With his hand raised in the Octagon, Dennis Bermudez finally got the send-off that he wanted.
The nine-year pro MMA veteran won a unanimous decision over Te Edwards in a lightweight bout (the first 155-pound bout of Bermudez’s UFC career after 16 featherweight appearances) at UFC Brooklyn on Saturday and promptly left his gloves in the cage to signal the end of his career.
Bermudez, 32, had hinted in interviews that he might retire soon, and after beating Edwards to snap a four-fight losing streak in front of a crowd of his fellow New Yorkers at Barclays Center, the timing couldn’t have been better.
On The MMA Hour on Monday, Bermudez explained when and why he first started having thoughts of walking away from the sport.
“When I turned 30, I don’t know if it was in my brain, but I just felt like my body was recovering so much slower and I didn’t feel as good about training,” Bermudez told Luke Thomas. “In terms of retiring, it’s been hanging around for a year and a half, something like that.”
Bermudez has been part of the UFC roster since December 2011, when he debuted as one of the featherweight finalists from season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter. He would lose to Diego Brandao via first-round submission (according to Bermudez, he entered that fight with an injured elbow, the same elbow that Brandao attacked with an armbar to get the win), but go on to win his next seven fights with the organization. That run included a split decision win over future champion Max Holloway and a submission victory over veteran Clay Guida.
But Bermudez hit a wall after the Guida fight, going just 2-6 in his next eight fights, including three consecutive losses by split decision, a UFC record. Those close calls took their toll on Bermudez’s psyche and weighed on him as he prepared for his fight with Edwards.
“It definitely took some wind out of my sails because I would re-watch them and I felt like I won them,” Bermudez said. “At the end of the day thought, it still doesn’t matter how I felt. In the history books, I lost. I had to fight demons coming into this fight like, ‘Can you even win, Dennis?’ It’s been two years.
“‘No man, you can do it, you won those last fights.’ Not having won in two years is crazy to me.”
He confessed that a loss to Rick Glenn last July almost convinced him to quit and he let himself go for a couple of months.
“After the Rick Glenn fight I told myself I was going to retire. … I sat home for, like, 2 months and played some video games, worked on my YouTube, and stuff like that. Gained a little bit of weight,” Bermudez said. “I’m missing something, I don’t feel good about this. I feel like I’m wasting time.”
The original plan for Bermudez was to compete at UFC 233 in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan. 26, but that card would end up being canceled so Bermudez and Edwards were moved to the Brooklyn show. That suited Bermudez, a New York native, just fine.
Asked how he’d imagined his career ending, Bermudez offered a sombre response, painting a dramatically different picture than how his relatively understated career unfolded in reality.
“I actually envisioned my exit being like a lot of great fighters and it’s a sad one, where they become champion, they’ve got a big name, and it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, you want $700,000 to fight even if you lose?’ And you’re like, ‘Alright.’ You know what I mean?” Bermudez said. “Versus ending like I did, with a win. Because I think that’s very big in this sport where guys should have hung it up awhile ago but it’s like, ‘I’ll go and get another paycheck.’”
A father of two, it became a priority for Bermudez to preserve his health and he’s looking forward to becoming the kind of grandparent someday who’s still lively and able to interact with his children and grandchildren. He’s suffered knockout losses to hard hitters Jeremy Stephens and Chan Sung Jung, and been in three round wars with the likes of Matt Grice and Darren Elkins.
Never a fast finisher himself, Bermudez realized that his mindset was not sustainable in the long run.
“That’s another thing that made me retire,” Bermudez said. “I’m not one of those guys that goes in there and one-hitter-quitter power and is putting people away or I’m not one of those guys that’s a submission technician and submitting you really quickly, where I’m getting out of there untouched. Usually my fights are me and another guy punching each other for 15 minutes until one of us gets tired or something like that, and I accept that going into the fight that I’m going to take damage and I’m cool with it.
“Like, I’m okay with dying in there. And that’s not the way I should be going about life at this point.”
Bermudez pointed to the Grice fight as a favorite highlight of his career (“I remember as soon as that final bell rung, just being like [takes deep breath], and gasping for air because I had left everything I had in the Octagon.”) and overall spoke fondly of his UFC run that saw him become a top-10 contender in the featherweight division.
His plan now is to become a lineman for the Public Service Enterprise Group, working to maintain power and telephone lines, a job that he calls “a little dangerous.” That element of risk should help Bermudez in his transition from MMA, a career that he speaks of fondly.
“I got up to number six in the world and as I started falling out of that I looked back on what I had done and who I had beaten,” Bermudez said. “I was kind of okay with it then even though I kept on striving for more.
“A win over Max Holloway, who’s the current champ, that’s awesome, I can hang my hat on that. I beat Clay Guida, who’s a legend in the sport. I strung together [seven straight] wins in the featherweight division, I think I had the most takedowns in the division. It’s pretty cool.”