With the UFC slated to arrive in his hometown in April, Orlando newcomer Jim Alers had high hopes that he’d be making his maiden trip into the Octagon in familiar territory.
Sporting a 12-1 record and riding an eight-fight winning streak, the featherweight has been biding his time, eager to follow the same path Irishman Conor McGregor took from the top of the Cage Warriors 145-pound weight class into the deep and talented ranks in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Having succeeded McGregor as the Cage Warriors champion, the 27-year-old submission specialist waited on the call to the big leagues, eying an opportunity to fight at home.
“We were trying to get on for a while,” explained Alers of his team’s efforts to make the transition to UFC from Europe’s premier organization. “I was actually trying to get on the Orlando card - being from Orlando - and (matchmaker) Sean Shelby was like, `It can’t happen; we don’t have the room,’ so we were kind of like, `Okay, I guess we’re not fighting any time soon.’ One week to the next, we get an email saying, `Jim Alers versus Alan Omer, April 11 - are you down?’
Though not the fight card he was angling for, Alers is actually uniquely prepared to make his UFC debut against fellow new arrival Omer next month in Abu Dhabi.
Over his last five appearances, the man known as “The Beast” has been piling up the air miles and putting a number of new stamps into his passport, making stops in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Prior to that, Alers made a pair of successful journeys to the Middle East, picking up victories in Bahrain and Jordan, giving him ample experience to pull from as he prepares for the biggest bout of his career.
“The weight cut is a science - you can’t just wake up and think, `I’m going to lose this weight,’ because with flying, you retain water weight and all that stuff becomes a factor. If you’re not used to it, it’s going to be a problem.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said of debuting overseas as opposed to at home. “My last five fights have been out of the country, and I’ve actually fought in the Middle East a few times. It’s kind of like the usual for me now to fight away. I’ve been to Abu Dhabi for jiu-jitsu, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
Not only is he comfortable competing in the Middle East, he’s eager to once again fight in front of the rabid MMA fans in the region as well.
“The fans over there are awesome and really loyal - they’ve been writing to me on Twitter since the first time I was there, asking when I was coming back, so I think I’ll have a good fan base there.”
Like many competing in smaller organizations with an eye on getting a shot against the best in the world, Alers has been asked about the competitors that make up the featherweight class in the UFC and he’s never pulled any punches in assessing where he believes he fits in.
Prior to his New Year’s Eve win over Graham Turner, the confident Floridian proclaimed he could beat most of the guys in the UFC featherweight division and questioned why he’d yet to be called to join their ranks.
Now that he’s a part of the organization, Alers is keen on backing up his boisterous words, one fight at a time.
“Now I get the chance to prove it,” he said with a laugh when presented with his previous comments. “Watching the fights, I always thought I can be there, I can compete with these people - not only compete, but win - and now it’s time to show why I’ve tried so hard to get here.”
While he’s happy to be following the path from the top of the Cage Warriors featherweight ranks to the UFC forged by McGregor last year, you can add Alers’ name to the list of athletes ready to share the cage with “The Notorious” in the future.
“Everything he’s done is amazing. He’s the icon for MMA in Ireland, pushing the sport big time over there, and I just knew Cage Warriors was going to be that step for me to get to the next level.
“It seems like that’s the fight everybody wants now,” offered Alers, who was scheduled to face McGregor prior to the injured Dubliner departing the regional circuit to make his UFC debut last April. “And to be honest, I’d take it in a heartbeat. I think there’s a lot of hype behind him - he’s obviously a good fighter, but I don’t think he’s a complete fighter.”
Before he can add his name to growing list of competitors angling for an opportunity to share the cage with the brash McGregor, Alers has to contend with Omer.
The 25-year-old Iraq native boasts an impressive 18-3 mark with 16 finishes, having returned from a two-year hiatus in early February to earn a first-round stoppage win and push his winning streak to four. Like his opponent, Omer prefers the ground, with nine of his 18 victories coming by way of submission.
As far as Alers is concerned, however, he’ll have the advantage when the fight hits the floor.
“Looking at him, I saw that he had a good amount of fights, same background - submissions and everything - and that made me more comfortable because I feel my submission game is on point,” he said in assessment of the man he’ll face in Abu Dhabi. “He’s definitely a tough guy - he’s got 18 wins - but after watching tape and everything, I feel very confident about how this fight’s going to go. I’m going to go out there and put on a good performance.”
While receiving the call to compete in the UFC has long been his goal, Alers admitted that the increased attention that comes with preparing to step into the Octagon for the first time has been more than he expected.
That being said, he’s well equipped for the challenge before him, having earned his 12 career victories in six different countries.
And at the end of the day, a fight is a fight.
“It’s definitely overwhelming at times, but when they close the gate to the Octagon, it’s just going to be him and me, and another day at the office.”
Frequent Traveler Alers Primed for Debut
"I feel very confident about how this fight’s going to go. I’m going to go out there and put on a good performance." - Jim Alers