Mixed martial artist and Stony Brook University alumnus Dominick Reyes is set to fight current champion Jon Jones for the UFC’s Light Heavyweight title belt on Feb. 8. Barring a fight-week disaster, the two will do their best to knock each other senseless for 25 minutes—or until somebody taps or gets knocked out, whichever comes first.
While Reyes (12-0), nicknamed “The Devastator” for his powerful leg kicks, has rocketed his way into title contention with win after win in his meteoric five-year fighting career, he’s still rated as a massive underdog for the bout against Jones (25-1, 1 NC), who is widely believed to be one of the greatest in the history of the sport. Most men would quake at the thought of stepping into the octagon against an opponent with such a dominant record against so many legends of human combat.
Dom Reyes is not most men.
“I’m not really focusing on him very much, to be 100 percent honest,” Reyes said. “I don’t really give a s*** about Jon Jones. This fight for me is about Dominick Reyes being the champion by coronation. His decade’s over, man. Why not me? Why not now?”
That Reyes stands at the gates of destiny after all the obstacles he’s faced is reason enough for the 30-year-old desert dweller to have a swagger in his step.
The Hesperia, CA, native grew up poor, and remembered being stuffed into the back of the family car with his three brothers. Competition was a way of life for the Reyes boys, whose parents pushed them into sports in the hopes it would help them avoid a life of gangs and crime.
Reyes gravitated towards baseball, wrestling and football, and eventually scrapped his way into Stony Brook University as a defensive back for the school’s Division I football team.
Reyes was a standout on the Seawolves, anchoring the team’s defense for four years with his stellar play, most notably a game-saving end zone pick against the rival University of Albany during the 2011 FCS Playoffs. He was eventually named captain in his senior year, which he still regards as one of his proudest achievements.
“Being a captain was amazing,” Reyes said. “I really learned how to see things from everybody’s eyes. Thirty of the guys are coming out to my fight in Houston. I got all my family and friends, and then I got my other family. It means a lot to me.”
While Reyes was busy making plays on the field, he remained just as focused on his academics during his time at the school. Majoring in information systems—one of the school’s most competitive programs—meant he had to stay on top of his coursework. The balancing act he performed every day seems daunting even now.
“It was so hard, man,” Reyes said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, going from practice to class to study hall and finishing those freakin’ projects. It was actually easier transitioning to MMA.”
The whole time he was in school, Reyes was shooting for the chance to make it in the NFL. Though his perspective on his football career changed later on, going undrafted after graduation was devastating at first.
“It was terrible, I was extremely depressed,” Reyes said. “I felt like I was like nothing. I felt like I let everybody down, like I wasted a lot of time in my life.”
Reyes was introduced to combat sports when his older brother Alex started competing in mixed martial arts while he was still in high school. Lost after his NFL prospects fizzled out, he figured he’d follow his brother and have a go at beating people up for a living.
A little more than five years after his first professional fight, that seems like a good decision, one he credits to Providence itself.
“God didn’t want me to be in the NFL,” Reyes said. “That wasn’t my path. My path is now. This platform is so much bigger, because now the focus is just on me and whatever message I have is going to get across. And that message is God is good.”
Reyes got his title shot after dispatching Long Island UFC legend Chris Weidman with a vicious series of punches in a first-round knockout victory last October. Weidman became the UFC’s middleweight champion shortly after Reyes graduated from SBU, and wound up being a role model for the young fighter as his own career got going.
“I look up to Chris, before he went to 205 I was actually trying to go back to Long Island and train with him” Reyes said. “I feel like he’s one of the guys that did it right. I did want to knock him out, because that’s the game, but I did it with a heavy heart.”
When asked about what his team has been working on for the fight against Jones, Reyes kept it simple.
“I’m working on putting hands on him,” he said. “I’m working on f***ing this guy up.”
The main event for UFC 247 is scheduled to air on ESPN pay-per-view on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. Reyes and Jones are the fifth fight on the main card.