Alexander Hernandez knew it was only a matter of time before he got into the UFC. He also knew he’d probably have to do things the hard way: a random phone call leading to a short-notice fight against any manner of opponent or weight class, ranked foe or total unknown, lightweight or something higher, as has happened to hundreds of Octagon newcomers in the past. He actually expected the call to come sooner than it did; hailing from Texas, he eyed UFC Austin as his chance to introduce himself to the MMA world.
But things worked out better than he ever could’ve expected.
Two weeks after UFC Austin, Hernandez made his long-awaited Octagon debut in a short-notice matchup against lightweight contender Beneil Dariush at UFC 222. A top-15 foe on a pay-per-view card? Hernandez certainly couldn’t have predicted that. Nor could he predicted how the fight played out — a stunning 42-second knockout that immediately launched Hernandez into the official rankings of the UFC’s most talent-rich division.
It’s a fairy-tale story, and even Hernandez admits there were some initial doubts about whether he could accomplish what he ended up accomplishing at UFC 222.
“Everyone’s human, so you have moments of doubt that kinda trickle through your mind, but you just have to wipe those out,” Hernandez said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“As that week continued to pass, I continued to evolve mentally. Mid-week it was, ‘I’m going to win this fight. This is mine. There’s no way we can lose this fight. This is my fight.’ By the end of the week, like I said, I was convinced that I was going to finish this fight in the first round. So there was a huge progression and evolution of my mental game, I guess, throughout that whole week, and my whole team, we just had a hell of a good little think tank in the back there and we were just progressing.”
With a 9-1 record and seven straight wins, Hernandez now suddenly finds himself poised to make big moves in the UFC’s 155-pound class. It’s an incredible feat for the 25-year-old, as well as a much-welcomed validation after Hernandez made the difficult decision to quit his full-time job as a mortgage loan officer in late 2017 to focus on his MMA career.
And in a strange way, now that his Octagon debut is behind him, Hernandez sees plenty of connections between the two jobs and how his former gig prepared him for his UFC future.
“It’s a business of building relationships,” Hernandez said. “You get really good at kinda rubbing elbows and telling people what they need to hear, then you also get really good at analyzing and managing some financial stats. So, first and foremost, it’s building relationships, and I got really, really good at shaking hands, convincing people that are twice my age — my parents’ age — that this 18-year-old looking kid, especially when I started, is trustworthy of closing the biggest financial purchases of your life. And with that, I developed a lot of speech skills, how to talk in front of a multitude of people, so that really transcended into the fight game and what I’m doing now, I feel like.
“It helped me out in confidence tremendously, man. I was more nervous for some of those speeches and things I had to hold and people I had to speak in front of and tutorials I had to teach, more so than I was in that UFC debut. So I’d say they really benefit each other and coincide, and I didn’t realize it at the time but I do now.”
That doesn’t mean Hernandez didn’t initially worry about his MMA decision.
Quitting a full-time career that Hernandez described as “lucrative” to commit to a volatile and uncertain future in mixed martial arts was far from an easy choice.
“I felt like I was falling apart,” Hernandez said. “I beat myself up for years on, kinda, ‘What’s the right direction with me?’
“I was putting so much in a boat, 15-hour days between juggling the two, so I kinda just decided I have my whole life to sit behind a desk, but I have a real finite window to chase this dream. Let’s seize it, and I’ll just be damned if I don’t. So I had to essentially sh*t or get off the pot, and I’ve talked so much sh*t to myself for so long, like, ‘Man, you can do this. If you just put everything into it, you can do it. You can do it. You can do it.’ So it was extremely liberating to make that decision, and then that was following by a ton of angst and anxiety, just laying in bed thinking, ‘This is all very real now. You’ve got to do it.’
“But it was obviously the best decision I ever made.”
Hernandez is now enjoying the fruits of his labor. His abrupt and violent rise was one of the most discussed stories to emerge from UFC 222, and plenty of eyeballs will certainly be paying attention to his next fight.
But with the spotlight also comes the critics, and Hernandez has heard his fair share of criticism on social media since his knockout over Dariush.
For the most part, that noise has centered around one thing: Hernandez’s opening sequence in the fight, and more specifically, the question of whether he faked a glove touch in order to get an early upper hand.
Hernandez made his point known on his newly created Twitter account — namely that no, he was in no way trying to touch gloves with Dariush. He then elaborated on that point on The MMA Hour.
“If somebody waves for a glove tap and you address it, then yeah, you should absolutely respect that,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t do that.
“The initial gameplan was to charge him. And I said it in this Twitter post, to the sofa scrubs and just all these trolls, if you’re got someone in a four-point stance crouched like a lion, beaming through the windows of your soul across the cage from you, you better prepare yourself for a battle, not to pat some paws. And I wasn’t trying to fake anything about it. I’ve got long range and I think that I utilize it. My arm is my measurement for distance, so the whole plan was to charge the cage, to storm him and disrupt his cadence entirely with a hard teep to his soft belly, and then to set that range to the tempo and put it in my hands, make sure that I dictate the way the fight was going to move. So that all went according to plan and the glove tap was not in the plans.”
Because of the quick nature of his fight, Hernandez is already healthy and ready to embark on a busy 2018. His only injury from UFC 222 is a swollen left hand, the same hand he used to knock out Dariush. So once his hand returns to its normal size, he’s ready to continue his remarkable Octagon run against the best opposition the lightweight division has to offer.
“I’m pretty flexible with the ass-whoopings,” Hernandez said. “I could deal them any time of the year, so I don’t have a preferred date. But what’s most important to me is really just building up a brand, building the image, and getting that hype train fully mobilized. I certainly don’t want to squirm into another fight on short-term notice like this one. I think I obviously deserve to do it right this time and have a major impact on whatever card I’m on. So just by the looks of what the UFC has lined up, it looks probably more like in the summertime or just something in that range. But like I said, I’m pretty flexible.”