White Readies for UFC Debut
Have you ever had something in your life that you were so passionate about that it just absolutely consumed you? You pour your heart and soul into it. You obsess over it. You dream about it, breath it, even have your friends and loved ones tell you to stop talking about it so much?
One would think that a young man on a meteoric rise in MMA might feel this way about the sport, especially now that he has reached the big time and signed a contract to fight for the UFC.
Not Alex White.
When asked if there was a 145-pounder in the UFC that he had his sights set on, White looked at me and gave a shrug.
His coach, Joe Worden, could only laugh.
"He probably doesn't know anyone in his weight class," Worden said.
His statement proved true as Worden and I discussed the featherweight division, White had no input on the subject and just listened. I found this to be intriguing and went to some of his training partners for answers. "Yeah, MMA is not important to him outside of the gym or the cage".
That being said, don't think for a second that White doesn't take MMA seriously. Ask anyone that he trains with and they will be quick to tell you quite the opposite. He is a quick study, pushes himself to extreme limits, and according to one teammate, "hits like a truck."
I have had the opportunity to watch him roll, hit mitts, spar, I've even officiated events that he has participated in. I can attest to the fact that White is very serious about MMA. I've never gotten the feeling he was being lazy, that he was unprepared, or that he was taking his opponent lightly. He's the real deal and it shows in his training and in the cage.
White's first experience inside the cage was in 2009 in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, where he earned a TKO victory in the first round. In the five years since, White still has yet to experience defeat. Earning wins in all 15 of his amateur fights, White has proven as a pro that he is a winner by reeling off nine consecutive wins. His most recent victory coming via first round triangle choke over a very game Adam Rider at Rumble Time Promotions: Rumble at the Chase on January 18th.
White is very quiet and soft-spoken, to say the least. Some seem to take this as him being stuck-up or arrogant, but if you have ever had the opportunity to actually talk to him, you know that isn't the case. As has been talked about in most of the press on White, he was involved in an incident as a child that caused permanent damage to his vocal chords. I really don't feel the need to go very in depth on this because I don't think it defines Alex. Contrary to the rumors that he is wrapped up in himself, White is very kind and respectful and has an exceptional sense of humor. If you need proof of this, let's take a look back at that first fight in Ft. Leonard Wood. White had a side bet with his opponent that if he won by KO or TKO, he would have to buy him a double quarter pounder from McDonalds. In the cage Alex had his opponent's back and was about to sink in a choke when it dawned on him that he wouldn't get the burger he so desired. Alex let his opponent get back to his feet, where he proceeded to finish the fight later that same round by TKO. White no longer plays these games or makes bets on his own fights, but he still has the same child-like humor.
What sort of work does a blossoming MMA star do to pay the bills? From age 16 until about a year ago, White was under the employ of McDonald's. For the last year, thanks to his coach's wife, he is now a service representative for a medical supply company; the same company that employed yours truly for over five years. It's a solid gig and his direct supervisor tells me that White is a hard worker that he never has to worry about. Once again evidence of his hard-working nature.
Just as I begin to ask about his family, White looks over my shoulder and his face lights up. I turn to see a young lady carrying an adorable little girl. Next, I see this tough guy; this warrior, turn into a playful, carefree, and loving father/husband. Waving, tickling, and cooing at his little girl is quite a sight to see from a guy who makes part of his living by punching people in the face. White didn't see a lot of his father, a prison guard, growing up. His mother raised him along with two brothers and a sister all by herself. Working for the Baptist Home in Ironton, Mo., times were not always easy. White knows the trials of a rough upbringing and you can see in his eyes and body language that he will do everything in his power to make life as good as he can for his wife and daughter.
White acquired his love of combat and fighting from martial arts movies. When asked who his heroes were, he answers with "Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Tony Ja."
