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UFC Road to the Octagon: Bermudez vs Elkins

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[ELECTRONIC MUSIC PLAYING] - Long Island is a far cry from Manhattan, a place where the power of the ocean and tranquility still reigns supreme.

And that suits Dennis Bermudez just fine.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: I'm a very non-confrontational person, which is very ironic for my career path.

I'm a competitor, man.

Every day is a grind, you know, of staying at where I am ranked at, and then trying to push it to the next level and be a champion.

They say you'll be successful in things that you love.

One thing I like about fighting is dominating another human being against their own will.

I like getting out there and putting out for the fans.

I fight because I'm good at it, I fight to make a living, and I fight to build a legacy in the Bermudez name.

- Dennis Bermudez entered season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter" with four stoppage victories, and quickly added three more to make it to the season's finale.

Inside the octagon, the aptly named Menace has proven even more formidable.

Following the "Ultimate Fighter" finale with seven straight wins, including a triumph over current division champion Max Holloway.

Two more victories in 2016 followed, and saw Bermudez established all time division records for his takedowns and take down defense.

Records that Bermudez now seeks to build upon as he readies for battle alongside two teammates, who will also take part in the UFC's much anticipated Long Island debut.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: I've known Ryan LaFlare for seven years now.

I look to him as an older brother for guidance, whether it's in my relationship, whether it's financially, or MMA related because I know he'll give it to me straight.

RYAN LAFLARE: You don't have to take that much of a step back.

Just in case I have to take a step, or take a step this way, I give myself a second.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: Change your range, find the angle for the front foot.

RYAN LAFLARE: I'm kind of like the big brother.

I only have 14 fights, but I've been fighting 15 years.

So I have like a little knowledge I like to drop on them, and I like to kind of act like I'm young like them.

CHRIS WADE: Now that we're all synced and everyone's waking up and grinding together, it's become like one machine.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: We're giving each other, like, tips and some of that clues while we're actually beating each other up.

Ryan, check it out.

When you're throwing that kick, your foot is facing him, and you're just like going like this to get your hips through.

I'm like-- you turn your foot more, and it was like [MAKES EXPLOSION SOUND] CHRIS WADE: Fight night, the energy that's going to be there, especially with this being in our own backyard, it makes you almost superhuman.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: These are all people that you don't want to let down, and you'll do everything in your power not to let them down.

So it's really nice that me, Ryan, and Chris are all on the same card just because misery likes company.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: One thing that I've been doing recently to make Dennis Bermudez better, I've been getting back to the basics and done some of the tedious work that got me to his position.

RYAN LAFLARE: Good, that's perfect.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: I'm definitely a goal oriented person.

First goal was to get into UFC, got into UFC.

RYAN LAFLARE: Yeah, good.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: Second goal was to get in the top 10, I'm in the top 10.

Now we're looking to break in the top five, and in doing so I want to become a champion.

Darren Elkins is a super tough guy.

Boop, period.

I've seen him beat guys I was in the house with on Ultimate Fighter, and those guys were pretty good guys.

So I knew our paths would cross.

He could take it.

Hey, He's tough.

He's going to keep coming forward, he's going to keep trying to grind.

There's no quit in him.

I'm going to bring a lot of volume, I'm going to keep distance, I'm going to be in and out, mix up my take downs with my striking and just going to bring the pain.

- 2,500 miles to the west, not only does Bermudez' opponent not fear pain, his nickname makes it clear he relishes it.

A 10 year veteran.

Darren the Damage Elkins initially made his name at lightweight before dropping to featherweight in 2011 with impressive and immediate results.

Powered by high volume dirty boxing and ferocious aggression, Elkins has gone on to become the record holder for most strikes landed ever at 145 pounds.

Since 2015 he has looked better than ever with four straight wins, including his last triumph in which he delivered one of the best comebacks in MMA history.

A comeback that was fueled by his recent relocation from Indiana to Sacramento.

Yet before his string of successes, Elkins considered leaving the octagon behind for good.

DARREN ELKINS: I thought, you know, maybe I didn't have it anymore.

I didn't compete well anymore.

I've been doing it all my life, and for the first time I felt like I wasn't getting better.

The sport was kind of evolving, and I was still kind of staying the same, which worried me.

That's why I was thinking, you know, if I'm saying behind, maybe it is time to hang it up.

CONNIE ELKINS: He came home and he said he was done.

There's still a few people in this world that they are doing what they truly love and what they want to do.

And just to see him say that he's done, that-- that was tough.

We just talked about it and thought, why don't we try a different gym?

He's-- what do you mean?

We have kids, we have family.

You can't just pack your family up and move across the country.

And it was kind of like, why not?

JUSTIN BUCHHOLZ: Darren came here, he was looking for consistency in training, a good program he could follow.

I mean, people who were just as motivated as he is.

DARREN ELKINS: When I came to Alpha Male, I started learning again, having fun with it.

And I just sparked a connection with the team, and it just really rejuvenated me.

- Outside the gym, the father of two and his family are reaping benefits as well.

DARREN ELKINS: The move to California was an easy move for them.

The kids fell in love with their school right away.

And the weather, the stuff we can do out here, I mean, my wife was happy.

The weather, we go to the ocean, we go to the river, we go hiking, it's awesome out here.

Even when I was in Indiana, finding my peace in water, man.

There's just something about the water.

It relaxes me.

Kinda get away from the fighting atmosphere.

CONNIE ELKINS: When things start to get hectic, whether it's to do with fighting or not, we're just like, let's just take a trip either to the river, by the ocean, or some beach somewhere.

