After a week off, the UFC returns for UFC Vegas 37 this Saturday as light heavyweights Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann will go to battle. One of the preliminary bouts will feature two intriguing bantamweights in Gustavo Lopez and Heili Alateng. I had the pleasure of speaking to Lopez, and here are his responses.
Gustavo Lopez (12-6 overall, 1-2 in the UFC) is hoping to get back into the win column on Saturday. In March, Lopez ran into surging prospect Adrian Yanez, where he suffered a third-round KO loss. However, Lopez has a well-balanced skill set with five career knockouts and six submissions for a 92% finish rate.
Like Lopez, Heili Alateng is looking to get into the win column this weekend. Alateng (14-8-1 overall, 2-1 in the UFC) broke into the UFC at the end of 2019 and quickly picked up wins against Danaa Batgerel and Ryan Benoit. However, he suffered his first loss with the promotion last October, dropping a unanimous decision to Casey Kenney. A fighter with solid wrestling skills, Alateng should match up nicely with Lopez.
Danny Podolsky: How did the fight with Heili Alateng come together?
Gustavo Lopez: “Heili Alateng was the first name we got offered. They asked me if I wanted to fight him, and I thought it was a great matchup, so I took this fight.”
Danny Podolsky: Have you gotten to watch any of Heili Alateng’s previous fights and stylistically, how do you think you guys match up?
Gustavo Lopez: “Personally, I have not watched any of his previous fights. I watched his fight against [Casey] Kenney once, but most of what I’m hearing is that he’s a wrestler who likes to strike.”
Danny Podolsky: Considering that Alateng can be described as a wrestler who likes to strike, do you think he’s a comparable fighter to yourself?
Gustavo Lopez: “Yes, 100%. I have a lot of confidence in my ground game, and I love to wrestle. Having showcased it in my fights, though, I love to strike as well so we’ll see what happens. I’ve been working a lot on my wrestling and putting the pressure on these guys in the gym.”
Danny Podolsky: Do you want to show off your wrestling more in this fight? I know you have the wrestling background, but we have not seen it a whole ton in your three UFC fights, especially last time out against Adrian Yanez.
Gustavo Lopez: “100%, I would love to show off my wrestling. I definitely want to be well-rounded and just be able to showcase all the skills that I have. I want to show my skills on the ground, my striking, and my defense.”
Danny Podolsky: You’ve been lucky to be able to have back-to-back fights on a full camp, something that is not always the case with fighters who first break into the UFC. It will be six months since you fought in March, so physically do you feel fresh coming into this one?
Gustavo Lopez: “Definitely. I feel like both of us had a good long camp for this because we got the same notice. I feel amazing; my weight has never been this good and I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt. My striking feels as clean as it’s ever felt so I’m excited to go out there and perform.”
Danny Podolsky: When we last spoke in March, you were coming off of a dominant win over Anthony Birchak. However, you lost your last fight so has that changed your mindset at all heading into September 18th?
Gustavo Lopez: “I don’t think so, man, my confidence and the way that I present myself is going to be the same. I have extreme confidence in myself regardless of whether it’s coming off of a loss and I have confidence in my skill set because of the people that I train with. Having Cody Stamann to help me prepare during this fight camp is a big confidence booster for me because he’s a ranked bantamweight. Gaining that confidence, I’m just excited to go out there and show what I can do on fight night.”
Danny Podolsky: You talked about training with Cody Stamann. Since we last talked, XTreme Couture has continued to grow, including Francis Ngannou’s capturing UFC gold. Has seeing your teammates succeed inspired you and has it raised the overall morale at the gym?
Gustavo Lopez: “100%. I get more excited seeing my friends win their fights than anything. Just recently, Julian Erosa took a short notice fight and won. Obviously, Ngannou becoming a world champion is huge. Miesha Tate came out of retirement to win her last fight. We just have a bunch of guys who push each other to get better every day.”
Danny Podolsky: You mentioned Miesha Tate. I know you guys have a close friendship that goes back to the start of your career. She came back after six years away and won her last fight, with another fight booked in October. Has seeing her come back and succeed been an inspiration for you?
Gustavo Lopez: “Definitely, she’s been a role model and friend of mine for nearly a decade. It’s exciting for me to see her success because of the amount of dedication that she has put towards this sport. So seeing her success has made me want to reproduce and replicate that success to be able to get to that kind of level in my division.”
Danny Podolsky: If you lose this fight on Saturday, that would put you at 1-3 in the UFC, so are you looking at this as a must-win fight to be able to stay with the organization?
Gustavo Lopez: “Honestly, all of my fights feel like that. Being 1-3 is definitely something that would not look good so that just further motivates me to want to go out there and get this win. I don’t want there to be any reason to be worried after this fight.”
Danny Podolsky: You train in Vegas at the UFCPI so you’re close to where the fights take place. If you win on Saturday, do you want to be more active going forward?
Gustavo Lopez: “I definitely do. I’ve been talking to my coaches and talking to my manager. It’s nice to have a full camp, but we train all the time and I’m always ready to fight so I’m definitely going to keep my weight down and hopefully get another one before the end of the year if I win on Saturday.”
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