His athletic experiences in school were all in track and cross-country. Not really what most would consider a formula for a successful MMA fighter. White more or less just stumbled into mixed martial arts. Worden's gym was literally right next door to the McDonald's where White was employed. One day after work, he stopped in to check the place out and never looked back.
Fast forward five years and White has become a very successful local fighter and has now made the leap to the big show. The UFC.
This Saturday, White steps into the Octagon for the first fight of his four fight contract against Estevan Payan. Payan is on a two fight skid after a seven fight win streak that includes two wins under the Strikeforce banner. At 14-5-1, "El Terrible" is looking to get back in the win column. It appears White is the obstacle for Payan, the deciding factor if he gets another chance, or if he is sent packing after three consecutive losses. The Tempe, Azz native, fighting out of Arizona Combat Sports, has dropped a decision to Jeremy Stephens and suffered a third round TKO loss to Robbie Peralta, respectively, in his last two bouts. It is certain that Payan is going to be hungry for a win.
White will be making the journey to Orlando, Fl., this week with Worden, Eric Irvin and Shaine Moffitt. Moffitt and Irvin, who will be White's corner men, are two of White's primary training partners and fellow Destruction MMA pros. According to White, Irvin has been there for him from day one and is more or less his big brother in the sport. If you ask Worden, he light-heartedly claims to be White's hero and inspiration.
"And you can print that. Print it," Worden joked.
White typically doesn't get wrapped up in watching film or studying his opponent, he leaves that chore to Worden.
"We've been doing it that way all along, so why change it now?" White said. "I trust him."
When asked if this is how he pictured his UFC debut going, emotions are mixed.
"Of course I would have liked to have had a full camp, but I was already in shape because I was training for a boxing match," White said. "If the UFC calls and offers you a fight, you take it. I'm in shape and I'm ready".
White likes to consider himself a freestyle fighter, and likes to keep the fight standing as much as he can. This does not, by any means, imply that he is uncomfortable on the ground. This is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that more than half of his wins have come by way of submission. White thinks the biggest advantage he has over Payan is that he is the more well-rounded fighter. White and Worden both believe that they have the advantage in the clinch, better jiu jitsu, more advanced dirty boxing, and most importantly, the mental toughness to overcome anything thrown their way. Payan has expressed that he likes to stand and bang and tries to keep the fight off of the mat. Although he has KO and TKO victories under his belt, the largest percentage of his wins have come by way of decision. Both are very busy, exciting fighters that are known for outworking their opponent. Can the fans could ask for much more.
I've been around White a handful of times before a fight and have always been impressed by his composure. I've never looked at him before a fight and thought that he looked rattled or nervous. He's always stone face and even keel. So, when asked him if he gets nervous before a fight and he assured me that he certainly does.
"Of course I do," White said. "I keep thinking over and over what he can do to me. We are in there to fight and anything could happen. If you don't get nervous before a fight, you aren't taking your opponent seriously enough."
White knows that getting here has been hard, but staying here is going to be even harder. He has been training with a lot of the top camps in the state in preparation for his UFC debut. With help from Jason Smith and the guys at S2BJJ, SCMMA, Berger's, and his home team at Destruction MMA, White has gotten a look at a lot of different fighters. White believes that this is going to help him be prepared for anything.
"I just want to be prepared for whoever gets put in front of me," White said. "I want to work hard and do what I have to do to earn another contract."
A lot of fighters have superstitions and rituals. Some always wear the same shorts, some have a lucky trinket, one even always fights with a toothpick in his mouth. White is no different, but his quirk is pretty simple and much more delicious.
"A donut," he said. "I always eat a donut right before I fight. Usually from Dunkin' Donuts. I hope they have Dunkin Donuts in Orlando".
Maybe if the ritual pays off on the big stage of the UFC, maybe he will have a new sponsor on the back of his trunks for his next bout.
Tune in Saturday to FS1 for the preliminary bouts and to FOX for UFC: Verdum vs. Browne. Check your local listings for details.
Photo courtesy of Sara Levin Photography.