Dominick Reyes’ tribute to Kobe Bryant: ‘A huge part of why I’m here today’

LOS ANGELES – Like most sports fans born and raised in Southern California, Dominick Reyes considered the sudden, shocking death of former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant like losing a member of his own family.

Reyes (12-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC), during a media day Thursday promoting his upcoming UFC 247 main event against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, got emotional as he recalled finding out about the helicopter accident that claimed the life of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people Sunday morning.

Sunday is Reyes’ rest day, anyway, but after hearing the news of the five-time NBA champion’s passing, he could barely get himself out of bed.

“I pretty much stayed in bed most of the day,” Reyes told reporters, including MMA Junkie. “I didn’t really get up much. I had to eat. I called my friends, called my family, talked to people about it. I needed to talk to someone about it. It was really like almost losing a family member. I don’t know, man. It sucks. It (expletive) sucks.”

Reyes, who was raised and still lives in the high desert town of Victorville about 85 miles outside of L.A., had to stop himself more than once to gather his composure as he explained what Bryant meant to him.

The top light heavyweight contender is undefeated as he prepares to take on a daunting challenge stepping into the cage with an all-time great in Jones (25-1 MMA, 19-1 UFC). As an athlete going after his sport’s highest honor, Reyes can relate to Bryant’s winning mentality in a way that an ordinary fan might not quite be able to understand.

Even moreso, perhaps, because Reyes has no one but himself to account for in an individual endeavor as personal as fighting.

“I’ve never looked up to any other athlete but Kobe Bryant,” Reyes said. “Kobe’s mentality of ‘nobody is gonna believe in you but you,’ I’ve used that throughout my life. I made it to my university; I’m here on that philosophy. Nobody is gonna believe in you but you. Nobody is gonna work for you. Work when the lights are off, work when nobody is looking. That’s what matters. That’s what makes you a champion. Winning is everything. Oh, man. All of that is a huge part of why I’m here today.”

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If it was up to Reyes – who noted that, as a kid, he couldn’t afford to attend Lakers games, but he and his brothers rarely missed one on TV – he’d wear a Bryant jersey throughout UFC 247 fight week in Houston. That might be a no-go, since the UFC has a deal with Reebok, and Nike sponsored the basketball superstar. Still, Reyes hopes to dedicate fight week to him.

“I’d like to wear his jersey throughout the week, but I don’t know if Reebok would be very excited about that,” Reyes said. “We’ll see. But definitely, (if I) win this belt, it’ll definitely be on my heart and on my mind.”

UFC 247 takes place Feb. 8 at Toyota Center. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.