Dennis Bermudez had picked up staph infections before in his athletic career, but never one like this.
Lindenhurst’s Bermudez returns to action against Tatsuya Kawajiri on Sunday night at UFC Fight Night 83 in Pittsburgh after pulling from a bout for the first time in his career late last year.
Originally scheduled to fight last month at UFC Fight Night 82 in Boston, the featherweight contender was forced out of training and into a hospital with a staph infection in December.
“I’ve had staph a few times, it just kind of happens from wrestling and football and MMA,” Bermudez said. “But this is the worst I ever had it.”
Bermudez (14-5, 7-3 UFC) originally planned to “power through it” and enter the contest at less than 100 percent, but changed his plan after advice from his manager and coaches, including striking coach Keith Trimble.
“We wanted him to go to the hospital earlier, but of course like most of them, they don’t want to go the doctor or the hospital,” said Trimble. “I myself have had staph and I knew exactly what that was and I was like, ‘dude, you’ve got to get that checked out.’”
Health risk of staph infection aside — it can prove fatal if untreated — one could understand why Bermudez was trying to stay in action.
Currently ranked eighth in the featherweight division, Bermudez is hoping to put a stop to his two-fight losing streak, his first skid in the UFC. He lost to current-No. 9-ranked Jeremy Stephens via third round flying knee TKO in his last fight at UFC 189, a spectacle of a show headlined by Conor McGregor’s defeat of Chad Mendes. Looking back, Bermudez appreciates the experience of appearing on what he thinks will be remembered among the best pay-per-views the UFC has put together.
“It was pretty cool to be part of that,” Bermudez said. “Obviously I wanted the ‘W,’ but I went out there and gave my best effort. Nine times out of 10, I will crush Jeremy Stephens.”
Trimble believes Bermudez would have won had the fight gone to the judges.
“Honestly, he made one decision and he paid for it, he got caught by the knee,” Trimble said. “He kind of made a mistake that we were working on in training of being careful of trying to take someone down and having your head all the way off to the opponent’s right side, basically you’re crossing over his body and your head’s running into a right knee or uppercut.”
While the fight didn’t end as planned, the team embraced the mistake as a learning experience.
“Win or lose, you need to learn from your fights,” Trimble said. “If you can’t learn from that fight, you’re eventually going to plateau.”
Just as it used the Stephens loss, Bermudez’s team found a plus-side to his illness.
After battling through the draining effects of the infection, as well as a five-day hospital stay, Bermudez pushed to fight fast and found a foe in No. 12-ranked Kawajiri (35-8-2, 3-1 UFC), a more competitive adversary than his opponent in the scrapped January bout, unranked Maximo Blanco.
While Kawajiri is in his 17th year as a pro and has faced a multitude of styles, Bermudez believes he’s a “super-duper bad matchup” for the Pride and Dream veteran.
“We can beat him everywhere,” Bermudez said. “He’s slow and old. What’s nice about Kawajiri is he’s been fighting for so long, and his style has not changed at all, so you can watch one film on him and it’s going to be very similar to all of his fights. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
Bermudez wants to keep the fight standing if possible, but is willing to take it to the ground if necessary to grind Kawajiri out, a sentiment Trimble echoed.
“I want it to be where if he’s comfortable striking and he feels he’s outstriking him, hey, go with it,” Trimble said. “And because Dennis is a wrestler, you can’t just go shooting across the ring, no matter what I want him to control the center of the cage, back this guy up. He is very uncomfortable going backwards. He’s an aggressive guy, but those people that are aggressive can’t fight going backwards.”
With a few marquee wins against ranked featherweights already on his resume, Bermudez believes executing that plan will give him a win and put him back into the mix atop the division.
“We’re looking at a top-five guy next ideally,” Bermudez said. “We want to get back up into title contention, and a win will do that.”