Geane Herrera warmed up backstage at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, preparing to walk out as the first fight on the main card airing live on FOX Sports 1. As he stood behind the curtain, Herrera really felt the moment upon him as he thought about all the people watching him live his dream and it was finally about to happen.
This is the experience of many UFC newcomers, something that for most UFC veterans, has become rather routine.
From the flights taken to get from home to the host location, to standing backstage waiting to hit the scale at the official weigh-ins, anyone with more than a single fight in the Octagon knows this protocol and could probably recite what happens from the day they arrive until the moment they return home.
Even debuting fighters usually have a sense of what to expect thanks to teammates or coaches who have been in the UFC before and already know the drill of fight week.
But that wasn't the case for first time UFC fighter Herrera, who signed a four-fight deal with the promotion just weeks before his debut at UFC Fight Night in Nashville last Saturday against Ray Borg.
Not only had Herrera never been in the UFC previously, but no one on his team -- from coaches to training partners -- had ever been in the promotion before, so everybody was experiencing this kind of fight week for the first time ever.
Herrera documented the experience in an exclusive fight diary for FOX Sports as he takes us through his first trip into the world of the UFC.
Tuesday is typically travel day for most fighters who are competing on a Saturday night, and it was no different for Herrera, who flew from Florida to Tennessee for his first bout inside the Octagon.
Herrera had fought in regional promotions for his entire career, just like most aspiring UFC fighters, but even getting to the airport and having a car waiting to pick him up was a new experience for the debuting flyweight.
"One thing that I noticed immediately as soon as I arrived was the guy waiting for me (at the airport) with the UFC sign. I was like 'now it's official'," Herrera said. "From that point on, I started getting confident and feeling good about myself because I've gone through the struggle trying to make it and to see it pay off and come together it was very exciting."
Herrera and his team checked into at the Sheraton in downtown Nashville, where he got his room, and it didn't take long before he began meeting all of the staff from the UFC who were there to welcome him. It was impossible for Herrera not to feel a little nervous for his first experience with the biggest MMA promotion in the world, but he said right away the staff made him feel like part of the team.
"It's just like a big family," Herrera said. "It makes it run smoothly. They sat me down and I started to sign a few posters and then they took me next door where I had my whole Reebok outfit. They handed me and my corners bags full of Reebok gear and that was the coolest thing. They took care of me with everything I needed like if something didn't fit right, they got me what I needed right away."
Since Reebok became the official clothing and uniform sponsor for the UFC, many fighters have reacted with disappointment because they would no longer be allowed to wear additional endorsements in the cage, which could potentially cut down on their ability to make money for a fight.
Herrera said he was actually able to keep his sponsors at Shaw Shooting, who supported him before and after the fight, while still only wearing his Reebok gear in the Octagon. He was also happy to receive an email from the UFC days before his debut with all the information needed so he could have his Reebok sponsorship money wired directly to his bank account as soon as the fight was over.
A minor detail by many accounts, but still not what Herrera expected for his first fight in the UFC.
Following a plane ride and a whirlwind introduction to the UFC, Herrera was ready to get his focus back on the task at hand and that was preparing to fight Borg on Saturday night. Like all events, the UFC has rooms set up at the hotel where fighters can train, warm up or even cut weight, which might seem like something rather small but according to Herrera, it was a big deal considering what he's run into with past promotions.
"I've been at events and on the day of the fight, I don't have anywhere to train," Herrera said. "We'd have like maybe a little mat. So they made it very comfortable for the fighters."
Tuesday also marked the day when Herrera met his opponent for the first time, but it wasn't a UFC photoshoot or some other pre-fight meeting where he ran into Borg. It was actually at a local Walgreens when both fighters just happened to be there shopping at the same time and Herrera went out of his way to make sure to say hello.
"I saw my opponent on the first day I arrived, I saw him at Walgreens and he had bought all this stuff but then he forgot a pack of gum," Herrera recounted. "The lady was going to go out there and give it to him, but I said no let me take it to him. So I grabbed the gum and I ran across the street and I said 'hey Ray!' and I hand him the gum and that's when I met him for the first time."
The end of a very hectic first day came quickly for Herrera and his team, who retired to their room relaxed and ready to go for the rest of the week. What could have easily been a nerve-wracking experience ended up being a smooth transition into the UFC.
"They made me feel at home," Herrera said. "Everyone I interacted with was really nice and they helped me with whatever I needed."
Following his first day as part of the UFC, Herrera was able to spend the next two days putting the finishing touches on his preparation for Borg while also going through his first photoshoot with the organization.
Dressed from head to toe in his new gear, Herrera shot his promotional photos. These would be the shots where people would really get to see the UFC newcomer for the first time.
Herrera and his team left the photoshoot and went back to the workout room, where he would work up a sweat and begin the final phase of his training for Borg and the beginning stages of his weight cut to get down to 125 pounds.
"They had a YMCA set up where everybody in our camp could go whenever we wanted for free," Herrera said. "Normally when I go to these places it's like a $25 fee for everybody, so it was nice they took care of that. That's where I did my weight cut and everything.
"I start cutting weight the week of the fight. It's like a to-do list where I cut out certain things and then do other things and everything comes together in perfect harmony."
One of the biggest questions most fighters will have during fight week is where to get their food as they prepare for a weight cut. With nutrition being such a crucial part of preparation, Herrera and his team knew that he needed to eat certain things in the days leading up to the fight while avoiding others.
"Everything was really close and a grocery store was nearby so I was able to get what I needed and I felt good," Herrera said. "The weight cut went better than my last cut."
