Seconds after he finished Julian Erosa a week before Christmas with a brilliant head-kick knockout, Alex Caceres appeared on the verge of breaking down in tears. He was clearly emotional after a massive win. When he was interviewed by Paul Felder in the cage, he spoke of fear, honor and courage in a widely praised speech that provided a glimpse into the psyche of one of the UFC's most unique athletes.
He said his comments in the cage that night were a way for people to view fighters in a more human way. The only negative comment came from what he said was "a 112-pound fighter, I think."
That fighter told Caceres he'd never felt fear and was critical of him for admitting to it and sharing his emotions. But he said that beyond that one person, the response to his emotional talk with Felder was overwhelmingly positive.
Fears and uncertainties confront us every day of our lives, Caceres said. The important thing is how one deals with it.
"I feel it touched a lot of people because I feel everybody is on the precipice of uncertainty every single day of their lives," Caceres told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, days before he faces Daniel Pineda at Apex in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 74 in Las Vegas. "It's crazy. We want to think we know what's going on, but this is our first time around, as far as we know it in life. Even the old people, we're like brand-new babies in the grand scheme of time.
"We know nothing. I think just expressing that notion, that it's OK to not know anything and to keep pushing through it, I feel people are attached to that. A lot of people do feel uncertain at times in their lives. But do they stop? Should they stop? No. No way. You've got to walk through the darkness."
Caceres' speech struck a chord because it was so unusual. Rarely do you see fighters get emotional as he did. Rarely do you hear fighters say, as he did, that he's always afraid in a fight. The truth is that most fighters have fear and anxiety before a fight, but they put on a front to try to disguise it.
Caceres doesn't bother with that. He is who he is and doesn't try to pretend to be someone he's not.
And so he started wondering about his approach to fights, down to things as simple as choosing his ring walk music. Heavyweight Tai Tuivasa got a huge reaction from fans in Las Vegas at UFC 269 when he entered to "Barbie Girl."
For Caceres, a fighter's choice of music speaks to him.
"Before fights, we tend to try to get into the mindset of a fighter, or what we believe a warrior is," he said. "We get all hardcore and we get all mean and we're not enjoying this at all. The songs that we pick are very violent or very vulgar and [we feel] we've got to get out there and get hyped up and get into a certain mood to fight. But most of us don't even train that way. We say, 'This is my job. It's my dream job. I love to do this,' but it doesn't look like you're loving it so much when you're getting out there. When I train, I'm usually in a very good mood and that's the emotion I'm riding on building up to the fight. So why when I get to the fight would I change that emotion?"
As he mulled it over, he realized it made little sense. He was preparing himself one way and then doing another thing when it came time to compete.
He figured he'd be at his best when he fought as he practiced, so he decided to emulate his practice sessions on fight night, up to and including the type of music he listens to.
"It's a bigger wave if I roll with that positive emotion I had in training camp all the way through the fight: Smile, be emotional during the fight because that's what got me here. ... So yeah, sometimes I get emotional. Sometimes I could be driving a car to the gym and I'm listening to a certain song and it wells up inside me because it's a beautiful thing to get out there and expose yourself and know you can come back. It's leaving your body, leaving your mind or who you thought you were, finding yourself and bringing that little piece right back into the vessel you're inhabiting at the moment. It's a growing process every time and I think it's a beautiful thing."