Alex Perez is a man with a plan.
Unbeaten in three UFC appearances so far, the 26-year-old Perez has made already made his mark at 125 pounds and he’s searching for a signature win this Friday when he takes on two-time flyweight title contender Joseph Benavidez at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale. If he’s able to pick up a victory over Benavidez, he’ll join Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz, and (most recently) Sergio Pettis as the only men to hand Benavidez a defeat in his 30-fight career thus far.
But don’t expect Perez to spend too much time reflecting on his success or sitting around for a title opportunity. Ideally, he’ll be ready to get back in the cage as soon as possible, preferably in his home state of California for UFC 233. It’s all part of his plan to put together a fight schedule that would make “Cowboy” himself proud.
“When I get this win, I’m open to take a break and fight again in January, in Anaheim,” Perez told MMA Fighting. “That would be amazing. I want to stay active, I want to be the Donald Cerrone of my weight class. Always taking fights.”
Perez almost ended up fighting Mark De La Rosa at UFC Denver, but when he heard that a bout between Ray Borg and Benavidez had been canceled due to a Borg withdrawal and that Benavidez was looking for a new opponent to compete before the end of the year, Perez jumped at the opportunity. He told his manager that he wanted the fight and within days he and Benavidez were booked to lock horns.
The timing couldn’t be better for Perez, who is coming off of a thrilling first-round KO of Jose Torres at UFC 227. And he couldn’t ask for a more suitable opponent in Benavidez either, a fighter that he respects and credits with helping the lighter weight classes break into the UFC.
“I actually met Joe when I was still in high school at Tachi Palace, he was there helping corner someone — he was in [World Extreme Cagefighting] at the time — I met him through one of my mutual friends,” Perez said. “Cool guy, super down to earth and he’s been a big pioneer for the lightweight guys. Probably one of the reasons why they kept lighter weights around, because that guy can go out there and fight and he’s knocking people out.
“It’s pretty exciting to fight a guy like that, that goes out there and fights, and that’s very well respected in the whole organization by everybody. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything bad about Joe.”
Looming over this flyweight matchup is a shroud of uncertainty due to rumors that the flyweight division may not be in the UFC’s long term plans. Perez has competed and had success at 135 pounds (even winning the Tachi Palace Fights title back in 2015), so he’s not overly concerned about his future should he be forced to move back up.
“I feel like I can compete with the best in the world at ‘25, ‘35,” Perez said. “I’m a big flyweight, I feel like putting on more size wouldn’t be a problem for me. I really wouldn’t mind going up if they close down the division. I haven’t really put too much into it, it’s not really my job to do that. That’s why I have my manager. I’ll just be waiting for them to tell me what the plan is for the next one.”
Beating Benavidez would unquestionably vault Perez into the top-10 at flyweight, but in the event that the division is shuttered, it’s unclear where that win would put him in the bantamweight rankings. A product of the Lemoore, Calif., wrestling scene, Perez prefers not to even think about the politics of matchmaking.
Like Cerrone, he’ll simply be waiting for his name to be called.
“I’m not worried about the number next to me,” Perez said. “I come from a wrestling background, so numbers remind me of brackets where you get seeded and people think you’re supposed to take this place and this. To me it doesn’t really matter, it’s whoever is on that day to fight.
“I’m not worried about him being no. 3 or me being no. 15, whatever it is, I just see the next guy in front of me and I see a tough opponent and I’m just going in there to win.”