The UFC has begun to put together a stacked card for March 20th, headlined by Kevin Holland and Derek Brunson.
One of the prelims will feature up-and-comers in Gustavo Lopez and Adrian Yanez in the bantamweight division. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lopez as he prepares to earn another win in the UFC on March 20th.
Gustavo Lopez hopes to win back-to-back fights after earning his first win in the UFC against Anthony Birchak in November 2020. Lopez (12-5 overall, 1-1 in the UFC) dominated Birchak in the stand-up game before getting a knockdown and locking in a rear-naked choke for the win. After losing to Merab Dvalishvili on short notice in his debut, Lopez rebounded and showed how dangerous he could be against Birchak.
Speaking of dangerous fighters, Adrian Yanez made a statement in his UFC debut against Ray Rodriguez in October. After dominating Rodriguez for the first two minutes of the fight, Yanez landed a devastating head kick that left his opponent unconscious.
With both fighters coming off their first UFC wins and first-round finishes, this fight is an extremely intriguing matchup that could bring out a highlight finish.
Interview with Gustavo Lopez
Danny Podolsky: How has life been for you amongst the madness of the pandemic following your win in November, and has the pandemic affected your ability to train for your next fight?
Gustavo Lopez: It hasn’t affected anything at all. We work around it; luckily, I have a house and one of my coaches from the gym living at my home so we could work during the pandemic. When we got to fight in the UFC, we were somewhat ready to fight Merab [Dvalishvili]. I took that fight on 20 hours’ notice, lost 17 pounds overnight, and fought. It was a crazy fight, but I fought through it. I lost the fight, but so many positive things came from that fight. Since then, I’ve just been focusing on fighting, and the UFC has provided such an amazing platform for me to grow. I’m living here in Las Vegas and going to the UFC PI. They are super strict about making sure everyone gets tested and being safe, so it’s allowed me to become an even better fighter than I was. So we are rolling right now.
Danny Podolsky: I want to hit on the fight with Merab Dvalishvili. He’s one of the top bantamweights, so what was that conversation like when you were asked to step in and make your UFC debut on short notice?
Gustavo Lopez: They asked me, “do you want to fight?” And so I said yes, and then we went and had that fight. There wasn’t much thought behind it; what would you do if you were offered an opportunity to fight on the biggest show in the world? Would it matter who you were fighting and what you had to do to get that fight? I didn’t even check my weight before I agreed to do that fight. I asked when is it? They told me the weigh-in was tomorrow. So I told them, let’s go, I’ll start cutting. I also had to do my medical that day, so it was just insane, but luckily I have a fantastic manager, and we were able to make weight for that fight. We lost that fight, but we definitely grew from it as well, and I think my stock went up from that fight.
Danny Podolsky: Comparing your fight with Merab to your second fight with Anthony Birchak, how much of a difference does it make having a full camp, compared to being asked to step in on 20 hours notice?
Gustavo Lopez: How’d it look? The fight against Birchak was great, I had a full camp, had some injuries, but I was able to fight through that and handle business. I felt sharp, the weight looked great, I felt stronger, and everyone at the UFC PI had provided me with so much support. From nutrition to taking care of my body and strength and conditioning, and the physical therapy they provide, it’s truly world-class and changed my game to help me get better. I feel even stronger and faster now than I was in the fight against Anthony [Birchak]. I’m still six weeks out from my next fight, so I’m excited about the future. This pandemic has been very hard, but it’s given me so many opportunities to grow. If you’re sitting there waiting for someone to hand you something, then you’re going to be waiting for a long time. But if you work hard and you make things happen, opportunities are going to come up, and you gotta take advantage of them, regardless of what it is. I probably wasn’t the first fighter that they called. Somehow it landed on my lap, and I told them, let’s ride. I’ve always been game to fight, especially if the risk is worth the reward, then I’ll always go in head-first.
Danny Podolsky:Prior to signing with the UFC, you were a Combate champion. Does having that experience of being a champion in another promotion change your outlook on your opponents in the UFC, knowing that you have at one point been a champion?
Gustavo Lopez: Yeah, in a certain way. It certainly gave me this confidence that I belong at the top of the world. Definitely when I train as well. I train at Xtreme Couture and train with guys like Joseph Benavidez and Aljimain [Sterling], amazing fighters, and I do well; we do very well against each other. I’m always learning and growing by having these people around me. Aljimain [Sterling] was teaching me the other day and the amazing stuff that he shows has helped me. Joe B [Benavidez] has been a great help. And all these other fighters that I have been surrounding myself with; it changes your game when you surround yourself with people like that.
