Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
One weekend spent back in his hometown of Saugerties, 100-plus miles north of New York City, changed Dennis Bermudez's outlook on life. Gone would be the career goal of driving a UPS truck, replaced by a spot on Season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Of course, it's not easy to go from wannabe truck driver to professional mixed martial artist in a few years. It takes motivation and commitment -- and the constant harassment of a longtime friend to come to his gym.
"I ended up tapping out him and his best guy four times," said Bermudez, 26, who now lives in Massapequa and trains at Long Island MMA. "They didn't tap me out any. It was just off of all wrestling moves that were semi-illegal. Just guillotines and stuff."
Bermudez was a freestyle All-American wrestler at Bloomsburg, but living in Pennsylvania, he was thinking more about next-day delivery. "I never saw myself doing MMA," he said. "At 22, I wanted to be a UPS driver. I was looking long-term. I could put in 25 years and retire. That's where I saw myself in five years, driving a truck."
Bermudez began training in between working two jobs -- one with UPS and the second in landscaping. He won his first fight, and then the next six. He lost the next two, but by then he was already hooked on the sport. It was time to expand his reach from Pennsylvania.
Here, he has established a home at Long Island MMA in Lindenhurst and trains with former Ring of Combat champion Ryan LaFlare and three-time New York State wrestling champion Ryan Needle. He also trains with Keith Trimble, a top striking coach at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. "Honestly, I think Dennis can do really well," Trimble said, "as long as he lets the motor slow down a bit."
Yes, Bermudez goes hard in the cage. He's small at 5-6, 145, but he's fast and aggressive. It's a combination that can help or hurt. We'll see which one as this season of "TUF" unfolds.
Bermudez first tried out for the UFC's reality show on Spike at a Season 12 casting call in April 2010. He made it through the physical portion and advanced to the interview round in Las Vegas. His luck ended there.
Fast forward one year and Bermudez received word of Season 14's search for 145-pounders. So he went back to Vegas and hit the jackpot -- a spot among the 16 featherweights who would appear on the "TUF" season premiere. That episode aired Wednesday, and Bermudez started slow. He was knocked down and beat up by Jimmie Rivera.
"My first round, I was pretty flat," Bermudez said. "I knew it was a big deal, but part of me still felt like if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. My sense of urgency didn't start until the second round."
Maybe he was in awe of the moment, of the Mandalay Bay arena. "Or maybe it was just I was on television, I was on a mission, who cares how big this place is? I know how big this ring is," Bermudez said. "I'm not fighting in this whole stadium, I'm fighting in this cage."