Losing wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Anthony Hernandez. The first blemish on his professional record actually served as a wakeup call for the middleweight prospect.
Hernandez felt the sting of defeat previously as an amateur, but after turning pro in 2014, he saw a quick rise. He strung together five-straight wins while fighting in his home state of California.
In his first bout under the Legacy Fighting Alliance banner, he captured the vacant middleweight title with a unanimous decision victory over another highly regarded prospect, Brendan Allen. Winning the belt landed Hernandez a spot on Dana White’s Contender Series, a chance he converted into a UFC contract with a first-round knockout win (later overturned to a no-contest after Hernandez tested positive for marijuana).
The train came to a screeching halt in his UFC debut, however.
At UFC Fortaleza earlier this year, Hernandez was submitted in the second round of his back-and-forth fight against Markus Perez. “Fluffy” was hurt by a body kick at the start of the second round, and Perez smothered him, quickly locking up an anaconda choke to force the tap.
Hernandez told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock that he entered the fight with an injury, but he’s not trying to make excuses for his disappointing debut.
“Either way, if you get hit in the liver, it f**king sucks,” he said.
The loss humbled Hernandez, who was riding high going into the fight.
“Sometimes you gotta fail just so you can be successful, and I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Hernandez said. “And to be honest, I needed to change a lot of s**t in my life so that I could get better … Losing, it just made me hungry as f**k again.”
Anthony Hernandez changes things up
With his flame burning hotter than before, Hernandez realized that he needed to alter his approach to training.
“When you go undefeated and s**t, sometimes you f**king get lazy and you stop doing certain things that you used to do,” he said. “[Losing] really opened my eyes and made me evolve my game, to be honest.”
Hernandez owns a gym called Square One MMA in Woodland, California, but he has kept his options open in regards to training locations. He spent time in Las Vegas on a gym tour of sorts, hitting spots such as Zangief Jiu Jitsu, the UFC Performance Institute, 10th Planet Downtown Las Vegas and Xtreme Couture MMA.
Hernandez has also varied his methods in camp. For the first time in his career, he has undergone “Navy Seal-like training” leading up to his return to the Octagon at UFC Shenzhen.
Rather than filling his schedule with nonstop, all-out gym battles, Hernandez is mixing low-impact workouts such as swimming into his routine, a change he has already seen the benefits of.
“Honestly, I feel f**king amazing,” Hernandez said. “My weight’s amazing right now. I’m a lot more shredded than I’ve ever been, and my cardio is f**king fantastic.”
His new approach is by no means easier — Hernandez admits he had no idea how physically taxing swimming was until he started doing it in training — but it has allowed him to avoid the bumps and bruises he previously accumulated before his fights.
“I’m going into this fight pretty much not as banged up as I usually am,” he said. “That just makes it so I can do a lot more of my s**t that I really like to do.”
Anthony Hernandez on his first trip to China
Hernandez’s fight on August 31 will be his second-straight bout outside of the United States. It will be his first time in China though, something he didn’t quite expect so soon in his professional career.
“I knew that one day I’d travel the world to fight the best out there, but, I mean, no, I didn’t think anytime soon I’d be f**king going to China,” Hernandez said. “I’m actually looking forward to it.”
It’s a bittersweet trip for Hernandez. He grew to love Chinese martial arts because of his father’s interest in them. His father, who died in March of 2018 from a lung disease, used to share his passion with his son through films.
Now, Hernandez’s career is giving him the opportunity to explore a place he never thought he’d see.
“It’s really a blessing,” he said. “I get to do what I love and I get to travel the world, see new things that I never thought I would see in like a million years”
Hernandez is focused on handling business against UFC newcomer Jun Yong Park at UFC Shenzhen, but he also wants to make the most of this trip, something he was unable to do when he fought in Brazil in February. He’ll be bringing his support system along with him for this fight, and he plans on making the experience worthwhile for everyone.
“I’m a family man. Everything I do is for my family,” Hernandez said. “The reason I fight is for them. so I can try to give them a better future, you know? So having them there is just more fire just to go get that s**t.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.