Alexander Hernandez had to rethink his fighting style after loss to Donald Cerrone

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Alex Hernandez works out at Gleason's Gym on Jan. 16, 2019 in New York. (Getty Images)
Alex Hernandez works out at Gleason's Gym on Jan. 16, 2019 in New York. (Getty Images)

The sunglasses that covered the welts around his eyes and the bruises on his face in the photo he posted to Instagram gave a hint of what happened to Alex Hernandez in his last fight.

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Indeed, something significant and totally unexpected happened.

A raw and precocious 26-year-old who entered a bout feeling his oats after two wins in two UFC bouts, including a 42-second demolition of highly regarded veteran Beneil Dariush, offered words on Instagram following a loss to Donald Cerrone that suggest he will take a defeat and learn from it and be far better because of it.

On Jan. 20, a day after getting kicked in the head in the second round and stopped by Cerrone in the UFC’s debut show on ESPN at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Hernandez wrote on Instagram, “I go into every fight feeling untouchable and expecting a repeat of the [Dariush fight]. I prepare myself in the moments prior for an execution in the first round and not a fight. I need to learn to fight. I need to address my approach. I brought the fight to Cerrone and where he made adjustments, I did not. Experience is a costly bitch.”

Losses can destroy a fighter’s confidence, or they can serve as a vehicle for improvement.

Hernandez is proving himself a bright and shrewd young fighter who will undoubtedly perform better on Saturday when he fights Francisco Trinaldo at the AT&T Center in his hometown at UFC San Antonio (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

I asked him what he meant when he said he needed to learn to fight and his answer said much about the man he has become.

“My history, and really what brought me to this platform and into the limelight, has been my ability to execute people in the first round,” Hernandez said. “I press them to their detriment and break them in the first. If they’re not defeated in the first, I’d have them broken and it would only be a matter of time. I got used to that cadence, blowing through people and coming out like a cannon and shattering what I’d say is their fight reality.

“And so, with Cowboy, I hit him like that, but I realize now, I came in overzealous and overanxious. What I learned is that Cowboy showed he knows how to compose himself to an extremely high degree. You didn’t see that early in his career, but as he got experience and gained wisdom and understanding in the sport, he had that composure and the patience and the poise to get through those kinds of situations.”

That loss caused him to change his approach. He’s still going to be an attacking, aggressive fighter, but he’s going to be more tactical in how he executes his plan.

He can’t expect that everyone will fall in 42 seconds, as Dariush did. There will be plenty of guys like Cerrone, who want to win as badly as he does and who know how to deal with the kind of blitzkrieg attack Hernandez brought to his bouts.

“I used to think, ‘I want to execute this guy,’ and I’d roar out of the gate and go after him and try to get it done right away,” he said. “What I understand now, it’s a three-round fight. I have the ability to end fights in the first round, but that’s incumbent upon me being patient and poised and making the right decisions. I’ve kind of had to rewire the hard drive on the fly, and that’s no easy task.”

When he got back to practice after losing to Cerrone, one of his teammates put the fight into the perfect perspective. Cerrone didn’t win the fight so much as Hernandez lost it, his teammate said.

That resonated with Hernandez, as well.

“He said to me, ‘You had that fight won; it was in your hands and you just gave it to him,’” Hernandez said. “There was a lot of truth to that. He said, ‘[Cerrone] just sat back and waited for you to make mistakes and when you did, he took advantage.’

“I have really taken everything to heart and I’ve incorporated all that I’ve learned into my plan. I don’t doubt my capabilities or my prowess or that I’ll be the best one day. But there’s a lot to be said for being aware and being smart and sometimes maybe taking a little off the gas and paying attention to my coach.”

This is a young man who gets it. That doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Trinaldo, or ever win a world title. He may do both, but that’s for the future. What seems certain is that he’ll perform to the best of his abilities on Saturday.

If that’s enough, he’ll have his hand raised. But six months after his thoughtful Instagram post, it seems Hernandez has clearly learned how to fight.

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