Alexander Hernandez isn’t 100 percent sure if he caught the coronavirus. And even if he did, he said he’s fully recovered.
Hernandez was scheduled to compete in the first installment of UFC 249 on April 18. “The Great” had signed to fight fellow top-15 lightweight Islam Makhachev in Brooklyn, N.Y., before the event was called off due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pay-per-view show was then slated to take place at Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, Calif., and Hernandez got a new opponent with the undefeated Omar Morales.
The 27-year-old said the on-again, off-again approach to fight camp wasn’t easy.
“Yeah, that was a rollercoaster ride,” Hernandez told MMA Fighting during an interview on What the Heck. “Fighting itself takes such a toll on you, with the anxiety, the sleepless nights, the physical toll, (and) the emotional toll. The whole fu*kin’ thing, it was mayhem.”
It’s one thing to prepare for two different opponents in two different locations. Getting ready for a fight during an uncertain time in the world — especially when illness began to spread — added to the already difficult life of the MMA veteran.
“My own head coach fell out at one point,” he explained. “He got sick. I thought I caught some sh*t at some point where I just had to fight through it and train. Every time I’d start revving up again, I’d get just insanely nauseous and extremely hot. Getting tested is difficult, so I don’t really worry about that sh*t. It seemed like we were all kind of dropping at one point.”
Despite the tough times, Hernandez was able to find a silver lining.
“My employer and my opponents weren’t really pandering to fear, or adhering to any of the laws like a pandemic was going on at all, so we just had to get on this mountain of optimism and kind of keep that perspective with the UFC. Just push through it and not be a b*tch. That’s what I did and I got a f*ck load better in the last two months.”
After getting tested, Hernandez said his head coach was positive for the novel coronavirus. The Ohana Academy trained fighter now believes the illness he suffered was more than likely COVID-19 related, but he was able to fight through it without getting a positive test.
“He did have it and I was breathing that dude’s air, so maybe,” he said when asked whether he contracted the virus. “Yeah, maybe I did, but I just f*cked it up, dude. I’m not worried about it. I had to get ready for a fight. I said that’s what I was going to do, and that’s what I did. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’m ready to take on whatever challenge. I’m ready to take on any opponent that’s available in the states.”
Hernandez signed with the UFC prior to UFC 222 in March 2018, taking a short-notice fight against Beneil Dariush. With a 42-second TKO victory, he went from an unknown to a top-15 lightweight. Four months later, he further upped his stock with a win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier at UFC Calgary.
Hernandez suffered his first octagon setback in January 2019 when he was stopped by Donald Cerrone in the second round at UFC Brooklyn. Hernandez got back in the win column with a unanimous decision victory this past July over Francisco Trinaldo at UFC San Antonio, which set him up for a pivotal fight against Makhachev.
With a big fight looming, Hernandez never considered packing it in – sick or not.
“My whole thing, and it’s kind of like a philosophy that transcends everything is, stagnation is death,” Hernandez explained. “Movement is life. You need it. For me, my biggest thing was, I’m just not going to pander to these fears and insanity that people are running with. I’m just going to keep living life the exact same. That’s exactly what I did: I trained the same, [and] I operated the same in pretty much every capacity. The only thing was going to the grocery store felt like Apocalypse Now, like the whole world was burning down.
“Other than that, I just stayed in my bubble: home, gym, home, gym, my training partners. Fortunately, it seems like Brazilians don’t give a f*ck so I had all the crew there and we were getting things done pretty much the exact same. I didn’t indulge the fears, and when I got sick I just kept working. I f*ckin’ ate that sh*t up. COVID’s probably trying to deal with me right now, trying to figure out the antibodies to conquer my sh*t. I probably f*cked it up.
“I’m just not worried about it. The more information that comes out, the ratios and the death ratios, people start kind of realizing that we’ve been categorizing everything into this COVID umbrella, the more I hope people think it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s nothing to even hide from. Just take care of yourself. Health is found within. I think we just need to operate within ourselves, be the best versions of ourselves before we go pointing fingers and creating f*ckin’ conspiracies, or whatever the f*ck else. Just take care of yourself and get back on track in life.”
This past November, Hernandez was part of a group of fighters that traveled to the Middle East to meet members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The trip added valuable lessons to his mindset, including how he dealt with news that Makhachev headed back to Russia – along with teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov – prior to the postponement of UFC 249.
“One thing that I was able to do was have understanding and sympathy for the Russians, and leaving prematurely,” Hernandez said. “I felt like they left prematurely, but maybe they didn’t. Those flight bans were coming up, the likelihood of the fight was slim — a dim outlook for sure, and it didn’t end up happening anyways. For them to go back to their country, to their homes, their families, I can understand that.
“For me, it wasn’t something that I dwelled over or sulked on. I just got back to it. I was getting ready for the next thing, and that’s what we did.”