It’s never easy for any fighter to step into a bout on short notice, especially when it happens to be their UFC debut. It’s common knowledge amongst fighters that the first time stepping inside the Octagon is a nerve-racking experience. The bright lights, the screaming crowds, and hearing Bruce Buffer call their name for the first time can be equal parts exciting and stomach churning before the door closes and it’s just two people left inside a caged Octagon ready to go to battle.
For his debut fight in the UFC, Alex White replaced former WEC champion Mike Brown on just a few weeks notice to face Estevan Payan, but despite his undefeated record and outstanding finishing rate, expectations were still low just based on all the factors surrounding the fight. White was 9-0 at the time with eight finishes to his credit, but none of those wins took place in the UFC so it’s almost as if he was stepping in with no experience and just a sense of curiosity on how things would go.
Less than 90 seconds later, White blistered Payan with strikes and finished the fight by TKO to get his first UFC win. It appeared White had bested the mythical ‘UFC jitters’ and pulled off a rapid fire debut victory. In reality, White was a duck on a pond — cool, calm and collected on the surface but just below the break of the waterline his legs were churning a mile a minute just to stay afloat.
"I was pretty nervous. Before I got there I was okay and after the day of the weigh-ins and then the day of, that’s when the nerves kicked in," White told FOX Sports. "All I could think about was the fight — what if he did this or did that, and what would I do to counter off it. I think it worked pretty good. I felt good, so I’m ready to do it again."
It’s kind of like a trophy because getting ‘Performance of the Night’ means I did good. It goes to tell me that I was ready for it and I only showcased a little bit of my skills, but enough to get it.
— Alex White
The win felt great in the moment, but what felt even better was later that night when the UFC handed him a check for $50,000 for ‘Performance of the Night’. In the days leading up to his debut, White was still working a day job and training whenever he had time off. Now he was a UFC fighter with a win on his record and the biggest single amount of money he’s ever seen in his entire life.
Even the bank tellers back at home when he cashed the check had to do a double take.
"The teller is just thinking this is another day and her eyes got kind of big," White said with a laugh. "They had to double check themselves on the amount and they asked me if I planned on going shopping."
At 25-years of age, it would have been very easy for White to go out and splurge on some fun toys that he never got to have while working 40 hours a week and eking out a fight career on the regional MMA scene. Instead, White did the responsible thing and paid off his debt and now as he approaches his second fight in the UFC, he’s a man who only has to focus on two things — training and paying his rent.
"It’s kind of like a trophy because getting ‘Performance of the Night’ means I did good. It goes to tell me that I was ready for it and I only showcased a little bit of my skills, but enough to get it. The money that was mindblowing," White said. "I’ve already got everything paid off. My two cars are paid off. I don’t have anymore bills besides rent and insurance. So now I’ve just been looking into houses."
While he won’t make predictions about how he’s going to feel for his second UFC fight, White is confident the days of getting nervous before stepping into the Octagon are over. Now it’s about getting down to business and proving that his debut wasn’t a fluke.
And if he can earn another $50,000 bonus, well he’s certainly not going to complain about that.
"I’m going in there to do what I do to get a ‘W’ but to go in there on that night and get a bonus with all the other fighters on that card, that would be phenomenal," White said. "There’s some good fighters on that night."