Dominick Reyes speaks of his failure to make the NFL as if it were the breakup of a long personal relationship. He was a two-time all-conference defensive back at Stony Brook University, and everything he did was designed to get him to the highest level.
He attended a regional combine and was thrilled with how he performed.
“I thought it was going well,” Reyes said of his work at the combine at the New York Jets’ facility. “When I was doing drills, forward drills and backpedaling, I had the smoothest backpedal. I covered the most ground. I made my interceptions. I felt like everything was going great.
“I’m 6-4 and everybody around me was 5-10. I’m like, ‘OK, this is going to go well.’ But it didn’t. It didn’t go well, I guess, as I thought it did. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t work out. And it was crushing. Oh man, it was full-on crushing.”
Without that disappointment, though, Reyes would not be in the position he’s in. He had a burning desire to compete and showed up at his older brother Alex’s gym to essentially burn off some energy.
Alex Reyes is three years older than Dominick, and won 13 fights in a row after dropping his first two, finally making the UFC. He fought Mike Perry in Pittsburgh in 2017.
When Dominick decided he wanted to give MMA a shot, he found a very stern taskmaster to help him. His brother made him do drill after drill, learning the proper way to throw a punch.
Alex wouldn’t let Dominick spar until he felt he had the techniques down, because he wanted Dominick to do everything correctly.
“We literally spent three months on just the jab,” Dominick Reyes said. “It was, ‘Just the jab. Just the jab. Just the jab.’ It was just over and over, day after day. And then he said, ‘OK, now I’m going to teach you the slip. Now we’ll do the 2. Now, the 1-2. Now, the 1-2-3.’ It was a long progression.”
It paid off, though. Reyes is 10-0 in his MMA career and 4-0 in the UFC. On Saturday at the O2 in London in a fight streamed on ESPN+, he’ll face former light heavyweight title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. Reyes said the bout with Oezdemir will “be a statement fight for me. I plan on taking him out and doing a lot of damage and giving people no choice but [to see me as a legitimate title contender]. I’m coming. I’m real close.”
The one thing the UFC needs is some new blood to be able to challenge champion Jon Jones, since Jones doesn’t have all that much interest in moving to heavyweight.
Jones is expected to fight Thiago Santos next, and after that, it’s wide open. If Reyes finishes Oezdemir, as he believes he will, they’ll probably swap places in the rankings. Oezdemir is sixth now and Reyes eighth, with Corey Anderson between them.
If Reyes gets to sixth, there’s not much in the way of a title fight against Jones beyond Santos. Former champion Daniel Cormier is ranked first in the division, but he’s no longer competing at 205 pounds and is focused on defending his heavyweight title.
Jones has two wins over No. 2 Alexander Gustafsson, including a third-round finish in December at UFC 232. Santos is third and is almost certain to get the next title shot. Jones just defeated No. 4 Anthony Smith at UFC 235 earlier this month. No. 5 Jan Blachowicz was knocked out by Santos last month.
Oezdemir, whom Reyes is fighting Saturday, is sixth and Anderson is seventh. It’s a clear path for Reyes to get the Jones-Santos winner if he gets past Oezdemir on Saturday.
It would be hard to find a more motivated fighter than Reyes. He earned a degree in Information Systems from Stony Brook, and when the NFL didn’t come calling, he took a full-time job as an IT technician for a high school.
It was a good job that paid the bills, but it wasn’t for Reyes, at least at this stage of his life.
“You get that taste of competing and it’s hard to get rid of it,” Reyes said. “I just love competing, and it drives me. I tried the whole working thing and man, it just wasn’t fulfilling. I’d get home from work every day and I’d be like, ‘Man, this can’t be it.’ My desire was so strong to compete that it was burning inside of me, literally burning.
“I’d watch sports and I’d get frustrated because I knew I could compete with those guys. I’ve competed with this guys. … It was tough for me to watch because I wanted to be part of it still. To be honest, I started going to my brother’s gym and doing MMA in the first place just to let off steam.”
And now, he’s a victory or two away from climbing to the top of the ladder. It’s been an improbable journey and one he doesn’t want to let go of any time soon.
“I just needed an outlet and I didn’t have it and I was losing it, man,” Reyes said. “I was so angry so often, but I eventually found my peace. I found my peace in a cage. Who would ever believe that, but I found my peace in a cage.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Westbrook confrontation with Utah fan results in fine, lawsuit, lifetime ban
• Tim Tebow gets reassigned by Mets
• DE Bennett tells team he’ll stay in locker room for anthem
• Wetzel: How Hollywood elite cheated to get their kids into college