Jorge Lopez will carry a 10-fight winning streak into his UFC debut. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
The biggest news of Jorge Lopez’s career to date came via text from a legend.
About a week after a vicious barrage of leg kicks and body shots from Lopez convinced David Marshall to stay on his stool before the third round of their bout at Tachi Palace Fights 10, the 22-year-old welterweight’s phone buzzed with a message from Wanderlei Silva. The news: the Ultimate Fighting Championship was offering a spot to Lopez at UFC Fight Night 25 in New Orleans. The resounding response: hell, yes.
When the contract to fight “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 alum Justin Edwards this Saturday at a show headlined by a Jake Shields-Jake Ellenberger main event became official, it made Lopez the first member of Wanderlei’s fledgling Las Vegas-based team to sign with the sport’s most recognizable promotion. The Brazilian great took to Twitter to spread the word of Lopez’s impending arrival in the UFC, proclaiming the fighter known as “Lil’ Monster” to be “my future champion.”
While it is undeniably heady stuff to carry the burden of expectations for an entire gym, especially one owned by such an iconic figure, Lopez is not exactly overwhelmed at the thought. Real pressure is supporting a 2-month-old baby boy and the mother of his child on the biggest mixed martial arts stage in the world. Falter in that arena and a four-fight deal can easily transform to one in just minutes.
“The pressure doesn’t necessarily come because I’m representing Wanderlei Silva’s gym,” Lopez tells Sherdog.com. “The pressure comes from not letting my son down and not letting my family down.”
It is fitting that he references family, because the Lopez clan always makes sure to take care of its own. The man “The Axe Murderer” has dubbed a future champion would not be where he is today without them. Lopez was born in Mexico City, but his parents, Daniel and Guadalupe, packed up and left for the United States 18 months later in pursuit of a better life. With little recollection of his birthplace, the Tachi Palace Fights veteran claims the U.S. as his home.
“I don’t blame them [for leaving],” Lopez says. “I see the s--- going on back there and am in no hurry to ever go back.”
Lopez had athletic inclinations early, taking to football at age 7 and continuing on that path through college. It was his mom, however, that laid the foundation for his fighting career by convincing her son to try out for the wrestling team in junior high school.
“He used to say, ‘No way. I’ll never do that. That’s for girls,’” recalls Grissel Martinez, his older sister. “He ended up wrestling and took state twice. He’s so grateful to my mom now.”
That began something of a domino effect, as Lopez was referred to a jiu-jitsu dojo by one of his high school wrestling teammates and immediately fell in love with the ground game. Much of his early exposure to mixed martial arts came from watching the likes of Wanderlei compete in Pride Fighting Championships during the organization’s heyday.
It was Lopez’s father who allowed his son to take his dreams a step further. Now the owner of a used car lot in Utah, Daniel was once a competitive body builder who always encouraged his son to raise the bar in any of his athletic ventures. “It wasn’t always sanctioned, but he used to love fighting also,” Lopez explains. “He’s always pushed me to be an athlete. He’s always believed in my ability and pushed me to be the best that I could be.”
When an opportunity arose for Lopez to train with the acclaimed Chute Boxe team in Brazil, Daniel urged his son to take it. If he was going to pursue fighting, then he would do it at 100 percent. It was there, at age 14, that Lopez trained three to four times a day and met many of the guys he had only previously seen on videos: stars like Wanderlei, Anderson Silva, Mauricio Rua and Murilo Rua. Though he is now Wanderlei’s top pupil, Lopez admits that he initially formed a stronger bond with the current UFC middleweight champion during his stay in Brazil.
“At that time, me and Wanderlei weren’t really close just because he was the best fighter in the world. That’s when he was in his prime and fighting in Pride. He had no time to really hang out and teach me anything,” Lopez says. “Anderson Silva was probably one of the first people I talked to the most, and we hung out the most. Me and my dad, we’d go to dinner with Anderson and we’d talk. He was such a laid-back dude. At that time, Anderson still hadn’t got his name out there to where it is now. I think that’s why I hung out a little bit more with him and he looked after me a little bit more.”
After what could only be described as six months of life-changing epiphany, Lopez returned home and continued to devote the majority of his energy to football and wrestling, all while still dabbling in MMA. A year or so into his football career at Snow College, a junior college program in Ephraim, Utah, he decided to devote his full attention to fighting. The decision came as a surprise to his sister, who owned a business and was helping pay his way through school.
“I wasn’t disappointed, but I was, like, ‘OK, are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” Martinez says. “Just like my dad, I supported him and we went with it.”
Finish Reading » The Axe Murderer’s Apprentice: Family Ties