The night ended with a team trip to a local Joe's Crab Shack where Herrera was able to eat some fish and broccoli before going to bed that night. When he woke up the next morning, just hours away from his first UFC weigh-in, Herrera weighed a slim, trim 132 pounds -- just six pounds away from hitting the mark for his flyweight fight.
The morning of a weigh-in isn't too bad for Herrera, who admits he wakes up feeling happy and ready, but as soon as the misery of cutting weight is upon him, the mood changes dramatically.
"I wake up, I weigh-in at about 132 so I'm feeling good and I know I'm going to have a good cut," Herrera said. "So I start going through mental preparation and then I go and cut weight. I do it in a hot tub and I drew out to 129 pounds and then I went to the saunas and I continued to cut the weight and got down to 126.
"I made weight around 1 or 1:30 p.m., so about three hours away from the weigh-ins."
It was actually at the saunas where Herrera had another run-in with Borg, who was also at the same YMCA to cut weight. At first he decided to forgo the entire experience to avoid an awkward encounter with his opponent, but after going to another YMCA and realizing he forgot his identification, Herrera was forced to go back to the previous location instead.
Thankfully by that time, Borg and his team had left the facility and Herrera was able to finish his weight cut without staring at the guy he was about to face just a few feet away from him.
Despite not having to cut a lot of weight, Herrera is still not feeling great in the hours leading up to the weigh-ins because he's sucked out all of his water weight and those waning moments before finally stepping on the scale are met by a dry mouth and a hungry stomach.
Herrera stood backstage behind the big screen that blocks the audience from seeing where the fighters are congregating before hitting the scale. Herrera had to laugh at himself when he thought he was already in the weigh-in area before his co-manager Jen Wenk informed him that the crowd was actually on the other side of the barrier waiting for the fighters to walk out from behind the curtain.
"When they started weighing in, then I heard the cheers and then I realized the place was full of people," Herrera said with a laugh. "It was packed. I went out and I saw my friends and my family out there. I was out there and I made weight and it was a really cool experience."
This is where things took a strange turn for Herrera, who made weight on his first attempt, but when Borg hit the scale, he came in over the 126 pound limit.
"To me weight has never been a big deal, but I did notice it was a lack of professionalism on his part not making it," Herrera said. "This is the UFC, not some local promotion, you have to behave like a professional and in my eyes professionals make weight. Honestly, we were going to fight either way so it didn't really bother me."
Following the weigh-ins, Herrera and the other fighters retired to a room in the back of the arena where matchmaker Joe Silva gave them a motivation speech about what was going to happen on Saturday night. These pre-fight meetings are standard fare at the UFC where president Dana White or another official will run down the bonus structure and give the fighters one last pep talk before they step into the Octagon 24 hours later.
"He came in and explained a few things to us, how the bonuses work, and it was just really motivating and cool," Herrera said. "It was like getting the team ready to perform."
From there, Herrera got a taste of home because his usual post-weigh-in meal wass pasta made by his mother and just like always, she was there to take care of her boy. Herrera scarfed down the homemade food and his body started feeling normal again.
SATURDAY -- FIGHT DAY
Herrera struggled to sleep a lot the night before the fight, but that's not unusual given the excitement of what was about to happen in a matter of hours. The debuting UFC flyweight decided to stay in bed most of the morning and just rest to allow his body to soak up the nutrition after his weight cut on Friday and before he knew it the fight was almost here.
Before heading over to the arena, Herrera and his team made one final stop at a local Catholic church where he said a prayer before stepping inside the Octagon that night.
"I see this whole thing as a blessing and I thank God for everything I have," Herrera said.
Herrera and his team got ready and walked down to meet the shuttle that would take them over to the arena. That's when all of this hard work and preparation started to feel real.
Herrera warmed up in the back and got ready to walk out into the arena as the first fight on the main card airing live on FOX Sports 1. As he stood behind the curtain about to walk out, Herrera really felt the moment upon him as he thought about all the people watching him live his dream and it was finally about to happen.
"I just remember standing there as my song was about to play and I hear the UFC music and I see my image against Ray Borg on the big screen and I was like 'oh my god, it's finally here, this is what you've always dreamed of'," Herrera said. "Everything is coming together.
"It was emotional. I got teary-eyed but I was ready to go in there and do what I had to do. That might have played a role in the fight, but I'm happy, I learned a lot from it."
Herrera entered the arena and went to battle with Borg for three rounds, but came way on the wrong end of a unanimous decision loss. It certainly wasn't the result he wanted, but Herrera hung around with a top-15 flyweight on his first day in the UFC and there's no shame in that kind of loss.
"As soon as the fight was over, I was upset," Herrera said. "I knew that I wasn't going to give up in the fight, giving up is never an option. I wish I was able to show more of my skill set, but Ray Borg was the better fighter that day and it showed."
As much as it hurt to lose, Herrera still got a smile from Joe Silva as he entered the Octagon and told the newcomer "good fight" and while it didn't take away the sting of the defeat, it let him know that he still showed up to fight and gave everything he had.
While he wasn't able to get the victory, Herrera can still look back just hours after his fight and appreciate just how special this first experience with the UFC was for him.
"It was my dream come true," Herrera said. "That was my first loss and that's painful but they treated me like a professional athlete and it was all the hard work I put in finally coming together. It was just the best experience of my life.
"If they call me back as soon as this 30-day suspension is up, I'll start getting ready. I've learned a lot. This has been the most I've learned in my career to this day. I'm just going to let it push me to become a better athlete and I hope I see Ray Borg again sometime in the future."