Two-time national champion Roman Bravo-Young exhausted his college eligibility this past season. He completed his senior season with a second-place finish at 133 pounds after winning the previous two NCAA tournaments. The plan, for now, is to continue his wrestling career on the freestyle circuit, but the former Penn State wrestler has always had a bit of a toe in the MMA water. This week, he is set to wade a little deeper into that pond.
Bravo-Young is scheduled to face off against former UFC flyweight title challenger Alex Perez in a grappling match. The bout, which is set at featherweight (145 pounds), will be part of UFC Fight Pass Invitational 4 and will air live on the promotion’s streaming service on Thursday at 9:00pm ET.
For those that do not follow combat sports outside of wrestling, grappling is basically an MMA fight without any striking (punching, kicking, etc). The Fight Pass Invitational uses EBI rules, which consist of a 10-minute submission-only match with the potential for overtime. Unlike some grappling events, a winner can’t be determined via points. More on this later.
Alex Perez at the 2023 CCCCAA finals; Photo courtesy of John Sachs; Tech-Fall.com
Like many MMA fighters, Perez comes from a wrestling background. He wrestled in high school for Lemoore where he was a three-time West Yosemite League champion and a two-time divisional champion. As a senior in 2010, he was ranked as high as 12th in California.
Perez continued to wrestle on the collegiate level for West Hills College, which is a member of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). In 2013, he defeated Brady Howell (Lassen College), Brian Ha (Skyline College) and Greg Barrera (Cerritos College) to make the finals at 133 pounds. In the championship bout, he dropped an 8-6 decision against Nathan Pike then of Mount San Antonio College and settled for second place.
Following that season, Pike would transfer to NYU where he would become a three-time Division III All-American. In 2017, he became the first NCAA champion in NYU’s extensive history, and he is currently an assistant coach on staff.
Perez did not wait until his wrestling career was over to start fighting professionally. By the time he finished second at the CCCAA tournament in 2013, he already held a 9-2 professional MMA record. In 2017, Perez received his big break as he was invited to compete on the first season of Dana White’s Contenders Series. He defeated Kevin Gray via anaconda choke submission and earned a contract with the UFC.
A little over three years later, Perez earned a shot at the flyweight title. He faced off against then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo in the main event of UFC 255, but ultimately lost via submission in the first round. Since that loss, he has fought only once. Last July, he was submitted once again versus Alexandre Pantoja who will fight for the flyweight title next weekend.
Perez was set to return to the cage last March against fellow contender Manel Kape. However, the bout was canceled at the last minute due to a health issue. Perez later announced on his Instagram that he experienced a seizure backstage while warming up.
During his MMA career, Perez has won seven fights via submission and has been forced to submit five times, including his last two fights. In the UFC, he has averaged 1.29 submission attempts per 15 minutes, which ranks 24th among ranked UFC fighters
While this bout has been marketed in some places as Bravo-Young's submission grappling debut, he did have a high-profile match against UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. On Dec. 20, 2020, the two had a freestyle match followed by a grappling match on a show hosted by the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Bravo-Young came back to win the freestyle match by a 6-4 score after giving up a first-period four on a lateral drop.
The grappling match was a different story entirely. About 35 seconds into the bout, Sterling was able to secure half guard position on the bottom. He then transitioned from there into a deep single leg. Bravo-Young defended with a shin whizzer, but Sterling was able to throw in his far leg and eventually achieve what folks call back mount in grappling. This is one of the most dominant positions in the sport, and it was not long until the UFC champion snaked his arm under the chin and finished with a rear-naked choke.
That bout was nearly three years ago, and it is entirely possible that Bravo-Young has made strides in his grappling game. While Perez has proven himself to be a strong offensive submission threat in MMA, he has not shown the type of positional dominance that Sterling has in the UFC. Bravo-Young will have the wrestling advantage in this contest, and it should allow him to work from the top position and dictate where the contest takes place.
While Sterling competes in MMA at 135 pounds, he appeared to have a visible size advantage over Bravo-Young who wrestled for Penn State at 133 pounds. This bout against Perez will take place at 145 pounds, but Perez has always fought in the UFC at flyweight (125 pounds). Unlike his previous grappling match, Bravo-Young should not be working against a larger opponent.
Under certain rules, Bravo-Young would be a considerable the favorite in this contest. While some grappling events give points for takedowns and establishing positions, this bout will take place under submission-only rules. If neither fighter is able to win via submission during the 10-minute regulation period, the bout will head to “overtime.”
The overtime under these rules is similar to rideouts in college wrestling. Each wrestler gets an opportunity from a dominant position (either “spider web” or back mount). After each competitor gets an offensive opportunity, the following logic is used to determine a victor or declare another round of overtime.
If Fighter 1 submits Fighter 2, and Fighter 2 does not submit Fighter 1, then Fighter 1 wins
If Fighter 2 escapes, and goes on to submit Fighter 1, then Fighter 2 wins
If both fighters escape, the fighter who escapes fastest wins
If neither fighter escapes or submits, then it goes to another round of overtime
As previously stated, under a different set of rules Bravo-Young would likely be a large favorite in this bout. However, if the wrestler is unable to secure a submission in regulation, Perez should have the edge in this overtime situation. He will have more experience in these grappling positions and more experience with submissions.
Regardless of the result, Bravo-Young deserves credit for taking on a former UFC title challenger in only his second grappling match. At the very least, it gives MMA fans reason to be excited for his expected and eventual transition to the fight game.