Behold Mike Perry, the UFC's Unlikeliest Rising Star

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2017

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 22:  Mike Perry celebrates after his knockout victory over Jake Ellenberger in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on April 22, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Mike Perry indulges his violent side.

He's finished three of four UFC opponents viciously.

He's boxed professionally.

He's been to jail.

It is absolutely not up for debate that when it's time to fall back on life's baser, more primal instincts, Perry is capable.

It's not a pleasant reality, but neither is fighting in a cage for money. The whole sport of MMA is based on a spartan existence, fighting in the gym for a chance to fight in front of the public for a chance to maybe fight for a world title.

It can be mean and nasty and ugly.

That's what has come to make Perry the UFC's unlikeliest rising star: He embodies those traits. He runs to them and not from them. And somewhere deep within, those traits and the ability to run to them instead of from them is what every MMA fan is looking see in a fighter, for better or worse.

Irrespective of how his approach and persona may make one's skin crawl, Perry is a fighter.

Emblazoned with a gaudy face tattoo and screaming like a wild man come weigh-in, Perry brings out the worst in himself—arguably in MMA—and makes no apology for it. He comes intent with violence, on making you out-violent him if you're ever going to have a hope against him, and most people aren't capable of that.

Perry faces Alex Reyes at UFC Fight Night 116 in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The welterweight has a 10-1 record, with all his wins coming via knockout, and is coming off a Performance of the Night performance in April over Jake Ellenberger.  

It's that reality that draws people to his fights. As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden so aptly stated earlier this year, Perry is problematic but also electrifying:

Every sports fan has athletes that belong to them, proprietary favorites who make the drudgery of sports something more than a grind. There are hundreds of televised mixed martial arts bouts a year. Many of them are staggeringly dull, talented athletes doing little more than leaning against each other against a fence, animated it seems by all the urgency of an employee slowly walking back from a smoke break.

In the face of that ubiquity we need something, someone to embrace. It's what makes you leap from your seat, celebrating a magical moment like you were part of it, not a mere spectator. So why not Mike Perry, an angry YouTube comment brought to life?

That personification of the worst things you've ever seen in YouTube comments was made for the belligerence of mixed martial arts. While many of the best of modern times are true athletes who dazzle with skill and slickness, there is still a seediness to it all at the core.

Perry meets those athletes with a ferocity they've never seen on a wrestling mat or in a jiu-jitsu tournament, and he leaves them with their toes pointing toward the ceiling when he does. That resonates, because it's a unique human being who is capable of tapping into that part of his or herself and unleashing it so willingly.

For most MMA is a game, an engagement of high-stakes problem-solving in real time. For Perry, it's much closer to prison-rules basketball—without the basketball.

It's hard to account for someone like that and it's hard to deal with them—for foes and fans alike. But it's also compelling, and it's why even the smiliest fighters beef with Perry while even the most skeptical fans will watch him.

Therein lies the irresistibility of Perry's push into stardom. It almost feels unquestionable that he will continue to be successful in the cage and continue to get more attention as a result. 

He's the unlikeliest rising star in the promotion, the inverse of everything you'd want selling the UFC brand, a despicable doppelganger of every fresh face the promotion photographs in a Reebok Fight Kit, but he's a rising star nonetheless.

Woe be unto the man who tries to take that away from him, because sometimes the meanest and nastiest and ugliest are the ones to get the furthest.


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