Unbeaten bantamweight prospect Matthew Lopez has been a professional mixed martial arts fighter for just over three years, but the Reign MMA product has packed plenty of action into a short amount of time. Lopez boasts seven finishes among his eight professional victories -- all seven have come before the 4:05 mark of the first round -- and he seems content with the trajectory of his rise through the 135-pound ranks.
“I think things have been just how I mapped it out,” Lopez told Sherdog.com. “Things have gone just like I hoped they’d have gone. At this point, I realize just how far I’ve come since I started this, and I know I can compete at the level of the UFC or a Bellator. I’m not a wrestler who will just take you down and lay on you, and I’ve shown that.”
Like many mixed martial artists, Lopez came to MMA with a wrestling background.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old,” he said. “I wrestled in college and was a four-time state champion [in high school] in Arizona. I wrestled at Cal-State Fullerton and met [UFC veteran] Mark Munoz. After I graduated from college, my future was up in the air and I moved back home. I worked for a few months and started helping coach kids wrestling at [Munoz’s] gym. Some MMA guys were asking me for wrestling pointers and I saw them going through training in the gym, and I thought I’d give it a shot. I went from being a sparring partner to doing it full-time.”
Lopez made his pro debut in May 2013 and scored a TKO victory over Imani Jackson at a King of the Cage event. After three wins in King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge, the Fullerton, California, native signed with the Resurrection Fighting Alliance promotion. He took just 95 seconds to knock out John Robles in his first RFA appearance in December 2014 and soon became an organizational mainstay, racking up five wins under its banner. In his most recent outing, Lopez -- who has three knockouts and four submissions to his credit -- delivered a first-round stoppage against Eli Finn at RFA 37 in April. Lopez secured top position, broke Finn’s nose with an elbow and then used right hands to force him to tap out.
“My mentality is the strongest part of my game,” Lopez said. “I honestly don’t believe that there’s another fighter in the game with the same mental prowess that wants to be in there like I do. I don’t think a lot of fighters actually enjoy the fight. They don’t like getting bloodied and punched in the face. They may do well on a lower level, but you see it when they face a real opponent. They wilt and crumble, and I feel like I can expose a lot of these guys.”
Despite the knockout wins on his resume, Lopez concedes his standup game needs more work.
“I’ve not been able to display my striking as much as I want,” he said. “I try to mimic how a fight goes when I’m sparring, but you can only do so much. I’ve not been able to trade punches in any of my fights. I’m always improving on my muay Thai and boxing, though.”
The 29-year-old Lopez will have an opportunity to show his stuff on the sport’s biggest stage when he makes his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut against veteran Rani Yahya at UFC Fight Night “McDonald vs. Lineker” on July 13 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
It will not be an easy out for Lopez, as Yahya is 6-2 during his time in the Octagon and has scored consecutive wins over former Sengoku champion Masanori Kanehara and Johnny Bedford in his last two outings. A 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, Yahya has a long-established reputation as one of MMA’s most dangerous ground fighters. The 31-year-old Brazilian-jiu-jitsu black belt owns victories against onetime World Extreme Cagefighting titleholders Eddie Wineland and Mike Thomas Brown.
Even though the bout affords him a relatively short turnaround time from his submission victory on April 15, Lopez claims he will be ready to go against Yahya.
“I’m still in shape,” he said. “I don’t take much time off between fights, so I’m ready to rock and roll now. My body type is ideal for 135, so there’s not much worry about cutting weight. In the past, I used to let things get out of hand between fights, but when you turn pro, you have to start acting like a pro, with not taking as much time off and eating better. I’ve really learned that the past couple of fights. It’s an every-day thing, not just a 12-week-camp thing.”