When you know what he’s been through, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Alex White was able to walk into his UFC debut on two weeks’ notice and push his record to a perfect 10-0 with an 88-second knockout win over veteran Estevan Payan.
On the surface, the 25-year-old resembled any number of regional hopefuls with unblemished records and “Become UFC champion” at the top of their list of personal and professional goals. Stepping into the cage two weekends ago in Orlando, he became the third fighter nicknamed “The Spartan” to compete under the UFC banner that week, joining TUF Nations middleweight winner Elias Theodorou and Team Australia’s Vic Grujic.
But underneath the “just another newcomer” exterior beats the heart of someone who has been fighting since he was four years old.
Car problems on a family road trip to Disney World left White and his brother running around in the sun, playing an impromptu game of tag while their dad tried to get them back on the highway. Thirsty, White took a long gulp off what he thought was the lemonade jug and woke up the next morning in the hospital.
The refreshment he was seeking had been replaced by gasoline, and the toxic fuel knocked him down, but not out - at least not permanently. Though he had to be revived on the way to the hospital and doctors told his family he wouldn’t make it, White came through the ordeal, scarred vocal chords that produced an altered voice standing as the only permanently injuries he suffered in the accident.
Growing up without much money, not wearing “the right clothes” and sounding different than the other kids made White a target for bullies in school. The unwanted attention made the already shy youngster retreat even more, but it also served as fuel for what would become a career dedicated towards showing others going through those same experiences not to give up.
“I’ve noticed people and little kids have been coming up to me - and parents and teachers have reached out to me - saying, `We’re happy for you!’” says White, less than two weeks removed from collecting the first UFC victory of his career. “Kids saying, `I’ve been bullied too, so maybe I can be like you one day.’
“I just tell them they’ve got to keep looking ahead because those bullies have problems too, and that’s why they do that. You’ve just got to keep moving along and use that as determination.”
That’s what White has done and it has delivered him to the biggest stage in the sport less than four years after his first professional fight.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this quick,” admits White, who still works a full-time job and gets up to train at 5am each morning. “We were supposed to go to the fights and talk to some people, but I wasn’t expecting to fight.
“When I first heard (about the fight), I wondered who I was going to fight, but I wasn’t going to say no. I wanted to fight a tough opponent, someone that could push me, and the UFC can do that. I thought for a second about who I was going to fight, but I wasn’t going to turn it down. I want tough fights.
“I was thinking maybe a year-and-a-half, two years I would probably get there,” he says of his expected timeline for arriving in the UFC, “but I’m really happy with getting called for short notice. It didn’t give me much time to train for it, but if you put your heart, mind and soul into it, you can do just about anything.”
White proved that in the cage with Payan at the Amway Center in Orlando, shaking off a slow start to put away the 32-year-old Arizona Combat Sports product.
A straight left hand down the middle dropped Payan and White wasted little time pouncing on his fallen opponent, driving home a series of right hands until the referee pulled him away. Not only did White keep his perfect record intact and pick up another first-round win, but the former McDonald’s employee also pocketed one of the two Performance of the Night bonuses for the UFC on FOX event.
“I’m really excited about the outcome,” begins White before turning a critical eye on his showing. “I probably would have started out differently - I started out kind of slow, I thought, so I need to work on that. I need to work on my technique of going straight down the middle instead of going kind of wild like I did, work on my teep kicks. I see a whole bunch of stuff that I need to work on, so I’m definitely going to do that.
“The bonus is still pretty crazy to me,” he adds, saying his plan is to use the money to purchase his first house.
For the time being, however, house hunting is going to have to wait.
“I took a week off and now I’m going to get back in the gym, start training my butt off again, trying to get as well-rounded as I can to be ready for anybody. Hopefully the UFC sees (how well I performed last time) and gives me another good fight. We’re hoping for that call.”
As for prospective opponents, the unbeaten 145-pound prospect mentions Hawaiian Max Holloway, who earned a third-round submission win over Andre Fili in the opening bout of last weekend’s UFC 172 main card in Baltimore.
“My coach told me about him and he sounds like a pretty tough opponent - he’s good at stand-up, he’s pretty good with his jiu-jitsu,” he says of the 22-year-old who has already collected five UFC wins.
Ultimately though, White isn’t particular about his next opponent - he simply wants to get back into the cage as soon as possible so that he can deliver another impressive showing and continue serving as a role model to anyone that has ever been or is currently being bullied.
“I’ve been more open than I ever have,” says White with a nervous laugh, still getting comfortable sharing his story and dealing with the attention that comes from bursting on the scene in the UFC. But it’s something he’s embracing, because he knows that sharing his story could help someone who is in the same position he was not that long ago.
“If I can help someone, I’ll do it.”
Alex White: Not Your Typical Newcomer
"I’ve noticed people and little kids have been coming up to me - and parents and teachers have reached out to me - saying, `We’re happy for you!’" - Alex White