Significant time has passed since what many believe was the robbing of Dominick Reyes of the UFC light heavyweight title, but for the man himself it only fuels the fire heading into his shot at redemption.
“He took what’s mine,” Reyes says of Jon Jones and that wildly contentious call back in February, when judges awarded the champion a unanimous decision when the challenger appeared to have prevailed. “And I’m here to get it back.
“I’m not here to play games. I’m not here to enjoy the beach. I’m not here to enjoy anything. I’m here to fight and win.”
Reyes’ response is peppered with expletives, adding to the sense that he still considers himself a man wronged. Jones, widely recognised as among the greatest UFC athletes of all time, vacated his crown last month, leaving Reyes and Pole Jan Blachowicz to scrap it out for the title on Sunday at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi. It's one of two championship bouts kicking off a second Fight Island series in the capital.
Speaking to The National now from his hotel suite as bikes loop Yas Marina Circuit below - "its pretty cool man; this place is awesome" - Reyes doubles down on the burning that rages in his rush for gold.
“I get upset when people just want to talk about ‘what if you don’t win?’ he says. "But screw you. I’m going to win. This is not a game. This is my entire life; I’ve put my entire soul into this. And everybody’s going to see.”
The California native is apparently more motivated than at any time in his career, one that glistened through his first 12 unbeaten professional mixed martial arts fights until Jones inflicted its solitary, soul-destroying defeat.
“Not because of what happened, but because of what the situation is: the opportunity to be world champion," Reyes says. "I was extremely motivated in the last fight. It was very evident in my performance.
“But this is a whole new level of motivation and dedication and obsession. I’m a whole new animal, a whole new beast.
“I’m going to prove that I’m the best fighter of anybody in the world. There’s not going to be a question in anyone’s mind - ever - about who the best is. And that’s who you’re going to see. I’ve a pretty big chip on my shoulder right now. I’m ready to [expletive] destroy."
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For all that, Reyes insists he isn’t underestimating Blachowicz. At 36, his rival is six years his senior, a veteran of 34 pro bouts and the former light heavyweight champion in his home KSW promotion.
Unlike Reyes, Blachowicz comes off a win in February, his third successive success and 26th overall.
“He’s huge, in stature and in threat,” Reyes says. “He’s a big man, powerful, experienced. He’s a very formidable opponent in all aspects of the word. But I’m better. That’s just what it is. But he’s a very worthy opponent to be fighting for the title.”
Listening to him, Reyes' confidence doesn't seem misplaced.
“My style’s better, my talent is greater,” he says. “I’m younger. Our power is pretty close, and I have championship experience. I fought a championship fight in my last fight. He fought championship fights as well, but not in the UFC.
“A UFC championship fight is different to anything else in the world. And I have the experience against arguably the greatest of all time.”
The opportunity in Abu Dhabi allows Reyes to embark on his quest to be mentioned alongside Jones, not for February’s flamed frustration, but as a bona fide UFC legend. First, though, he wants simply to be known as a champion of his sport.
“Tremendous,” Reyes says when asked how he would feel on Sunday, arm raised. "There’s going to be a lot of relief as well. There’s going to be a 'finally, I did it'. I’m sure there’s going to be emotion involved: this has been a lifetime of work, man, and I can’t wait until I do it. Until my dream has finally become a reality.”
He has transported the mind to that moment on Sunday morning - Reyes is staying on US Pacific time this week in preparation of his 7am bout - with Blachowicz beaten and bowed, that lifelong dream blooming into reality.
“That’s the only thing I visualise,” Reyes says. “That’s the only thing that feels good. I’ve knocked him out thousands of different ways. I’ve choked him thousands of different ways. None of that feels that great.
“The only thing that feels amazing is when I have that belt wrapped around my waist. That’s the only part of the visualisation that makes me feel good. And I can’t frickin’ wait.”