Thirty-four-year-old Fernando Gonzalez has done his time. He’s had 41 fights in 13 years as a professional. He’s fought for a number of promotions up and down America. His latest victory, against talented action fighter Brennan Ward, was his seventh in eight fights for Bellator, and saw Gonzalez, ‘The Menifee Maniac’, lose the first two rounds, but stay patient, remain dangerous and, in round three, capitalize on Ward’s persistent takedown attempts and snatch a guillotine. So tight was the submission, Ward had no chance of escaping. It was too tight. Over in the third, Gonzalez finally had a statement win in Bellator’s marquee division.

Next up for him is a catchweight (180lbs) fight against former UFC contender Lorenz Larkin on January 26 at Bellator 193. Win that and a title shot, either at welterweight or middleweight, might not be too far away.

Speaking here to Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid, Gonzalez, 27-14, reveals he’s on the hunt for titles – in more than one weight class and in more than one promotion.

Question: What were you thinking going into the final round against Brennan Ward. Were you confident you could still win?

Fernando Gonzalez: When I sit back I like to watch my opponents and see what mistakes they are making and what they are leaving open. From there I start to take over. This was a lot quicker pace. When you are blitzing like he does there are a lot of mistakes being made in those exchanges. I knew I would be able to capitalize on that. It’s his style. He likes to move forward and be aggressive. I wanted to tag him and put him away.

Q: That win put your name into the title picture. How great would it be to get a shot?

FG: Since I have joined Bellator I knew I would one day be champion. I looked at all the guys that were fighting and I knew I could beat them all. Any one of us can beat each other on any given day. What it really boils down to is the mental game. I have the advantage there. I have the experience. I know what I am going to face when I get in there. Once I get that title shot, it’s something I have already dreamed into reality. From there I will have already fought everybody in the top ten, so I will be calling out anyone I haven’t fought.

Q: When you dream these goals into reality what are you seeing now? Multiple titles in different organizations?

FG: I will start looking for other titles in other divisions and maybe even in other organizations. Bellator lets us fight out of there so maybe I could get a Rizin guy to challenge and defend my belt against. That is my goal. That is how you get recognized as one of the best in the world. That’s what I am gearing up for. It’s not just this one belt. I am going to try to clear out this division as quick as possible as king if they give me that title shot soon. After that I can start calling out other guys. That’s how you become legendary and that’s what I want to be.

Q: Your only loss in Bellator is a controversial split-decision to Michael Page. Would you want to run it back with ‘Venom’?

FG: I would definitely want to take that fight. If they offer it to me I want it to be a five-round fight. In the fourth and fifth he is done. He barely had enough to stay away from me in the third round where he was just running. I don’t see how you win a fight like that. It is what it is. It’s in the history books now. Once I get that shot again, I will put him away.

Q: You said your first Bellator win against Karl Ammassou was “the moment I knew I changed my stars forever.” Why?

FG: For a long time, I was on the backburner. Even now, I’m not being promoted. I knew eventually they were going to be promoting me. It’s been like that at every show I’ve been at. I don’t look the most impressive but I know how to fight. I give the fans a great fight and a different style. I am breaking these guys down mentally and physically. I knew with that style I just needed to be able to get on a big stage at a big show with a full training camp to be able to showcase that. Here I am, 6-1 – I think I should be 7-0 with the promotion. I am just going to continue that trend of giving fans great fights. Once I get my belt I will have even more exciting fights.

Q: How close did you come to retiring before you joined Bellator?

FG: I am married, so she stuck with me through all the hard times. It started to get to the point where we were still struggling. We have our son now and we aren’t making it. It was just enough money to get by. After a while nobody wanted to fight me because they were looking to get into the big show. They wanted to save their record and they didn’t want to take a loss to me. It was difficult to get a fight. But I didn’t want to give up on my dream. I watch Entourage and one of the things they talk about on the show is that the lotto ticket winner doesn’t throw away the ticket. I knew what I had. I knew I could give the fans a great show and make a living off what I do. It was a tough time, man. It was rough.

Q: What was the moment where you were closest to calling it a career?

FG: I couldn’t find a fight. I was washing cars. That’s not what I wanted to do. It was eating at me. It still does. It still motivates me. I don’t ever want to get back to that point, ever. I go out there and I put my heart into every fight I have. I know now that until I decide to retire that Bellator will keep me busy. I couldn’t even afford a ticket to get into the Bellator event when they came to my hometown. Everything worked out, man. You have to have those lows to appreciate the highs. I work my ass off every single day to never get back to that point again.

Q: Where do you get your resilience from?

FG: With my upbringing, I got into a lot of street fights as a kid. That is something that kind of molds you. It ingrains itself in you. Getting jumped is never fun. Either you are going to curl up in a ball or you are going to fight back. That’s where I knew my heart existed. When I got into boxing that deterred a lot of me getting jumped because I got good at fighting. After that, knowing I could take shots from three or four different guys at once, I knew one guy wouldn’t stand a chance. There isn’t very much they can do to hurt me or show me anything I haven’t already seen. When it’s one-on-one it’s going to be a hell of a fight.

*** This feature originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Fighters Only magazine ***