A member of the El Dorado Hills’ MMAGOLD team, local standout has a big fight on the horizon May 20
By Gavin Hudson
At 17, Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez was a rising prospect in the amateur mixed martial arts circuit in Northern California. Fighting had become a part of his daily routine. As he gained notoriety, his opponents did too. Hernandez accepted a sparring match against a 36-year-old police officer, eager to test his limits.
Only, it wasn’t a sparring match; it was an underground cage fight.
But that didn’t phase Hernandez, as he had his father, Hugo Hernandez, sign a parental consent waiver to allow him into the cage. With his father and sister in his corner, “Fluffy” had the cop unconscious in less than a minute.
Within the confines of a cage, Hernandez knew he was home.
A decade later, Hernandez is now signed to the UFC and preparing for his next professional fight against Edmen Shahbazyan on May 20. He’s won three bouts in a row.
Hernandez’s dream to become a legendary fighter started in Dunnigan, in northwestern Yolo County, where he was born.
“Population of 700 where I’m from, so, small little town,” the fighter reflected. “Grew up on an acre lot and had chickens my whole life.”
Under the wing of his athletic, Esparto-born father, Hernandez was keen on becoming tough –being ready to fight anyone, anywhere.
“That’s pretty much how I grew up,” he acknowledged. “Just a country boy and fighting a lot like with neighbors and shit and just kind of grew up tough.”
School was never a strong suit for Hernandez. He had been kicked off the Woodland Senior High School wrestling team due to poor academic performance, and his college professors quickly grew tired of lack of engagement.
“My teacher was like, ‘you need to quit working or fighting because you keep forgetting your homework,’ Hernandez remembered. “I was like, ‘man, fuck that shit. I’m way better at fighting than this shit. So, I just dropped out of school.”
In 2018, Hernandez was faced with an opportunity he’d waited for his whole life: a chance to enter the UFC at Dana White’s Contender Series 10. His father was ecstatic; he couldn’t wait to see his son enter the biggest MMA promotion on the planet.
Only a few months before the match, Hugo would pass away from a lung disease. Anthony would enter the fight without his father in his corner for the first time in his career. In just 40 seconds, Anthony Hernandez had secured a spot in the UFC with a knockout and dedicated the bout to his father.
“He pretty much showed me exactly what work ethic was, and that’s what I carry with me every day,” said the junior Hernandez, sporting a neck tattoo depicting his father in an Aztec headdress.
Losing his biggest inspiration was a tough challenge, but “Fluffy” has continued to get his drive from his family. Only now, it’s his wife and four kids.
“They’re my ‘why’ now,” he said. “Everything I do is for them. Without them, fuck, I probably would’ve gone off the deep end after losing my dad.”
MMA is a tough sport to watch loved ones compete in, but Hernandez’ wife, Kristie, acts as his co-manager, overseeing merchandise and recording his social media content to give fans a glimpse into his training. While she accompanies him to each fight, the kids enjoy his fights from the homes of other family members.
“From what I’ve heard, they’re all for it,” Kristie said. “They all grew up in the gym… it’s just natural for them. It’s one thing they just live and breathe.”
While Hernandez has been fighting his whole life, Kristie believes his gritty demeanor exists purely on the outside: “He’s a tough fighter but he’s a big teddy bear… he loves cuddles and he likes to be the little spoon.”
Jim West, Hernandez’ MMA coach since he was 18, has watched him progress not only as a fighter, but as a man as well.
“Really, I’ve been able to see kind of the whole thing: from him being a kid at 18 to being really a grown man and 29 now and seeing that evolution,” West observed. “He’s a professional athlete but he’s a professional father as well. He’s been able to mend and mold both of those things really well and be fantastic at both.”
Hernandez currently fights under West on the MMAGOLD team in El Dorado Hills. West said that the fighter has become an inspiration to others on the team.
“He leads our MMA striking class… a lot of the guys wanted him to start doing something like that,” the coach explained. “It really came from the guys on the team, they all look up to him and he’s a great coach so it all just kind of lined up.”
West believes Hernandez’s self-belief helps him stand out from the rest.
“Anthony isn’t the most-athletic, but he has an unbreakable will,” West added. “Without that self-belief, and that true desire to win, that skill wouldn’t mean much.”