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Mike Perry 2.0: UFC welterweight hopes to meld maturation, balance with savage style

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Mike Perry shows up somewhere, the people around him start making assumptions, reaching conclusions. That happens when you have tattoos on your face, when you’re not shy about speaking your mind, when you make a statement just by walking through the door. That’s how it has been from the beginning for Perry, since he made his UFC debut in August 2016, less than two years into his professional career.

If it was too much, too fast, Perry will never say, but few thrive in the world’s premiere fight organization under such conditions. At two years in, few are close to complete mixed martial artists, yet Perry has found a niche for himself as one of the promotion’s top action fighters, a bite-down-on-your-mouthpiece bomber who often seems incapable of stepping backwards.

Because he has been so prolific — Saturday’s UFC Fort Lauderdale fight will be his 10th fight since his UFC debut — Perry has offered up a body of work that is ripe for dissection. On one hand, he has been inconsistent, 5-4 in his Octagon bouts. On the other, he is doing all this on the fly, learning to be a UFC pro after barely turning pro. Some people believe he’s as good as he’ll ever be. Others think there’s plenty of room to grow.

“You’ve seen me succeed, you’ve seen me stumble, you’ve seen me fall, but I’ve never truly lost my momentum,” Perry told MMA Fighting. “My momentum found its pace and we’re going to keep working, and we’re going to make another jump. With the knowledge I have now of how these guys react to fighting me, it’s got me thinking a little different. I’ll be a little more patient in there, but I don’t want to change my thought process too much. The vicious Mike Perry is the best Mike Perry. That’s my fighting style. So I’m looking to go out there and fight my ass off.”

Perry has faced growing pains while in the public eye, and will walk into his Saturday fight against Alex Oliveira having lost three of his last four.

Like many athletes who stare down adversity for the first time, Perry went searching for answers. He tried switching gyms to Team Jackson-Winkeljohn. He traveled to train at the Mayweather Boxing Club. But those situations were temporary stops. They weren’t where he wanted to be, needed to be. Florida centered him. And so, he went back home.

“I think we all go through this, where we go looking for something and we don’t know exactly what it is until we attempt to find it,” he said. “I realized, I had it all along. That took a big weight off my shoulders. It showed me a different plan of how to look at the world I’m living in.”

If it sounds like Perry is maturing, he says that is probably fair to say. Now 27, he recently married his longtime girlfriend Danielle Nickerson. He’s reflected back on his turbulent youth to extract the lessons worth remembering. He’s taken a new interest in the conduct of exemplary teammates, citing as key among them the classy middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

Perry would very much like to level out both sides of himself into his athletic performance.

The wild man you know and love? He’s always going to be there. But he also wants to show he’s more than that.

“It’s all about balance when it comes to so many things,” he said. “In your weight cut and your diet. Between technique and raw aggression. Between thinking and reacting. Everything needs balance. I’m still a crazy guy. A young savage is still in here, and I think that’s always going to be a part of me. But I’m definitely maturing. I’ve been hard-headed for a long time. I look back at things and say, ‘How did I not see the knowledge they were trying to give me?’ They were shooting me in the face with a gun of knowledge. Back then the picture was too big, I couldn’t see it. Now I can see the bigger picture.”

Oliveira is the kind of matchup he would want in a rebound fight. A lanky Brazilian, Oliveira — like Perry — is known as a striker and is known for an ultra-aggressive style. Their pairing promises to be one of the evening’s most exciting bouts. It also comes with very limited chatter between them.

Perry has earned a reputation as a trash-talker, but going back to his interest in balance, he says he is also trying to embrace his humble side. He respects the contributions of Brazilians to the martial arts as well as Oliveira’s approach to competition. Because of that, he thinks the fight has enough steam to stand on its own.

“It’s cool that people look at this fight and think, ‘Man, that s—t could be crazy,’” he said. “I’m hoping it goes out there and delivers. I hope it’s crazy. I’m still gonna do me. I’m still going to amp it up, but maybe not as much as I have in the past. Wait ‘till you see the faceoffs. I’m still doing to do me and entertain. I get ideas and shoot them out to the world. And that’s what I’m going to do in this fight. I got my ideas to fight this guy. I know how this game can go now. Up and down. You see these bums who have never fought anyone in their life talking s—t to you on the internet. I’m like, ’S—t, my opponent deserves more respect than that. I see what the guy has done and is capable of. And I know what I’ve done and what I’m capable of doing better. You gotta respect the game. It’s hard to get caught up in the idea that fighting is disrespectful and angry. It’s respect, it’s love, and it’s chasing greatness.”

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