Take a glance at the UFC’s official lightweight rankings and you’ll notice it houses several of the promotion’s marquee names. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson sit at the very top with the likes of former champions Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis, as well as inactive stars Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, among those a little further down the list.
Sitting outside of the top-10 are the next tier of would-be contenders, including a fighter who has only one UFC fight on his resume: Alexander Hernandez.
The 25-year-old kicked the door down in one of the UFC’s most loaded divisions this past March at UFC 222 with a 42-second knockout victory over Beneil Dariush. Hernandez (9-1) took the fight on just eight days’ notice and with the win, also took Dariush’s spot in the rankings.
Just like that, Hernandez became a marked man and the pressure will be on him to prove he belongs in the top-15 when he takes on Olivier Aubin-Mercier, an opponent with a 7-2 Octagon record, on the main card of UFC on FOX 30 this Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My entire life, and even in my other professional business, I’ve always kind of stepped in the shoes that I thought at the time maybe I wasn’t ready to fill or it was premature or maybe I even bulls**t my way to that promotion, it’s like, ‘Oh f**k, we’re here now. Better sink or swim, and I’ll be damned if I sink,’ Hernandez told MMA Fighting. “I step into these roles and positions that seem overpowering for someone of my predetermined stature, you know whether he’s too young or he doesn’t have experience or ‘who the f**k is this guy coming out of LFA into a ranked opponent on eight days’ notice?’
“Whatever it may be, I’ve prepped myself to step into these roles, step beyond my scope of what people might label as what I’m set for and fill these bigger roles and bigger shoes. I’ve always been able to step up to the challenge and this is no different. Now I’m in this role, now I’m in this ranking system, this is who I f**king am. And I won’t be disrespected like I’m anything less. And I’m going to play this role and I’m going to continue to improve and I’m going to continue to crescendo to the top.”
It’s not as if Hernandez has any other choice. Pushed by his coaches at Ohana Academy, the San Antonio resident made the decision a couple of years ago to go all in on his MMA career after trying to juggle fighting on the side with his career as a mortgage loan officer. It began with a step up in competition at a Resurrection Fighting Alliance (now Legacy Fighting Alliance) show back in July 2016, where Hernandez defeated Chris Pecero by rear-naked choke submission in just 87 seconds.
His full-time job and injuries kept him inactive until November of the following year, but he picked up right where he left off with a third-round TKO of Derrick Adkins at Legacy Fighting Alliance 27. Four months later the call came for Hernandez to replace an injured Bobby Green against Darisuh and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s beautiful,” said Hernandez. “I felt like the call was incredibly serendipitous the way it worked out with having this quarter-life crisis where I had to s**t or get off the pot. I’ve got a finite window to chase this dream and I’m splitting part of my team with this mortgage business — that I got into just because of injuries and I needed to get a real job, use my degree, I felt like a bum not doing so — I was training, really training as much as these other guys do, while holding that job. So I was like, I need to commit myself fully to this, especially I’m recovering better, just really embodying the lifestyle.
“I quit my job two months later, we get this call, in preparation for another fight, that goes as perfectly as you can write. And then we were able to line up another top-ranked opponent on a great timeline, so everything is building to this crescendo just the way it needs to. I do expect more exposure from the UFC after this victory though.”
Asked if he felt any extra pressure considering he’s facing Quebec’s Aubin-Mercier on Canadian soil, Hernandez scoffed at the notion of calling the country “enemy territory”. He recently spent time in Vancouver, British Columbia, working with EA Sports on the UFC video game and was charmed by the kindness and diversity of the people he met there.
Hernandez thinks his style will fit right in when he travels to “Cowtown”.
“I’m looking forward to going to Canada, we’re neighbors,” said Hernandez. “It’s an easy flight, it’s an easy trip, I don’t have to worry about any altitude adjustments and I’d love to break into the Canadian market.
“I think it’s time to jump into those other markets, build a fan pool, get to know these people, let them get to know me, and I’m stoked about going into Canada. … I plan on stepping into Canada and being more Canadian than (Aubin-Mercier) is by the time I leave.”