Dominick Reyes isn’t quite the same as other football-players-turned-fighters sprinkled across the mixed martial arts landscape.
Unlike most former players who’ve entered the cage such as Matt Mitrione, Eryk Anders and Ovince Saint Preux — Reyes’ next opponent — the former Stony Brook captain didn’t spend his time in the trenches, instead making a name for himself as an All-Big South safety. Does that small difference in position give him an advantage over other former gridiron stars?
Reyes seems to think so.
“Quicker, faster, smarter, prettier — all of the above,” Reyes said.
The former Seawolves star has parlayed his football ability into a professional MMA career seemingly with little difficulty, going 9-0 to start his career with just one decision victory. He’s finished all three of his opponents since joining the UFC in June 2017, most recently beating Jared Cannonier via first-round TKO in May.
Reyes will face former light heavyweight title challenger Saint Preux at UFC 229 — headlined by Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lightweight championship — on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, giving him a chance to put himself in the light heavyweight title picture and increase his profile on the UFC’s largest of stages.
“Don’t blink, man. If you haven’t seen me fight before, just know that I’m there throwing heat,” Reyes said. “I’m there to finish the fight. I’m an exciting fighter and I’m looking to knock my opponent out. Winning is first and foremost, but the finish is what I’m constantly searching for, so they go hand-in-hand, winning and finishing work together.”
Reyes grew up in Hesperia, California, a city of just over 90,000 in the Mojave Desert, but found a home on Long Island during his college years after he was recruited to play football at Stony Brook.
“It was a great place, everyone was so welcoming. I really like the environment of Stony Brook and just Long Island in general,” Reyes said. “I enjoyed being out there, it’s a lot different from where I’m from. I’m from the desert, so going to the island was a nice change of scenery. I took everything I could from Long Island and I’m grateful for it.”
After redshirting in 2008, Reyes saw action in each game the Seawolves played from 2009 to 2012. He became the school’s all-time leader in solo tackles and was all-conference as a senior, winning four Big South titles in his SBU career.
Reyes believes his time at Stony Brook gave him a huge advantage over other athletes trying to make it in MMA.
“Mental toughness, film study, attention to detail, accountability — those are all things that transitioned,” Reyes said. “And then with strength and conditioning, a lot of fighters don’t understand strength and conditioning really, but I was able to learn it over at Stony Brook real in depth.”
Reyes made an attempt at professional football upon graduating from Stony Brook with a computer science degree in 2013, but went undrafted that spring and soon called it quits.
“I got everything I could have out of football. I really appreciate and respect the journey I was able to go on in football. I grew as a man, as a person, as a human being,” Reyes said. “It led me to where I am now and gave me a lot of the tools that I need to be successful in MMA, so I have no regrets.”
After returning to Hesperia, Reyes said he went through a “period of depression” as he reevaluated his life, trying to figure out what would be next.
“I wanted to get into business analytics, use my computer science degree a bit. It’s a good industry, you can make good money. I enjoy technology and working with computers and things like that,” Reyes said. “I’m good at leading people. I was a captain at Stony Brook, so I was looking into that, but I wasn’t ready to hang up the athletic prowess and sit behind a desk.”
The seeds of a career in MMA, however, already were planted during Reyes’ college years when he’d visit home. Reyes’ brother, Alexander, owns an MMA gym in Victorville, California, just north of his hometown, giving him a chance to change up his training while on break from school.
Under his brother’s tutelage, Reyes was making his professional debut by the end of 2014.
“Having a coach that really brings you along and cares about your growth, it was good,” Reyes said. “It was a great transition, it was ideal, actually. That’s why I am where I am now.”
The first few years were a “tough road” for Reyes, who said his ego took a hit after being well-known at Stony Brook to just another face in the MMA community. But with his UFC career taking off, Reyes is right where he wants to be. He said he’s become addicted to the rush of earning the victory in front of sold-out arenas. With his bout against Saint Preux on the same pay-per-view card as McGregor’s return to the cage, he’s expecting an even greater atmosphere.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this, to be in that big stage where all the eyes are on it," Reyes said. "Everybody and their mother is watching, even the dog is checking it out.”
Against Saint Preux, Reyes knows he’ll need to block out the bright lights and stick to a smart game plan. The former Tennessee football player is known for utilizing the Von Flue choke, a submission performed with shoulder pressure while countering an opponent’s attempt at a guillotine choke. Saint Preux has multiple wins with this technique, but Reyes isn’t worried about falling into the trap.
“I’m just a smarter fighter, it’s not going to happen to me. Just don’t hold on the guillotine when you don’t have it. It’s a simple move to not get caught in, it really is,” Reyes said. “A lot of guys kind of panic. They’re going for the guillotine and holding onto the neck and then they don’t have it. The dude has secured a position on them but they’re still holding on to it and that’s how you get choked out. Just like with almost any submission, it’s just don’t get there by positioning, don’t do that. If you do get there, there are ways out, but it’s just — don’t do that.”
Reyes said he hopes to keep the fight standing and knock out Saint Preux in the first two rounds to give the worldwide audience a show, but doesn’t care how the fight plays out — as long as he wins.
“I’m going to try to keep it on the feet. I’m better than him on the feet for sure, so I’m going to keep it at my advantage, but if it goes to the ground, I’m not worried about it. I’ve trained very hard and I’m a good grappler. My base is in wrestling, and I’m a complete mixed martial artist. Wherever it goes is where it goes,” Reyes said. “I want to keep it standing for my fans and for myself. You don’t get notoriety by wrestling in an MMA fight all day, just hugging on each other and getting boos from the crowd.
“We’re here to electrify people and have fun.”