Alex Perez content UFC on ESPN 55 served as reminder: ‘Honestly, I haven’t changed’

LAS VEGAS – It may have looked foreign to some fans, and Alex Perez doesn’t take offense to that.

Perez (25-8 MMA, 7-4 UFC) not only competed in a fight Saturday at UFC on ESPN 55, he won. That’s something fight fans don’t see every day and Perez recognizes that. He’s heard the jests, insults, and complaints.

Just like many commenters and critics wanted him to do, Perez was eager to fight. Due to injuries and other circumstances, that didn’t happen. But Saturday, it did. Perez knocked out fellow contender Matheus Nicolau with a clean right hook in Round 1.

The win may have signified a point-proving moment to outside observers, but not Perez, who never lost faith in his abilities despite his inactivity.

“I mean, honestly, I haven’t changed,” Perez told MMA Junkie and other reporters at a post-fight news conference. “A lot of it is just mental things. Don’t get me wrong. When the fights started canceling and stuff like that, I feel like, ‘Damn, dawg. What’s going on?’ I kind of felt sad and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, I can tell people just because something is going bad in your life, doesn’t mean life stops. I have a son. I have bills to pay and stuff like that. I’ve got to keep grinding. My boy Billy Bigelow be like, ‘Stuff those feelings away, deep down inside until it’s time to come out. I just kind of kept moving forward and listened to my team. I owe a lot to my manager, Jason House, Jeremy Luchau, Lance (Spaude), and coach Collin Oyama. …

“All these guys who stuck with me and told me, ‘Hey, you’re one of the best in the world.’ I spar with these guys nonstop and I can hang with these guys. I take Ricky down all the time, just gonna put this one out there. I hang with these guys all the time. Confidence? Yes, I still have it, right? It’s just showing the world I still have it and I think I showed that tonight.”

Perez, 32, said his lack of knockout power has become a friendly target that those close to him joke about. After Saturday’s performance, perhaps those wisecracks can be retired.

“Honestly, because all my friends always call me ‘Pillow Hands’. Now they can’t call me that no more,” Perez said. “My buddy was calling me ‘ASP,’ Alex ‘Sleeping Pill’ Perez. Not because I was putting people to sleep. But because I was putting him to sleep every time he would commentate my fights because I’d just take the guy down. It just shows that I’m evolving. Obviously, the footwork was a little different. I have some stuff that I’ve been working on that I haven’t been able to show. … But it showed off tonight. We’re going to keep working and going from there.”

The flyweight division’s future top-tier matchups are largely unmapped beyond the promotion’s May 4 title fight between champion Alexandre Pantoja and rising contender Steve Erceg.

While other fighters may have called for a big contender fight or title shot, Perez, as he did during his skid of misfortune, elected to leave the decision-making up to those who are employed to make those calls.

In the meantime, Perez will resume his position as “Dad.”

“Honestly, I’m not a matchmaker,” Perez said. “I’m a fighter. So whatever my management team and all those guys want to do, I’m down for. The biggest thing right now is that I’m going to go hang out with my son. I’ve been away from him. Before the last fight, I was away. Some stuff happened, so I wasn’t around him for pretty much the whole camp. I saw him fight week, and then obviously I stayed here to help with Cody Garbrandt and help Cynthia (Calvillo) for their fights, so I didn’t get to see them too much.

“So right now, all I’m worried about and focused on is going to see my son and hanging out with him and having him freak out seeing me on TV, seeing me in real life coming back and forth. We’ll enjoy some ice cream and pizza.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 55.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie