Add caption here. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In the split second after he floored Karo Parisyan with a left uppercut in their bout at Bellator 127 this past October, Fernando Gonzalez allowed himself a slight smirk.
It was an expression of satisfaction not only for a job well done -- Gonzalez had envisioned catching the UFC veteran in that very manner countless times -- but also because he had come a long way from contemplating retirement earlier in 2014.
Gonzalez made his Bellator debut last July on the heels of a two-fight losing streak in the California-based West Coast Fighting Championship. His 20-13 record heading into his first promotional foray was that of a prototypical journeyman, a ledger hard-earned through multiple organizations, short-notice fights and abbreviated camps.
But around the same time the Menifee, Calif., native thought about calling it a career, he came to a realization: It wasn’t as simple as just walking away.
“I was like, ‘Look, if I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it right.’ It doesn’t matter who I fight, it doesn’t matter if I lose. I do it because I love it,” Gonzalez told Sherdog.com. “It’s something that I’m not gonna quit. I was thinking about retirement around that time, but it’s something that I just can’t escape. I love to fight.”
Booked to face former 170-pound title challenger Karl Amoussou on the Bellator 122 prelims, Gonzalez wasn’t expected to win. There was a significant difference in his preparation, however. Where in the past Gonzalez might have spent just three or four weeks training for a bout he accepted at the last minute, this time he was able to put in a full camp.
The proof was in the results, as “The Menifee Maniac” had his hand raised following a hard-fought three rounds against his more-celebrated French opponent.
“I knew it was my shot, and I wasn’t gonna let it go. I wasn’t gonna let myself down and everybody I’ve been telling for years I could do this and believed in me,” he said.
The unlikely ride continued when he defeated Parisyan less than three months later, a victory that was even sweeter because of a snub that occurred during Gonzalez’s King of the Cage days.
“The [KOTC] promoter called me over to introduce me to him. I think he was about to fight Matt Hughes or something like that. He was a pretty big name. I’m still a fan as well. I wanted to meet him; I was like, ‘Oh cool.’ I go over there...and I put my hand out to shake his hand and he just looked at me up and down and looked away,” Gonzalez said.
“I was so close where I could have cracked him one if I wanted to. The arrogance of it, that’s what bothered me more.....I just knew one day I was gonna make 170 [pounds] after that night. He really gave me the motivation.”
After he dropped Parisyan with the aforementioned uppercut, Gonzalez polished off his victory with determined ground-and-pound 1:43 into the initial stanza. Suddenly, he was the owner of an improbable two-fight winning streak and a new lease on a once-fading career. Now, Gonzalez finds himself as the opening act for the Bellator 132 main card. He will likely be in the underdog role once again as he squares off against Dream and Strikeforce veteran Marius Zaromskis on Spike TV on Jan. 16. The evening’s main card begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, while the preliminary draw streams immediately prior on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET/ 4p.m. PT.
“I won’t be expected to win until I have that belt around my waist. After that I think people will start looking at me as the guy,” Gonzalez said. “For now I’ll play the underdog. I love being able to prove people wrong.”
Proving people wrong is starting to become a habit. Even if he doesn’t reach his championship goals, Gonzalez is glad he didn’t walk away from MMA for good a few months ago. He’s having too much to quit.
“I do this fighting for myself. I was so close to retirement, so now I try to enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t put the pressure on myself. For me, if I can go out there and put on a hell of a fight and put on a show, I’m excited. I’m happy with that. I think that takes a lot of the pressure of me.”