First impressions are crucial in mixed martial arts, and Alex White absolutely made the most of his first showing inside the Octagon.
The scrappy featherweight prospect made his UFC debut back in April and wasted no time generating a wave of buzz and excitement, as he put a drubbing on veteran Estevan Payan in their tilt at UFC on Fox 11 in Orlando, Florida. While the 25-year-old stepped up to take the bout on short notice, the rushed time frame was nowhere to be found in his performance, as White's lightning-quick hands earned The Spartan a first-round knockout over Payan.
In addition to making highlight-reel material out of his opponent, the Missouri native also picked up a "Performance of the Night" bonus to cap off what was undoubtedly a spectacular showing in his first fight under the UFC banner. For White, it was the culmination of years of sacrifice and hard work, and getting his hand raised inside the Octagon was about as surreal as it gets for the undefeated featherweight.
It was a dream-come-true moment for White and his camp, and his victory over Payan was the result of years of dedication and determination coming front and center.
"I guess I might not have shown it on fight night, but I was really excited," White told Bleacher Report. "It felt like my first time fighting because having my first fight in the UFC is kind of like starting all over again. That's how it felt and I had to calm myself down and I tried not to overthink things.
"It really was like a dream come true to get the call from the UFC. We weren't expecting it at all—at least not at that time—and thought it would come further down the road. I said it in a few other interviews that I thought my coach, Joe Worden, was playing an April Fools' Day joke on me because the call came the day after. Come to find out, he was telling the truth and I immediately stepped up my training to a serious grind."
While White had the biggest moment of his young career that night inside the cage, his coach and mentor, Joe Worden, knew what type of performance MMA fans were about to see when his fighter stepped in against Payan at UFC on Fox 11. Granted, the call from the biggest organization in the sport may have come as a bit of a surprise for the team, but Worden knew White was going to capitalize on the opportunity.
Although the chance they had been working toward came on relatively short notice, Worden knows White's work ethic inside the gym, and he had absolute confidence the undefeated prospect would show up and put it all on the line in Orlando.
"It was amazing," Worden recalled about White's UFC debut. "We have been working for years for that opportunity, and it was hard to describe. The electricity in the locker room and the venue was just surreal to me. We finally got our chance to fight in the UFC, and we couldn't have asked for a better debut.
"We always train hard, and Alex is always ready. We were actually getting ready for a boxing match, so he was in pretty good shape already, and when they called us, we jumped on the opportunity right away. When the UFC calls, you don't say no."
After White scored the first-round stoppage over Payan, the buzz throughout the MMA community skyrocketed over the newest face in the already talent-rich featherweight fold. Whereas he was relatively unknown coming into the bout, the aftermath of his inaugural showing generated a flood of interviews and articles that brought White's unique story to headlines across the MMA landscape.
In less than 90 seconds of work inside the Octagon, White was quickly on his way to establishing himself in the ranks of the 145-pound division. That said, the increased attention was an added touch to a career on the upswing, but the win and the sizable bonus check did little to change the typical grind of White's everyday life.
While he took time to relish a job well done, he still returned to his day job the following Monday and was back working with Worden in the gym one week later. Winning a fight on the sport's biggest stage is a monumental accomplishment, but it's just another bit of hard work for a man who never stops pushing himself.
"The other things in my life have made me who I am today," White said. "Some people have asked me why I don't quit my job and just train full time, and in a way, I kind of agree. I would be able to learn more, but I'm willing to do it all. I'm willing to do everything I have to and do what it takes to become a better fighter.
"It's pretty tedious work, but I know it's what I have to do to keep developing my skills. I wake up to train at 5:30 in the morning and then go straight to work after practice. When I'm done with work, I head right back to the gym for another session and I won't get done until 8:15. By the time I get home, I have just enough time to eat and say hello to my family before I go to bed. Then I wake up and do it all again the next day and the day after that.
"Once we are in training camp for a fight, we even go on the weekends because I want to make sure I'm ready for this fight and put on a good show."
Throughout every day and every session White is in the gym, Worden is right there by his side helping to push the surging young prospect's skills to new heights. When it comes to the amount of dedication and sacrifice that is required to keep the progress rolling, Worden echoed his fighter's sentiment in regard to the amount of effort that is invested in keeping things moving forward.
"I sometimes think people don't really understand how much time has to be invested to become successful in this sport," Worden added. "I'm a family man with a three-year-old son and Alex has a two-year-old daughter, and we are never home. We are constantly training in the gym or we are traveling other places to train or spar.
"When you are in camp, you are living and breathing the fight. That is all you have is your preparation for that next fight. I'm not sure people understand how much time goes into a fight career. He won that $50,000 bonus in his last fight, but when you break that down hourly for every hour he put in to get ready for that fight, it doesn't come out to a whole lot."
Despite his victory over Payan still being fresh in his mind, White has already moved on and has his focus locked on his next challenge and opportunity to shine. Much like his debut showing, where he stepped in on short notice to replace an injured fighter, the same scenario came about as his second fight under the UFC banner materialized.
White and Worden were already back to work inside the gym when the UFC called, asking him to step in against Lucas Martins at Fight Night 45 in Atlantic City on July 16. Just like his first go-around inside the Octagon, White is ready to put on a show, and he will be looking to give fight fans more to talk about when the cage door closes against Martins at Fight Night 45.
"[Martins] has good stand-up and I've got to look out for submissions," White said. "But Joe keeps telling me to watch out for his stand-up. He's got a good chin and I want to test it. He's fought for the UFC three times—he's won two and lost one—and he's fought some good people. I want to give the people a show. Like last time, I want to showcase my skills, and hopefully it's a great show for everybody.
"I want to keep things rolling," he added. "I got into this sport because I wanted to push myself, and I plan to keep doing that. The UFC is the highest level, and I know they can give me the fights I need to get that belt. That is the goal I want to reach. I'm going to keep pushing myself because I want to reach the top. I want to push myself further every time, and that is always my motivation."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.