Dominick Reyes has dreamed of winning a UFC title since the day he started fighting, but he knows there’s a lot more to being champion than just having a belt wrapped around your waist.
In the early days of the UFC, the fighters holding titles were almost as anonymous as the fans cheering for them from the crowd. There’s a much different atmosphere in 2020 where recent champions have had entire parades thrown in their honor after a big win and others received a hero’s welcome just stepping off the plane after capturing UFC gold.
In addition to the attention being paid to UFC champions these days, athletes are also being held up as role models, especially to children who have almost always seen prominent sports figures as people they aspire to be like growing up.
While reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has a complicated history when it comes to his own responsibilities as champion, Reyes believes he’s going to set a much different example.
He’ll never claim he’s infallible but the California native knew from his first day in the sport that he had to carry himself in a way that would reflect back positively on the people who raised him as well as admirers who choose to look up to him.
“No matter what, you’re a role model,” Reyes said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Kids are going to look up to you, no matter what. Whether you want to or not. I have nieces and nephews. I have a brother who’s 10 years old. He looks up to me. These kids look up to me every day so I’m already in that role.
“I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I drink from time to time. I go out but it’s about being responsible and not being an assh*le about it.”
It’s not fair to simply paint Jones as good or bad when it comes to his time as champion.
He’s donated winter coats to help needy families in his adopted hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. He’s led charity fundraising to benefit The Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Jones has spoken at schools as well as Boys and Girls Clubs while trying to pass on a message of inspiration to the youth looking up to him.
On the other side of coin, Jones has also seen his name in headlines in the past for a DUI not to mention a hit-and-run accident in 2015 that could have easily landed him with a lengthy jail sentence. It did ultimately cost him the UFC light heavyweight title and almost a year of his career.
Reyes isn’t casting judgment on Jones for his successes or failures but he wants to set a different example as champion if he’s victorious in the UFC 247 main event.
“I’ve been preparing to be at this level my whole life. I’ve kind of been preparing to be a famous athlete my whole life,” Reyes said. “For me, I’m not going to become champion at 23. I’m 30 years old now. I’ve been trained in the media stuff. I know how to act. I’m very classy with my approach to everything. I’m not going to go out and start doing crazy drugs and drinking everyday. I’m very professional about how I present myself and how I go about my life.
“I have family and really close friends around me. I have a very close circle of people around me. I still live in my hometown. I’m just happy being me. Being champion isn’t going to change who I am. When I become champion, that’s just added to the resume.”
Some fighters might want to shy away from those extra responsibilities but Reyes has learned to embrace them. He might even be a little excited about it.
“There’s more responsibility, more public speaking, more outreach, there’s more things that I’m going to be doing but I just see it as more opportunity to help my community,” Reyes said.
“To help people that need help. To be a positive influence and force of good in this world.”