I remember it like it was yesterday.

We amassed the bathing suits, towels, and sunscreen that our overcautious mothers had laid out for us the previous night. We all piled into a capacious mini van we often referred to as, “The White Taxi”. We were exactly three miles away from our destination and we were on top of the world. Or at least it felt like it.

We were en route to the Millersburg Area Community Pool for a day of swimming, dispersing of water to the lifeguards on watch, and of course, cashing in our quarters for the freeze pops sold for twenty-five cents a pop. The only problem, things hardly ever went as planned. More times than not, we found ourselves seated directly under the lifeguard stand for what was recognized as “timeout”. To mom and dad, we referenced this time as “some time to catch our breath”. Rarely did they buy it.

And soon, there came a time when our charm and exceedingly good looks no longer were welcomed by the lifeguards or those enjoying their afternoon swim. We were on the hot seat. A group of 10-year-old boys had an executive decision to make and it needed to be made in blistering speed.

The handball field it was. And, this is where I met Dennis Bermudez for the first time.

The field was located in the south corner of the fenced-in Millersburg pool. The field was entirely grass with dirt patches dug up that served as bases. For those of you that are insensible of the game handball, reevaluate how you spent your adolescent days.

We lined up along the fence and team captains selected their squads. Bermudez was often a lottery pick and his brother, Jay, didn’t trail too far behind. He was identified as “the kid from New York”, but he fit in without question. He was one of the guys. And there we were, much like the early 90’s movie, “The Sandlot”, we had it all. My first encounter with Bermudez was brief and concise.

Dennis Bermudez (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Dennis Bermudez (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Those fast-paced summer days were gone in a blink of an eye and before long, Bermudez was settled back in Saugerties, NY. He would occasionally visit Millersburg throughout the school year and returned many summers to run wild with his companions. Time flew by even faster. Following a flourishing wrestling career at Bloomsburg University, word rapidly spread around town that, Bermudez, would take on the sport of mixed martial arts. It was no surprise to anyone from our small town that Bermudez came out on top in his first seven professional fights.

The world didn’t know who “The Menace” was yet, but the Burg’ and the surrounding valley knew it was only a matter of time. Indeed, only time stood between Bermudez and the fame.

First it was his appearance on the Ultimate Fighter Season 14. Then Bermudez won ‘Submission of the Season’ with a guillotine choke that put to rest the loud mouth of the house in Akira Corassani. Not long after, “the kid from New York” would spring together back-to-back wins over Pablo Garza and and Tommy Hayden. In a slug fest and ‘Fight of the Year’ nominee with, Matt Grice, “The Menace” let the world know the UFC was his permanent home.

The mixed martial arts world now knew who Bermudez was.

But, we knew him first.

We knew him as the humble but hardworking kid who was never content with the success he had. He wanted more. Good enough never was for Bermudez. And chances are, it probably never will be.

That’s why Bermudez outworked rising gunslinger, Max Holloway. It’s why he demolished West Coast’s Steven Siler and put Jimy Hettes out of his misery for ‘Performance of the Night’ at UFC 171. If there was ever any question of Bermudez’s legitimacy, it was put to rest in his destruction of long-time contender, Clay Guida, at UFC on Fox: Lawler vs. Brown.

Bermudez’s magical ways have led him to the brink of a featherweight title shot. Fellow 145-pounder, Ricardo Lamas, may be the final man standing in Bermudez’s way as the two will clash at UFC 180 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Regardless of the outcome, the UFC has gained a real gift in “the kid from New York”. An unproblematic man whose humble spirit hasn’t change from his transition from the handball field to the brights lights of the Octagon.

The world now knows of Dennis Bermudez, but we knew him first.

 

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