Danny Podolsky: You mentioned training at Xtreme Couture. I’d love to get into your relationship with Miesha Tate. I know she has had a significant influence on your career, so what can you tell me about her?
Gustavo Lopez: Miesha [Tate] is like a mother to me. She has been super supportive since the beginning. When I first moved to Las Vegas, I lived with Miesha and Bryan [Caraway]. She took me in, and I helped out as much I could, but they guided me to become a better person and better fighter. Now she is an incredible friend to me. She truly motivated me to be better, and she is just such an amazing human being. Super helpful, always willing to go out of her way to help people.
That’s something I took from her. I love giving back. I just sponsored a football team with one of my partners that I work with. We run a football team up in California to help kids get into different schools and colleges, so it’s really cool, and now that I got the opportunity to do it, it’s been awesome. One of our teams is a seven on seven football team that’s going to play in Las Vegas, and because of COVID, they’re not doing high school football, so this gives them the chance to be seen by scouts and get out there. Colleges come out to watch these kids play. So we’re giving these kids this platform to better themselves and be able to follow their passions.
It’s a good way to be able to get out of bad situations. I come from a little town, and if it weren’t for sports, I probably would have gotten myself into some trouble. It’s very easy when there’s nothing to do to make bad choices that won’t benefit us in the long run. So I was fortunate to be able to get into a sport that I’m very passionate about, and now I have the platform to help others, so I love it.
Danny Podolsky: I know you originally began as a wrestler, so what caused you to transition into doing MMA?
Gustavo Lopez: A buddy of mine asked me to help him with his wrestling. I told him sure, and we trained for a bit, and I slowly got into MMA. I cornered him for one of his fights, and then I had my first fight on two hours’ notice as an amateur fighter. I went out there, knocked the guy out in seven seconds, and decided that this was something I could do. It’s been a crazy ride of taking opportunities and going head-first.
Danny Podolsky: So is it fair to say that you don’t like declining fights?
Gustavo Lopez: Yeah, I would say that. But like I said, I surround myself with the right people, so if my team tells me it’s a good opportunity to take, then we’re going to take it. We’re not going to fight someone that won’t benefit us. I took a bunch of fights at Combate because the opportunity was there, I fought Merab [Dvalishvili] on short notice, and all these fights were opportunities for me to better myself one way or another. So that’s why I took those fights, not because I love to fight. I enjoy fighting, and you can see it when I fight, but these are all beneficial fights for me. You have to take the opportunity when things like that open up.
Danny Podolsky: So from rewatching your fights against Merab and Anthony, I noticed that during the first round against Merab, you were in the cage smiling the whole fight. Does that capture how much you love fighting?
Gustavo Lopez: Man, I love it. It’s true. I enjoy myself; I enjoy the process and being in there. I’m very happy, especially with how crazy things are right now; I’m doing the best I’ve ever done. It’s incredible. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had, and now that I can, I try to help as many people as I can.
Danny Podolsky: You’re set to take on Adrian Yanez on March 20th, who, like yourself, is coming off his first UFC win. How do you view Adrian as an opponent, and have you gotten the chance to watch his previous fights?
Gustavo Lopez: Not really. It’s not something that I go into. I do my own studying, and my coaches are the best at what they do. They break things down and tell me what will be beneficial for my fight, and I can go out there and perform. I don’t think it gives me any benefit to worry about what he’s doing. I go out there, do what I do, and handle my business and get that W and go home.
Danny Podolsky: If all goes well and you defeat Adrian, ideally, how busy would you like to be in 2021?
Gustavo Lopez: Super busy. I want to fight as soon as possible after my next fight. Especially if I don’t get any injuries, why not? Let’s get these running; I want to compete as much as possible to tell you the truth. As long as I don’t get any significant injuries, I would love to go out there and handle business and keep doing it.
Danny Podolsky: And finally, I’d like to ask, as a fighter who is relatively new to the UFC, what should fans know about you outside of the fact that you’re a UFC fighter.
Gustavo Lopez: I’m a businessman; I invest a lot of my money into different stocks and companies and people I trust. When I went to college, I got my degree in finance, so I’m a business major. So that’s something that I enjoy doing, and being around those kinds of people makes me excited. I love learning; when I’m alone in my car I usually have a book and I’m just in a really good place right now. So I can’t explain how grateful I am to be where I am right now.
Finally, I would love to thank Gustavo for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to watch him fight on March 20th when he takes on Adrian Yanez!
Follow Gustavo on Twitter here @Gustavo11Lopez
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images
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