Erick Gonzalez has an opportunity that’s hard to come by in MMA.
“The Ghost Pepper” fights tonight for the inaugural Combate Americas lightweight title in Mexicali, Mexico. Gonzalez takes on undefeated Rafa Garcia in the main event.
The chance to become a first-ever champ doesn’t come often. For starters, not a ton of new MMA promotions pop up on a regular basis. Even then, earning a title shot isn’t an easy thing to do. Gonzalez understands that very well.
“I think it’s an honor and I’m very humble and I look forward to it, because this is history right here,” Gonzalez, 27, told MMA Fighting. “Whatever happens September 20th it’s going to be written in the history books. It’s going to be something they’re going to look back at years from now.
“If I take the lightweight title, never get beaten, and I leave Combate with the title, that’s going to be written in history like, ‘Hey, do you guys remember the first lightweight champion?’ It’s going going to be one of those commentator moments like the first Combate lightweight champ Erick Gonzalez and I think that’s a big thing.
“I’m very happy and fortunate to have this opportunity that I created and made happen, because they don’t come often, and it’s not like they just hand out belts. There’s so many blessings coming with Combate, so I look forward to walking away to the belt.”
Despite the big moment ahead, Gonzalez isn’t letting the pressure get to him ahead of the pivotal bout.
“It actually doesn’t feel different right now,” Gonzalez explained. “t’s just the label: the first inaugural lightweight title fight. But I don’t feel any stress or pressure that I have to do this or that, so everything as far as camp-wise is the same. The only thing is that we added is more grappling and more classes, but I’m not pressured at all. I just see it as another thing to do that I have to cross off my list – and I get to take home the belt.”
To take home the Combate Americas’ strap, Gonzalez will have to get past the undefeated Garcia, who has four finishes by submission in six fights with the promotion. Gonzalez is aware of the dangers Garcia poses, and he’s ready to take them head on.
“I spent a whole week staying at home watching it with friends and with my coach, just watching tape and seeing what he likes to do (and) what he likes not to do,” Gonzalez said. “His last fight is the only one I’ve seen him actually have hands, so I know that he’s been working on his hands, and I’m looking forward to have a little way with him and engage with him. But I’m expecting a grappling fight, because that’s what he goes for. He’s a finisher with his submissions, and I’m ready for him. He’s going to be quite surprised if we go to the floor of how good I actually am.
“I don’t think he’s fought a pressure fighter like myself. I think a lot of the guys he’s fought were actually scared to engage with him and I think they don’t know how to cover ground like they should. They try to make it a striking fight, and Rafa is not a striker; he doesn't like to go for the strikes. I know he’s got some knockouts, but most of his wins are by submission and I know that he doesn’t go crazy distances. The (decision) he did have, he was a little tired.
“But as far as style wise, I don’t think he’s going to be able to deal with my style. I’m big, I switch stances a lot, (and) my cardio is insane. So I don’t think he’s going to be able to keep up with that and the pressure I’m going to put on him.”
Tonight, Gonzalez will have friends and family from both the U.S. and Mexico watching as he fights for one of his dreams. After a 6-2 run in three years with Combate Americas, tonight is the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“I’m finally getting the opportunity to fight for the title, and everyone wants to fight for the title,” he said. “That’s what everyone aims for, strives for. We want to be the best, we want to be known as the best.
“Although it took forever, it’s well worth it, because they have crazy marketing, crazy PR going on, and as a guy that’s full Mexican, first generation-born in the U.S. I’m living that American dream from a Latino point of view, so it’s amazing.”