Growing up, Manny Bermudez would pass by TD Garden and dream of what was going on inside. Now, he’s about to take the center stage.
The Boston-born fighter returns to Massachusetts for the first time since signing with the UFC in the beginning of 2018. Nine of his first 11 professional bouts took place in his home state, but for the 25-year-old fighter, this is a major step up.
“I used to drive by the TD Garden as a kid,” Bermudez told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “I used to see all the stuff that was going on in there, and I always thought it was just a place for the Bruins and the Celtics to go play. I never thought that, you know, there’d be MMA fighting. Because when I was growing up, it wasn’t even sanctioned in Massachusetts. And then, you know, now they’re sanctioned and now I’m fighting there too. So it’s crazy.”
The homecoming is a chance for Bermudez to live out his dream. He gets to perform on a big stage in Boston.
But it’s not exactly the homecoming most fighters get.
Bermudez’s opponent, Charles Rosa, was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, and after a two-and-a-half-year layoff, he’s sure to draw the support of many in attendance.
“I’m a little bit bummed out because I always go fight everywhere else and then I’m always the out of town guy,” Bermudez said. “And then this one I’m finally like in my hometown, and I’m still not the hometown guy really.”
And while it might hurt to hear some boos from Rosa’s fans on the walk to the Octagon, Bermudez expects the two of them to draw cheers by the end of their bout.
“It’s going to be a great performance because me and him are both in the same spot,” Bermudez said. “It’s a huge opportunity to be able to be in front of your friends, in front of your family, you know. I’ve had the opportunity locally but never at the TD Garden. I’ve never been able to be in the UFC in front of all my friends and family and just go out there and have fun and fight.”
Manny Bermudez on bouncing back
The homecoming comes at a great time for Bermudez. After setting the world on fire as a professional with his slick submissions, he met his match in August. Bermudez suffered his first professional defeat at UFC 241 when all three judges declared Casey Kenney the winner of their 140-pound catchweight bout.
The first blemish served as a wakeup call for the young fighter.
“You think you’d be undefeated forever,” Bermudez said. “When you wake up every morning, you expect to never have a bad day.”
UFC 241 was more than just one bad day for Bermudez. He has a notoriously difficult weight cut to get his 5-foot-10 frame down to the 136-pound non-championship bantamweight limit, and the UFC took note of this. With the approval of the California State Athletic Commission, the promotion adjusted the bout to a 140-pound catchweight fight prior to weigh-ins.
This decision drew mixed reactions, but many took issue with the fact that Bermudez, the much bigger fighter, was seemingly gaining an advantage over his opponent Kenney, who has competed at 125 in the past.
“You get stuff sent to you and you see all this stuff and I know what the reaction was and that and how people took it,” Bermudez said. “I just read it and I just like keep going on with my life. So I read it and I didn’t really think too much of it, but I did see that some people going kinda nuts about it.”
The fight forced Bermudez to re-evaluate his approach.
“Weight cutting’s one of those tricky things where you have to balance the line of, you want the advantage of being bigger, but like, are you going to deplete yourself?” Bermudez said. “Are you going to kill yourself just trying to make that weight?”
Bermudez had a major advantage over his bantamweight opponents, but his inability to consistently make the weight put his job security in jeopardy. And while he’s not ruling out an eventual return to bantamweight, the 25-year-old is focusing on adapting to a new weight class for the time being.
“I’m still, you know, in tune with the other 45ers. I’m still a good size 45er,” Bermudez said. “I think I was just a huge 35er, so now I’m just going to focus on the other things, focus on my fighting skills, focus on my speed, focus on, you know, just how well I’m going to feel in there knowing I don’t have to cut so much weight.”
Bermudez’s fight at UFC Boston was expected to be his featherweight debut in the UFC, but it will be his third-straight catchweight fight instead. Bermudez came in two pounds over the 146-pound limit, showing that his weight-cutting difficulties are not behind him.
Rosa chose to accept the bout and collect 20 percent of Bermudez’s purse, and the fight will go on as scheduled on Oct. 18.
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.