Joe Pyfer has passed every test thus far in his burgeoning UFC career.
The 26-year-old middleweight prospect is a perfect 2-0 with back-to-back first-round knockouts since signing with the promotion off of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2022. It was Pyfer’s second appearance, however, that truly opened eyes regarding his potential to one day be among the best in the world. At UFC 287, “Bodybagz” scored a monster finish of the division’s all-time submission leader, Gerald Meerschaert, that vaulted his name into the conversation among the most intriguing up-and-coming talents at 185 pounds.
The question now is not only what’s next for Pyfer, but also how long it’ll be before he’s testing himself against fighters with numbers next to their names in the UFC rankings.
But unlike many young talents, the Pennsylvania product isn’t in a hurry.
“It could’ve happened already,” Pyfer said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I said no.”
When pressed to explain what he meant, Pyfer said the UFC recently offered him a bout against top 15 ranked middleweight Nassourdine Imavov.
According to Pyfer, he turned the opportunity down.
“I respect the guy, but it was too soon,” Pyfer said. “It was too soon. What do I need to rush for? I don’t need to rush. Call me a b****, call me a p****, call me whatever. I respect the man.”
Imavov holds a 4-2 record over six appearances with the promotion. He’s currently scheduled to face fellow top 15 middleweight Chris Curtis on June 10 at UFC 289.
Pyfer said multiple factors played into his decision. One was the fact that he’s still nursing lingering injuries related to his latest fight camp; another was the reality that the UFC’s offer wouldn’t have allowed Pyfer enough time to cut weight down to the middleweight limit in a healthy manner. But there was another sticking point that played into his decision as well.
“Listen, I’m very happy,” Pyfer explained. “Dana White treats me good. I don’t know the man personally, but as far as business, it’s been good. I’m not making beaucoup dollars, so that’s why I don’t want anybody in the top 15. I’m not stupid. I’m not going to fight the toughest guys of my career without that part of it matching. I’m not dumb. I’ve been in the game a long time, and that’s where it’s Eddie Alvarez [helping], people that mentor me.
“I have a lot of really good people around me. ... That’s not just me by myself. That’s with my team that cares about me, and I’ve really been able to develop a team that I think is going to be better than anybody that’s done it so far. And what do you see that I can’t possess? I’ve already got something. I’m not as big as them, but I’ve got something that can be a Jorge Masvidal, that could be an Izzy [Adesanya], that could be a Jon Jones. I’ve got something there. And everybody says this cliche s***, but why can’t it be me?”
Pyfer is certainly unique compared to many UFC prospects. His backstory is well-documented — and is a veritable Rocky story come to life. He overcame a deeply troubled childhood, homelessness, and a grisly arm injury in the opening minutes of his first Contender Series tryout to make his octagon dreams come true on his second attempt.
Pyfer’s traumatic upbringing is painstakingly documented in the upcoming film Joe Pyfer: Journey to the UFC, and he spoke at length during Wednesday’s in-studio appearance about the many hellacious twists and turns life threw his way en route to becoming the man he is today. Pyfer admitted he even considered giving up on his dreams in 2020 after an unlucky arm injury against Dustin Stoltzfus tanked his first opportunity to earn a UFC contract.
“I felt useless,” Pyfer said. “I was sitting out back on a patio particularly — I remember just looking up, it was a nice sunny day, it was good weather, and I just remember looking up like, ‘What the f*** am I living for? What if I chose the wrong thing? What if I just wasted 18 years of my life? That’s gone? How many fights do I have [to have] to come back? What if I don’t get on a winning streak? What if I’m not good enough? Like, what the f***?’
“You start questioning everything, because you don’t understand, you don’t know how to accept what went down,” Pyfer continued. “Like, how would anybody accept that, especially when it’s everything that you’ve ever dreamed of? And this past fight that I had [against Meerschaert], everything I ever dreamed of when I would [have] like an actual dream — not just thoughts, what I would actually dream with about, walking out to a crowd — I got to do that. And I got to do that with the Rocky song.
“That, to me, was a dream come true. F*** the fight. It was the walkout.”
Today, Pyfer stands as a testament to the power of the human will.
He persevered past a harrowing array of challenges to establish himself as one of the top up-and-coming talents in the world at 185 pounds. And while some on the outside may be surprised to see how far he’s come, Pyfer knows he’s only getting started.
“I’m still a nobody in the UFC, so I’ve got to do some work,” Pyfer said.
“I’m being humble to the public because the public chews people apart in a lot of ways ... [but] in my head, I’ve always known I was going to be here.”