Fighting in an empty arena won’t be anything new to Jussier Formiga, who was part of the UFC’s event held behind closed doors in Brasilia, Brazil, back in March, but UFC 250 will bring a unique feeling for the veteran.
Unlike his 30 previous MMA bouts, the experienced 125-pounder will be facing a friend when he enters the octagon on Saturday night to trade hands with flyweight prospect Alex Perez.
Formiga made a name for himself as one of the best flyweights in the world under the Shooto and Tachi Palace Fights banners before the UFC finally opened the weight class, and ended up crossing paths with a young talent on one of his trips to California for a Tachi PF show.
A decade later, Formiga and Perez will collide inside the octagon.
“I met Alex in 2010 and he ended up becoming a personal friend,” Formiga told MMA Fighting. “We always spoke, even though we never fought on the same card, but we knew we could end up fighting each other one day. I think we’re professionals and have to leave that aside for a bit to fight Saturday. No matter who wins, friendship continues.”
The American Top Team flyweight has faced fellow Brazilians under the bright lights of the UFC in the past, like Wilson Reis and Deiveson Figueiredo, but no one was as close to him as Perez.
“Fighting a guy you’ve known for a very long time and has a friendship, someone that cares about you, was a bit confusing at first,” Formiga said, “but since he agreed to the fight, I had to agree as well. We’ll separate things on Saturday and fight hard.”
Formiga wasn’t “reluctant” to take the fight, he said, only because Perez had already agreed to it. Formiga admits there’s a chance he would have said “no” to fighting his friend if the company had offered him first.
“Maybe not, maybe not, but since he had already agreed, I had to agree, too,” he said with a laugh. “I’m an employee and we’re here to work. If he thinks he has what it takes to fight me and win, I think I can, too. We both have our game plans, may the best man win. After the fight we can chat, I’ll give him a hug.”
Perez is a “great kid that trains wrestling since he was 9 and I knew he would bet in the UFC one day,” said Formiga, who saw great potential in him when they met the first time a decade ago in California. This time, however, the Brazilian will try to put a stop in his rise.
Formiga looks to snap a two-fight losing skid to Joseph Benavidez and Brandon Moreno, while Perez aims to go 3-0 after wins over Mark De La Rosa and Jordan Espinosa.
“He’s making some noise in the division, has only lost to (Joseph) Benavidez (in the UFC), and has beaten a lot of tough athletes,” Formiga said, “but when you’re in the top 10 there’s not much you can do and choose. We’re going after the same goal here.
“We can’t underestimate anyone. He’s a good wrestling, but we’re not going to have a wrestling match. We’re going to fight MMA. He has good wresting and I have good jiu-jitsu. It’s going to be his striking against mine, his wrestling against mine, and his jiu-jitsu against mine. We’ll see who mixes it up better in this chess match.”