Dominick Reyes: ‘Worst performance’ vs. Volkan Oezdemir was also most important

LOS ANGELES – Dominick Reyes’ mixed martial arts career has come along almost too easy.

The Victorville, Calif., native is 12-0 with nine first-round finishes, most recently a stoppage of former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Reyes heads into his UFC 247 main event against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones with a resume that shows he’s nearly untouchable.

Except for one fight.

Last March at UFC London, Reyes took on former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in what was his biggest test to date. It was one he nearly failed.

“That was my worst performance of my career,” Reyes said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

Reyes barely eked out a split decision in that fight, a nod that many felt should have gone Oezdemir’s way. But the same no-B.S. nature that enabled Reyes to own up to his performance also gives him the clear head needed to learn from the fight.

As far as Reyes is concerned, the near-disaster against Oezdemir is the best thing that could have happened to him.

Reyes suffered a broken nose in the opening round of the fight and discovered he had the mettle to fight through adversity. And that made the bout more important to his growth than any quick blitz of an overmatched foe could do for him.

“I learned that I can fight through adversity,” Reyes told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at a recent media event promoting his fight with Jones. “I mean, he broke my nose in the first round in four different places with one punch. I was inhaling blood the whole fight. So my cardio went, but my heart didn’t. I have heart. I’m going to fight, man. I learned a lot about myself in terms of my toughness. I had gone pretty much my entire career up to that point without being hit. It’s pretty crazy.”

MMA history is littered with fighters who got off to flying starts then never lived up to their early promise after their first stumble. So for Reyes, his performance in those circumstances was a much-needed rite of passage.

“I made it to the UFC, and I was fighting Volkan Oezdemir, and I hadn’t really been hit up to that point. I always had a question in the back of my mind like, ‘Can I take a punch? I don’t know if I can take a punch,’” Reyes said. “And that fight answered the questions. I can definitely take a punch. And that made me like, ‘All right, I’m going to be champion.’”

Reyes knows for sure he’s going to get hit when he fights Jones. And should he pull the upset and defeat an all-time great, Reyes will view the Oezdemir fight as an important marker along the way.

“In order to be a champion, you have to take a punch, You’re not going to get in a championship fight and not get hit,” Reyes said. “So, that made me realize, yeah, I can be champion. I have the skills, I have the speed, I have the movement, I have the IQ, I enjoy it, I love it, but can I take a punch? I definitely can take a punch, and I’m ready to take this championship.”

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