Jose Perez has been working tirelessly to become a champion and wants to show that he’s ready to make the jump to the UFC. But, ahead of his first title defense, the Cage Fury Fighting Championships featherweight champion admits that things feel a little unusual.

Perez takes on Chris Vasil in the main event of CFFC 121, which streams live on UFC Fight Pass on Friday night. And the 28-year-old said that things feel very different heading into the bout as the champion.

“I’ve always been used to kind of being the challenger,” Perez told

“I’ve been the guy in the blue corner fighting the hometown guy or fighting someone that I’m supposed to lose to by expectations. So now being the champion, it just feels a little odd, and I kind of don’t really like it that much being the guy that they’re chasing after. It kind of feels like spinning my tires.

“I’d rather try to fight someone that is expected to beat me, and I feel like this one, you know, I’m odds-on for it, so I guess the only thing I can really try to do is try to challenge myself further. They know I’m better. I just want to show them that I’m significantly better.”

Perez and Vasil are set to face off in the headline bout in Mississippi, with Perez set to make his first walk as champion. His last appearance saw him claim a third-round submission over Frank Wells. Prior to that, he claimed a decision victory ovre Paul Capaldo in a bout considered to be one of the best ever seen inside the CFFC cage.

With the goal of winning the title now achieved, Perez has had to adjust his focus as he looks to cement his position as the promotion’s premier featherweight. It’s meant a tweak to how he approaches his preparation, and a change in mindset.

“You’ve got to learn about how to actually fight and throw the punches, and then I think on the flip side, you’ve also got to know what’s going on with the business side of things and kind of how this whole thing is laid out and how it works,” he explained.

“I think that’s really what I’ve been working on most in this little gap is trying some things, getting shot down, waiting on a call, doing this, doing that, and learning more and more each time just to experience that, but also the time off has kind of afforded me the time to just be like a martial artist again and just do it for the sake of doing it not because you have to but because you want to.

“I’m kind of an obsessive guy, and when I have an opponent, I like to be scared of them because that gets me out of bed in the morning. That gets me in the gym more often, you know? When my arms are tired, and I don’t want to do the last pushup or the last round, that fear of that guy kicking my ass is what’s going to make me push harder, and it’s stressful, but to just do martial arts because it’s just fun to do martial arts is something different, and it was nice to get back to it just for a little period of time.”

With the preparation now complete, Perez returns to the cage with a target on his back as he takes on the starring role at CFFC 121. He admits his bout with Vasil will see him face a tough test of his championship credentials.

“I think Chris is actually a really good fighter,” Perez said.

“I think that he’s got a lot of good habits as far as the fight is concerned, and I just think that the last few times he’s kind of been more of the B-side and been overshadowed by a more popular opponent or someone that everyone expects to win, so when you see Chris Vasil doing well, you think it’s more of a fluke or something like that, but Chris Vasil has got a lot of good habits, a lot of things that he does real well.

“I think he’s a good fighter, and I can let him be a good fighter. I don’t have to take anything from him because I don’t need to. I’m sure of myself, and I know roughly about where I fit in the food chain here, and I’m getting a better idea as we go along, but I’m comfortable going against good fighters, too. I know great fighters can beat good fighters, and I consider myself a great fighter and only getting better.”

As a reigning CFFC champion, thoughts inevitably turn to what could come next, and Perez is no different. CFFC is a proven pathway to the UFC, with prior featherweight belt-holders Blake Bilder, Jared Gordon, and Pat Sabatini all earning a shot in the Octagon. For 28-year-old Perez, the time feels right for him to follow in their footsteps.

“We’ve been holding out and saying, like, ‘This is the one. This is the one that’s going to get us there,’ for the past three fights, and we’ve been wrong every time,” Perez said.

“All that ends up happening is more people and more people kind of co-sign on that idea that ‘this is the one’ more than the last time, and right now I’m at an all-time high of people cosigning and telling me, ‘Right, this is the one that’s going to do it,’ and I have no expectations because I’ve just learned that I have no idea. There’s no way I could tell what’s going to get me in and what’s not, you know?

“But I think this is just going to be a reminder to the roster and a reminder to the matchmakers that I’m the guy and I don’t want to make a statement in terms of just being exciting. I want to get a finish.”

Perez then spoke about his hopes for the fight with Vasil, and how he hopes to use it as a springboard to the big stage.

“I want to be decisive. I want to show exactly how good I am because I think that I’ve almost made a novelty out of myself with how exciting my fights have been because I’ve done a good job of making them wars when I don’t necessarily have to,” he said.

“Capaldo said that I didn’t have the wrestling to take him down, but I scored every single takedown that I went for in that fight. The easier route would have been to do that out of the gate and get my finish.

“Right after that, I kickboxed and gave Frank Wells every opportunity to knock me out like a lot of people believed he should be able to, and it didn’t happen, you know?

“So I’m giving these guys every opportunity, and that creates wars, but it’s unnecessary, so I want to kind of go back to what I could do and just mitigate this guy, shut him down in every way, and just prove that I’m better all around.”