pair with Cerrone to upgrade the card.

Though he’s sympathetic to Trinaldo for the lost fight, he didn’t hesitate when the call came to take on Cerrone instead.

“I was just pleasantly surprised,” Hernandez said. “The option came late one night like most great options do and my manager, I get these texts, and you’re either stricken with fright or overwhelmingly excited when you get these ‘Call me ASAP’ over and over again texts — I’m always training so I’m not at my phone often. So he’s Facetiming me, that’s how I know he’s really excited about something, and I Facetime him back and he laid out the option that Sean Shelby brought to us, that they need to boost up and bolster this ESPN card January 19th. Cerrone’s a big household name and they looked to me to give me the opportunity to fight him and I was just overwhelmingly satisfied with that. And as I do with all great opportunities, I said ‘f*ck yes.’”

“I hope that they’re taking care of Trinaldo and getting him lined up accordingly and getting him a fight, because that is shitty to just have the rug pulled out from underneath your feet. I hope that they do take care of him, but we had to seize this opportunity.”

Hernandez’s plan is to make the Cerrone fight the first of three or four bookings that he’d like to take in 2019. Outside of 2013, the Texan hasn’t managed to fight more than twice in any given year and he’s determined to change that.

Even before being matched up with Cerrone, Hernandez was visualizing where he stands with the elite of the UFC’s lightweight division. In Calgary, he had a front row seat to the main event between Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. Asked what he took away from getting to watch two of the best at 155 pounds go at it, Hernandez pointed to their ability to persevere and their mental strength, while adding that he doesn’t see himself as being far off from that level of competition.

“That was a dogfight,” Hernandez said. “That’s what was so impressive about that fight is the composure and heart that both those gents showed because they both got placed in super adverse, questionable situations where they might have lost a fight and then came back and really fought hard. That was the most impressive part of the fight and that’s what I’m working to continue, being on that main stage and getting that composure and being able to just press, press, press and not let little swings in a round or anything like that set you back at all mentally. That’s what I took away most from that fight that I tip my hat off to them and was impressed with both of them — and they’ve been around for a long time so that’s to be expected.

“But as far as skill and quality goes, I don’t think anybody is ahead of me.”

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