LAS VEGAS — There was a television commercial that got heavy rotation in the 1970s featuring an actor named Robert Conrad, whom they tried hard to portray as a tough guy. The 1977 spot opens with Conrad in a boxing gym punching a speed bag. After one final, hard right hand, he puts a battery on his shoulder and says, “I dare you to knock this off. I dare you.”
That tough-guy attitude was an act, designed to sell batteries. Why anyone thought it was a good idea, who knows? But it became one of the more popular commercials of its time.
Listening to UFC middleweight Joe Pyfer speak at UFC Vegas 80 media day on Wednesday at Apex reminded me of that commercial spot. Pyfer speaks with a palpable edge, as if he’s ready to reach out and grab you by the throat even if just having a casual conversation about Sunday’s NFL games.
He fights Abdul Razak al Hassan in a middleweight bout Saturday at Apex that serves as the co-main event of UFC Vegas 80. And so when the two met outside the media room Wednesday, those watching gulped and held their breath for a moment.
Al Hassan has always been fiery, and Pyfer has never been one to back down from a challenge.
He is where he is — 11-2 overall in MMA and 2-0 with two KOs in the UFC — precisely because he seeks out such challenges.
“Listen,” Pyfer said with a sneer after his chance meeting with al Hassan, “no man’s going to steamroll me. No man’s going to walk over me. … He saw me and he put his hand out to shake my hand. Listen, I was cool without shaking his hand, but he showed me respect, so I gave him respect back. He doesn’t have to like me. He doesn’t have to respect me.
“But that man will feel me and he will respect me in that cage. That’s what matters.”
Pyfer’s edge probably comes from the difficult life he’s led. When he earned his contract on the Contender Series, he mentioned to UFC president Dana White that he was on the verge of being homeless, so White gave him money to pay his rent for the next year to forestall that.
The Pyfer-al Hassan bout should be among the most electric on what’s shaping up to be a fireworks card, albeit one that’s flying a bit under the radar.
Pyfer is as blunt as a right cross to the nose. He understands that al Hassan is a first-rate kick boxer with tremendous power. But he also knows al Hassan has lost four of his last six and believes he’s not as skilled in MMA as he is simply in kick boxing.
A lot of fighters will throw superlatives toward their opponents before a fight, even if they don’t really believe them. That’s not how Pyfer rolls.
Ask him what he thinks and, right or wrong, he’ll give you his opinion.
“I think that he will never be somebody who was ever good enough, or ever will be good enough, to challenge for the [UFC] title,” Pyfer said. “When you look at me, you have question marks, but you know there’s potential there to be a title challenger, if not a title holder. I think that’s the difference, right? I’m young and he’s older. He’s got big power, but so do I. But I have speed and I have cardio, and I have wrestling and I have jiu-jitsu.
“You look at this man. He’s a kick boxer. He’s a very dangerous kick boxer, you know what I mean? I think he’s very singular in his approach. … Look at the trend over time: I don’t think he’s going to be so diversified in this fight against me, somebody who’s long and uses his range well and feints back. I’m not intimidated. If this guy thinks he’s going to walk me down and throw bombs — and they’re all hooks, for that matter — [no]. You’re going to get caught, mother f***er. You’re going to get caught. I will catch you, and I’ve got bigger power.”
Pyfer pointed out that al Hassan fought mostly as a welterweight and got many of his knockouts there.
The confidence is easily evident, and the performances so far in his UFC career have backed that up.
The beauty of MMA, though, is that anything can happen at any time. Joe Pyfer has a lot to prove, and he’s eager to set about proving it.