In part 2 of Bloody Elbow’s in-depth interview with UFC bantamweight Matthew Lopez, he recaps coming up short against Raphael Assuncao, competing in his home state of Arizona, and predicts the outcome of his upcoming bout with Alejandro Perez.
Welcome back for Bloody Elbow’s second installment of our two-part interview with four-time Arizona state wrestling champion, and UFC bantamweight, Matthew Lopez, who is slated to face Alejandro Perez at UFC on FOX 29 in Glendale, Arizona on April 14, 2018. In part one, Lopez spoke about the special bond between him and coach Trevor Wittman, and about how childhood friend Justin Gaethje is responsible for connecting those dots.
In the second installment, Lopez talks about suffering a loss at UFC Norfolk to Top-5 bantamweight Raphael Assuncao, and discusses what he could have done differently to get the win. Lopez also explains why he believes his UFC on FOX 29 opponent is actually a much tougher matchup for him than Assuncao, and then touches on the expected turnout for his return to his home state, where he won multiple wrestling titles. Our in-depth Q & A is concluded with Lopez’ take on teammate matchups Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier and Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
- Four years into your professional MMA career, you already found yourself sharing the Octagon with one of the winningest UFC bantamweights of all-time in Raphael Assuncao. The bout didn’t go your way, but looking back, do you feel like it was a bit too much too soon, or was it the sort of test you feel like you needed?
“It was a test I needed for sure. How I speak upon this fight and everything, is like he didn’t outclass me. He didn’t bombard me. He didn’t throw anything that was like crazy. I didn’t feel like when I left the cage that like I wasn’t on his level. I tell people, if I would have fought him a week later, and made the adjustments that I should have made during the fight, I would have beat him.”
“I should have been a lot more aggressive, as far as my takedown, and I feel like I should have put the pressure on him more, but he’s a season veteran like you said. He’s been at the top of this game for so long, minor mistakes against him will cost you dearly. So, I don’t feel like it was too fast. I feel like it was perfect timing because it didn’t hurt my ego, it didn’t hurt my pride, it almost gave me a boost knowing that 11 fights into my career I fought one of the best in the world, and I did fairly well against him.”
- Assuncao found success with the inside leg kicks, leaving a pretty mean welt. Did they hurt as bad as it looked, because it looked pretty bad?
“Not at all. When you see like Justin Gaethje, one of my teammates, Edson Barboza does it, when they kick the outside of your leg, that’s more debilitating because it’s your thigh muscle. that’s what contracts everything. When it’s on the inside, there’s really not a lot of muscle firing going on there. It’s not debilitating. It was like someone slapping you over and over and over in the same spot. It’s irritating more than debilitating. The next day and the following days did it hurt? Hell yeah, but during the fight it scored big time for him, but it didn’t affect the way I was fighting.”
- Now, at UFC on FOX 29, you’re going from Raphael Assuncao to Alejandro Perez. What do you have to do to mentally prepare yourself, knowing your facing someone who isn’t the same caliber as your previous opponent?
“I’ll be honest with you, I think this is a harder fight than Assuncao.”
“The reason being is that Alejandro Perez has that warrior mentality. That Mexican lion-heart mentality, where you basically have to kill him in there to put him away. Assuncao was a little bit more tactical. He’s a little bit more like, not a poi- yeah he’s a point fighter. He’s got a lot of decision wins and knows how to win a decision. This guy, this guy really fights. He’s going to come out there to try and knock my head off and take me out, and I know 100% he’s going to be there for the whole 15 minutes. So, I’m going to have to do something where I really put his lights out. Either I choke him out or I knock him out. That’s the only way to get him out of there. He’s not going to wilt, or wilt away, or quit, so I’m going into this with the mindset that he’s the toughest opponent I’ve had to face.”
- You were a four-time Arizona state wrestling champion, and are now returning to your old stomping grounds for UFC on FOX 29 in Glendale. Are you expecting a pretty big turnout?
“Me and Justin [Gaethje] grew up in the same town – Stafford, Arizona – and then I ended up moving to Tucson where I continued my wrestling career, and then I went to ASU in Tempe. So, I have three different areas of Arizona that I covered that I’ve made friends, lifetime friends with. I have family all over the place. Shits going to be nuts! All my friends and family are coming. Everyone is hitting me up for tickets and that whole spiel, but not only that, Justin has all our friends and everybody else that’s coming with him. So, between Justin and I, it’s just going to be fucking insane to be honest with you. I’m excited for this!”
- The UFC on FOX 29 main event will see Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier. Of course you’re picking Gaethje, but how exactly is it going to play out?
“Poirier is a tough cookie. I think he leaves himself open to some things. I think he over-extends himself on some stuff. Obviously I don’t think Justin will put him away real quick. i think it’s going to be late second round, early third round. People don’t understand the pressure and the punishment Justin puts on you, until you’re in front of him. You can watch it, but you don’t get the feeling. There’s like a feeling inside your gut where you’re like, fuck when is this round going to end. The minute Dustin Poirier says that in his head, it’s over.”
- Another one of your teammates, the UFC’s strawweight queen Rose Namajunas, is set to rematch Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223 on April 7, 2018. How is that one going to play out?
“So, she’s like The Hulk, but in a different sense. She’s like The Hulk when her mentality goes green, and she feels that she can win and has that confidence, I don’t think there’s a person on this planet that can beat her. Coming off the win she just came off of, and the way she did it, she’s pure Hulk mode now. She’s pure green. She’s pure like big scary animal person. With that mentality, I see that playing out a lot of the same way it played out the first fight.”
Watch Matthew Lopez lock horns with Alejandro Perez at UFC on FOX 29 on April 14, 2018. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for all of your UFC event coverage including interviews, play-by-play, highlights, and more!