Dominick Reyes believes that NFL cornerbacks are, as a group, the finest athletes in professional sports. Reyes was a quality safety at Stony Brook University who harbored dreams of playing in the NFL.
He never made it to the NFL, but the skills that made him a collegiate star are showing once again in his MMA career.
Reyes’ footwork and unbelievable reaction times have made him the top contender in the UFC’s light heavyweight division and the favorite to claim the vacant title on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) in the co-main event of UFC 253 against Jan Blachowicz on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Those skills that Reyes worked years to develop during his football career have made him a -275 favorite over Blachowicz at the MGM Grand Sports Book to win the belt.
Reyes, who first became a high school IT director when the football dream fell by the wayside, has much respect for Blachowicz. But Reyes also knows what he is capable of — he gave Jon Jones one of the stiffest challenges of his title reigns — and believes he’s on the verge of not just becoming a champion but a long-reigning one.
“Punching power and countering ability is what [Blachowicz] possesses,” Reyes told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “He’s also a BJJ black belt and if he gets me to the ground, that could be a challenge, but I know without a doubt, he’s never fought anyone like me before in terms of speed, fight IQ, scramble ability. What I bring to the table, man, he hasn’t seen.
“He’s fought a lot of light heavyweights, but the true light heavyweights, they don’t move very well. And the guys that think they move well don’t know how to move properly and they put themselves in positions to get knocked out, i.e., Corey Anderson. He thinks he knows how to move, but he doesn’t. He overstepped and put his head on a platter for homeboy. I’m not going to put my head on a platter for this guy. You can’t hit what you can’t touch. I’m everywhere and I’m nowhere.”
How Dominick Reyes reacted after bitter loss to Jon Jones
Reyes lost a controversial decision to Jones at UFC 247 on Feb. 8 in Houston. The coronavirus pandemic followed shortly after and, with little else to do, Reyes went back to his football roots and studied his fight with Jones.
He watched it and studied. And he watched it and studied some more.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I watched it,” he said, laughing. “I was super analytical and I watched it frame by frame. I paid attention to every minute detail of what I was doing. I did some things I’m not happy about.”
To adopt a tennis term, they were “unforced errors” in Reyes’ opinion, not mistakes that Jones caused him to make. That made the loss so much more disappointing because even though he still believes he won, he also firmly believes he had so much more he could have done.
He literally spent months poring over the film and then working on solutions.
Dominick Reyes vows to never change
Amid the disappointment he learned a lesson he hopes as a champion he’ll be able to share with others: Each person controls his or her own destiny and you get out of life what you put into it.
Reyes has already gone to speak to some high schools but would love to do it on a wider scale with the bully pulpit that a UFC title brings. He has a burning desire to accomplish two things in life: To get everything he can out of his talent and to use his ability to help others.
“There are a lot of good things I can do for people and there are a lot of people I think I can help,” Reyes said. “I’d love to get the opportunity to speak to some kids and talk to some colleges and sports teams. I would like to talk to them about that next-level mentality of literally fighting for your life. It’s up to you to get what you want out of this life. And there is no excuse as to why you can’t have everything you’ve ever wanted.”
What he’s wanted for years is the UFC title and he’s on the verge of it now. If he gets it, he vows he’ll never change.
He still lives in the same small town in California where he grew up and said his biggest purchase this year was a dog who could serve as his companion.
He hasn’t changed yet despite his UFC success and said he hopes he never will.
“I still live in my hometown that doesn’t even have a nightclub,” he said, chuckling. “I am careful about who I surround myself with. My corner are my brothers and my best friends. I’m not bringing on new characters or faces. I’m not looking to go out clubbing all blinged out letting people know how important I am. That’s not me and that’s not who I am or how I operate.
“The biggest thing for me is I want to accomplish my goals and set a very high standard of excellence. … I’m primed and ready for this and it’s like there’s one more mountain to climb.”
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