And it just kind of-- it's one thing thing, the four of us, like, together.

DARREN ELKINS: Oh, you're soaking it up?

If you're making a block way too, so it's like a dam.

CONNIE ELKINS: I hit the jackpot with Darren.

He teaches our kids hard work, believing in yourself.

You think fighting, you have to be selfish, he makes it very unselfish.

DARREN ELKINS: Yeah, my family is everything to me.

Without them, life wouldn't be fun.

- 100 miles north of Manhattan, along the Hudson River, resides Dennis Bermudez's home town, and the man whose work still inspires him.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: My father, his parents left Long Island and went back to Puerto Rico when he was 17 years old.

They're like, hey, you coming or staying?

He's always been a very hard worker, so me and my brothers were always trying to do our best to get his approval.

ARNOLDO BERMUDEZ: I'm like a teddy bear.

I raised them kind of tough.

They had no choice, either to play sports or stay home.

They played sports.

But I was strict, and that's how I kept it until they grew up.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: All the stuff that my dad instilled in me and my brothers in terms of working for what you want, I took that and put it towards making myself, who and what I am today, and with my athletics, just because I wanted to be the best at whatever sport I played.

ARNOLDO BERMUDEZ: I am very proud of Dennis.

Dennis is his own man.

He's his own boss like I did.

Did I ever thought I would own a body shop in my life?

And here's my own son doing the same thing.

I couldn't be as proud of him.

To support him whenever I can, and his family.

- While Bermudez was growing up, his family was a distinct minority in Saugerties, and the lessons his father provided proved instrumental during his formative years.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ: Might not be able to get it.

Go for it.

[INAUDIBLE] I grew up in Saugerties, New York.

It's right the Hudson Valley, so the Hudson River is a five minute walk.

Go see if Poppop will give us a paint job.

Hunter Mountain, or the Catskill Mountains, was a 25 minute car ride.

It's a mainly Caucasian town.

There was two Puerto Rican families there.

So I have super thick skin, man, being made fun of.

You know, just busting on each other, in all good fun.

You know in the yearbook, they would take pictures with like the staff and stuff like that.

I used to, like, help the lunch ladies, so I got in the picture.

Our high school was a large high school because our middle school was counted as the high school population.

There's the Menace right there with all the lunch ladies.

So we were going against much larger schools.

That's why I liked wrestling.

Max, you going to have this many medals when you get older?

MAX BERMUDEZ: Yeah! DENNIS BERMUDEZ: Yeah?

You can have your huge school with as many guys as you want, but I'm still going to win.

There you go.

I love when people tell me I can't do something.

Never goes their way, even when I was like 13 years old.

So until that day comes where some dude is just bigger, faster, stronger than me, and throws me down, there's nothing I could do about it, until that day happens, I'm still consider myself one of the best in the whole world.

Want to put your gloves on?

- No! DENNIS BERMUDEZ: All right.

[MUSIC PLAYING] I'm a really, really bad sore loser.

So when I win, in my head it's how it's supposed to go.

Darren Elkins has got a good gas tank, a lot of cardio.

I'm a good wrestler, he's a good wrestler.

He's super tough, I'm super tough.

But I've just got an edge on him on every single thing I just said.

Having a victory over the current champion in Max Holloway definitely giving me a lot of motivation.

Since the "Ultimate Fighter" ended, it was always going to happen.

I see myself throwing Darren down, pin his arm down.

He taps, ref pushes me off, and we going to rock this one out tonight.

Can't get knocked down in front of my father, so I got to really get in on this guy.

I'm coming, baby.

I'm coming.

- On the opposite side of the country, former Indiana State wrestling champ Darren Elkins is no stranger to the idea of being an underdog.

DARREN ELKINS: That's a position that motivates me.

You come in there, and you think that, you know, I don't deserve to be in there with you.

You think you're gonna come in there and have an easy fight.

That happens all the time.

People come in there and they say, oh, I'm just going to knock this guy out.

Well guess what?

I got a chin, man.

My chin's made of iron.

He comes in great shape, man, but he gases.

And the thing is is, nobody goes my pace.

The people that come in and they think they're in great shape, they don't know what kind of shape they're in until they go against me.

They don't know what kind of pressure I'm going to put on them.

I'm gonna keep going.

And I make the people that come in and look great shape in some fights, gas.

That's Just what I do, that's my-- that's my style.

- Two in, two out.

DARREN ELKINS: Most of the time I'm not the most athletic guy.

So most people don't think, because of my athletic ability, that I can beat this person, or that person.

But they forget one thing, and that's my heart, and my stamina, and my mental toughness.

And what I lack in athleticism, I always make up for there.

One, two, three, wrestling! [CHEERS] JUSTIN BUCHHOLZ: So this is Darren Elkins 2.

0.

This is-- I mean, this guy's coming now.

And he's going to find a weakness in Bermudez, and we found weaknesses in him.

And he's going to exploit those, and he's gonna be talked about in the title contention.

DARREN ELKINS: I like the combat sports because it's just you versus the opponent.

You know, it's your will versus their will.

You can't blame on anybody else but yourself.

And for me, there's no better feeling than that.

The best kind of fight for me are the grueling, tough fights.

I mean, those are the fights that come out winning.

And I'm gonna keep coming.

And then when you think I might stop coming, I'm gonna keep coming again.

When I'm the underdog is when I perform my best.

People who think that I'm not going to win, that just motivates me, and I work harder.

I respect Bermudez as a fighter, but I'm coming to finish him.

I'm gonna submit him or knock him out.

[MUSIC PLAYING]