When Erik Perez steps into the Octagon tonight (Aug. 28, 2013), he carries the pride of an entire nation on his shoulders.
The talented young Bantamweight is extremely proud of his heritage, representing Mexico as "the first 100 percent Mexican fighter on the roster." As he continues to find success, his popularity continues to grow back home.
Sometimes it's the little things that help put a fighter over the top. For Perez, it was the decision to don the luchador mask (pictured above) for the weigh-ins and his walk-outs to the cage on fight night. When he has the mask on, he's no longer just Erik Perez, the fighter, he's Erik Perez, the symbol.
"Goyito's" first three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fights have been nothing short of spectacular, scoring first round finishes over John Albert, Ken Stone and Byron Bloodworth respectively. The knockout of Stone still remains the fastest finish in 135-pound UFC history.
Perez will have much more on his plate with his main card bout opposite former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) title challenger Takeya Mizugaki tonight in Indianapolis, Indiana, by far his most difficult test to date. The Jackson's MMA-trained fighter spoke to MMAmania.com about his growing popularity back home, getting main card exposure for the first time and what a victory over Mizugaki can do for him in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You sounded very excited when you posted to your fans that you were going to be fighting on the main card this upcoming Wednesday. What does that mean to you?
Erik Perez: I think it's about time! I'm 3-0 in the UFC, and I just want to prove myself on the biggest stage possible. I'm working so hard in the gym with my coaches, so a fight like this with Takeya Mizugaki simply has to be on the main card. Fans will not be disappointed.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much were you bouncing off the walls when you were told to stay away from training for two months by the doctors due to your infection?
Erik Perez: There are long-term and short-term plans for training. Either way, if I miss two months I have to work at least twice as hard on my comeback. It's an unforgiving sport, so you have to stay in top shape if you want to compete with the best. Takeya Mizugaki is a very experienced fighter, and he's well rounded too, which means that I had to train extra hard to be as ready as I am now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been making strides to become more fluent in English, what's been the trickiest part about learning English? It's not exactly an easy language to pick up.
Erik Perez: I think practice makes perfect. Simple as that. In any type of training, whether it's fighting or language training you have to practice. This way you are able to learn from your mistakes and get better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has it been fun doing all the training blogs in advance of this fight? You've been keeping very busy.
Erik Perez: I'm not really used to this, but at the same time it's so fun and I definitely appreciate the opportunity that I can share my life with all the fans in United States, Mexico and around the world.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are your thoughts on being a big role model for prospective Mexican youth who may want to fight someday?
Erik Perez: Fighting, similar to football (soccer) and other big sports changes lives in Mexico. Kids who want to get into sports, they make a good decision that puts their life on the right track. I'm happy to be in position where I can influence someone's decisions. It's a big thing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has the response since your popularity started exploding in Mexico been overwhelming at all?
Erik Perez: I'm proud of that. Every time I fight I feel the whole country behind me. This makes me very strong both physically and mentally.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's one of your favorite striking techniques you've learned from coach Mike Valle at Jackson's MMA?
Erik Perez: You will see on Wednesday night!
Erik Perez: There are so many great fighters in Albuquerque. Of course Jon Jones, Carlos Condit are great fighters and I'm very proud being with them on the same team. Being on the same team has a good influence on my personality and skills as a fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Takeya Mizugaki is an incredibly difficult fighter to finish. I know you train five, five minute rounds but are you looking forward to potentially having a chance to fight 15 minutes?
Erik Perez: I believe in my training and my skill as a fighter. He's hard to finish just like any other of my previous opponents. Believe me, there are no easy fights in the UFC. Guys who are easy to finish are not fighting here. My record speaks for itself - so don't blink!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What kind of statement do you think it would make if you defeat a former title challenger? Mizugaki is a pretty established veteran in the division.
Erik Perez: This will put me on a good run in the UFC. I'm ready for anything and for everyone. I just know that if I keep winning impressively, my chance will come. With enough victories and good performances no one could deny I should fight for the title. Will it happen after I beat Mizugaki? It's up to the UFC. Joe Silva, Dana White.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfectly for you against Mizugaki this weekend, how would you like the fight to play out?
Erik Perez: I want to win impressively. I think fans would love to see a good knockout.
Erik would like to thank his sponsors - 1Law, Fear The Fighter, SafeAuto, MusclePharm, Hayabusa, Corn Nuts. Also all his coaches at Jackson's who helped me to prepare for this fight. He's ready! And his management team VFD Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @Goyito_Perez.