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CFFC NextGen champ Luke Fernandez eyes pro ranks, but first had to keep promise to his wrestling team

Fernandez returns at Saturday's CFFC 108, which streams live on UFC Fight Pass from Parx Casino in Bensalem, Penn.
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With each performance logged in the CFFC cage, the buzz surrounding Luke Fernandez's prospects in the pro ranks continues to grow.

The undefeated amateur picked up the CFFC NextGen light heavyweight title this past October, submitting a talented Cody Lewis in under two minutes to claim the belt. Pushing his record to 4-0 with three first-round finishes, questions began to fly about his potential next move. The answer didn't involve fighting at all.

"I wanted to get back in, but I coach wrestling in the winter," Fernandez said. "This was my last year doing that just because it's not really convenient to my work life and fighting because I'm at matches and tournaments and practice every day, so I can't really put together a full fight camp. In the meantime, I just couldn't commit to another fight."

Fernandez, himself a former collegiate wrestler, could have perhaps walked away from the commitment at New Jersey's Lacey Township High School to focus on his own career, but the 26-year-old prospect didn't see that as an option. After all, he had already given his word.

"I already pre-committed to it the summer before," Fernandez said. "So even winning the belt, I can't back out on that commitment to the season, which does help because I wrestled the whole year with the kids, and I had a few stud upper-weights, so I was getting work in, too, and I'm still training, but I just can't commit to being in the gym every day of the week to to do a full camp."

With wrestling season over, though, Fernandez is ready to turn his focus back to his own fighting career. Now he also boasts the experience of a title-winning performance following his October win.

"It was like a test to see where I was at mentally with fighting for the belt, all this stuff, the buildup to it, and I just took it like any other fight," Fernandez said. "I trained hard that camp, and I was kind of not focused on just one thing. He was a pretty well-rounded opponent, so I just focused on every part of my game and went into it like any other fight, and I'm just glad that everything went my way and my training showed that what we worked on worked out in the fight."

On Saturday, the Dante Rivera Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu product returns to the cage to put his belt on the line at CFFC 108, which takes place at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Penn. Fernandez (4-0) meets challenger Dymere Rappa (2-1) in the featured bout of the evening, which streams live on YouTube and Twitter following a six-bout lineup that streams live on UFC Fight Pass.

Fernandez says he's excited about the opportunity to defend his title for the first time, especially against an athlete he actually previously faced during his time as a wrestler.

"I'm just excited," Fernandez said. "I've been having a great camp, training really hard. I've had other teammates in camp, so it's just good energy in the gym. I've done mental reps of this stuff, so many times now, and it's just super cool that it's coming down to time to actually get back in there and defend this belt.

"A kid like Dymere, I mean, me and him wrestled in college. I know that he's going to come in there ready to come at me and try to take the belt, so it's going to be good. It's going to be a great fight to watch for the fans."

If victorious, especially if he does so again in impressive fashion, the buzz surrounding Fernandez's professional prospects will likely peak again. For his part, the light heavyweight believes it will probably be time, but he's also not the one who will make that call. Fernandez says he leaves that entirely to his coach, Dante Rivera.

"If Dante says I'm ready – which I mean, I think I am, but at the end of the day, he's the one that's progressing my career in the right way, and I trust him with that," Fernandez said. "I've only been in this game for two years. He's done it for however long. He knows his way around here, so I'm trusting his insight and whatever he says. If he wants to do like maybe a quick turnaround, another amateur bout, that's his call. If not, I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get in there with the rest of them."

First, of course, Fernandez needs to handle business with Rappa, but he believes he can do exactly that. Those around Fernandez believe he's capable of big things, and he's hoping to prove them right.

"I want my name to be one of those names that people have on their radar," Fernandez said. "'Hey, did you see that guy, Luke Fernandez, what he did?' I'm always looking to be that guy, so I'm expecting a very convincing performance for myself. I'm expecting to show my toolbelt and really put on a show."

This story first published at CFFC.tv.