Dennis Bermudez is happy. Amazing what ten pounds can do.
“Oh yeah,” laughs the former featherweight contender, a couple weeks out from making his first UFC start at lightweight against Te Edwards on January 19. “Right now in a camp I'd probably be about maybe five pounds lighter than I am now, but really hungry.”
The way Bermudez describes it, cutting weight is the fight before the fight, and not the fun part. And while he’s been cutting practically all his life, whether as a wrestler or mixed martial artist, in recent years, getting down to 145 pounds was taking its toll.
“The weight cut is part of the fight, I think,” he said. “How you strategize, how you do it, how you recover from it, it's part of it. And I'm not a young buck anymore. I'm getting a little older and that last ten pounds really zaps me. People look back at my fights and they're like, 'Well, you didn't look tired.' And I'm like, 'I didn't feel amazing.'”
Add in a four-fight losing streak, the success of several fighters in a similar situation of moving up instead of moving down in weight, and the decision was easy for the 32-year-old.
“A lot of guys are moving up and having success,” said Bermudez, the most recent being Michael Chiesa, a former lightweight who debuted at welterweight last weekend with a win over Carlos Condit. “When I first started my career, I was at 155 and I was 7-0. I was a 155-pounder until I got into the UFC. And I've held my own with very high-level guys. When Michael Johnson was at 155, I'd go down to Blackzilians and spar with him and I'd be right there with him. I sparred with Eddie Alvarez, Gregor Gillespie, Al Iaquinta and it's very competitive. And those are the top guys of that weight class. You could look in from the outside at training and be like, 'I'm not really sure who won that one. That was close.'”
But after a 7-2 start to his pro career at lightweight, a chance to earn a UFC contract at featherweight through The Ultimate Fighter was too tempting to refuse, and he almost pulled off a win in the TUF 14 tournament before losing in the final to Diego Brandao.
Remaining at 145 pounds, Bermudez became a contender, winning nine of his next 11 bouts, a stretch that included victories over Max Holloway, Clay Guida and Tatsuya Kawajiri. But then came the four-fight losing streak in 2017-18, and while there was no explaining away a knockout defeat to Chan Sung Jung, the next three defeats to Darren Elkins, Andre Fili and Rick Glenn were all by split decision, meaning a fortunate break here or there and Bermudez could be 3-1 in his last four and not 0-4.
And if Bermudez had any doubts, he had some no-nonsense buddies to back up his thoughts about the fights.
“The crowd of people I hang out with are not trying to pat my back and make me feel good and that's why we're friends,” he laughs. “And they all tell me, 'You didn't really lose those last fights. It's not like you're in there getting your s**t pushed in and got dominated. You won those fights. Just somebody went, 'Ehhhh, this guy.'”
One dissenting judge goes the other way in each of those four fights, and that’s the difference between a long losing streak and some extra cash in his pocket and his current situation. That’s the fight game, though, and Bermudez knows it.
“There's nothing I can really do about it,” he said. “I thought about coming up with ways to score a fight and it would be very complicated and there would be room for error, so it's just like, get in there and just outwork your opponent. All you can do in this sport is just give it your all. There's not much more you can do than that. Just try hard. I'm on a four-fight losing streak right now, so I'm just gonna go in there and let it go.”
It’s the fighter’s life. In any other sport, if you or your team score more than the opponent, you win. That’s not always the case in this business. But Bermudez is still here and still plugging away. And his reason is simple. It’s for the youngest members of Team Menace.
“I don't want my kids to look back on their father's career and think that things got tough and I quit,” he said. “Adversity, I've had it my whole life and I just want to go out there and get the W.”