Alex Perez on UFC main event knockout: ‘My friends always call me pillow hands, so now they can’t’

Alex Perez is back, except according to him, he never left.

Saturday evening, Perez knocked out Matheus Nicolau in the main event of UFC Vegas 91. It was arguably the best performance of Perez’s career, and it came at the perfect time as the Team Oyama fighter had lost three in a row heading into the fight. And for Perez, this was just proof of what he’s been saying all along: He never fell off.

“It just shows I’m still here,” Perez said at the post-fight press conference. “I never went anywhere. I think the division kind of did. Obviously coming off all those fights being cancelled and my last three fights not going the way I wanted them to, but thank God for my team and my friends and family for pushing me in the right direction. I showed the division that I’m back in it.”

Perez challenged for the UFC title back in 2020, but was quickly submitted by champion Deiveson Figueiredo. That set off his three-fight losing skid over the next few years, but perhaps even worse, it started a tremendously unlucky run for Perez in making it into the cage. After that loss, Perez had nine separate fights fall apart for a variety of reasons, and of course when he managed to make it to the cage, he ended up losing. But while most fighters might lose confidence during such a trying time, Perez credits his team for making sure he never lost focus.

“Honestly, I had to change a lot of mental things,” Perez said. “Don’t get me wrong, when the fights started canceling and stuff like that, I felt like, ‘Damn, what’s going on?’ I felt sad and stuff, but at the end of the day, like I tell people, just because something is going bad in your life doesn’t mean life stops. I have a son, I have my bills to pay. I have to keep grinding.

“My boy … was like, ‘Stuff those feelings way deep down until it’s time to come out.’ [Laughs.] I just kind of kept moving forward and listened to my team. … All these guys that stuck with me by my side and told me, ‘Hey, you’re one of the best in the world.’ I spar with these guys nonstop, I train with these guys, and I can hang with these guys. … Confidence, I still had it. It was just showing the world that I still had it and I think I did that tonight.”

The win certainly did that and put him back into the thick of things in the title hunt. Currently ranked No. 8 in the UFC flyweight rankings, Perez will move up after beating the No. 5-ranked Nicolau, meaning one or two wins could get him another shot at gold. But perhaps even most importantly, it may have earned Perez a little credit with his friends back home.

“All my friends always call me ‘Pillow Hands,’ so now they can’t call me that anymore,” Perez said with a laugh. “My buddy … was calling me ‘A.S.P. — Alex Sleeping Pill Perez.’ Not because I was putting people to sleep, but because I was putting him to sleep every time he would commentate my fights, because I was taking people down. So it just shows I am evolving. … It showed off tonight and we’re going to keep working and go from there.”

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