The 27-year-old Vineland, New Jersey, native somehow finds himself on the precipice of contention in the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division, some 1,300 days after he suffered a gruesome career-threatening arm injury on Dana White’s Contender Series. Mere hours away from a showdown opposite Jack Hermansson in the UFC Fight Night 236 main event on Saturday in Las Vegas, the same resilience that allowed him to back away from the ledge of self-doubt now has him in position to climb into the Top 10 at 185 pounds. The UFC’s chief executive took note almost immediately. Others, some of them begrudgingly, have followed suit.
“The target on my back was people discrediting Dana White saying ‘Be Joe Pyfer’ without understanding the message I interpreted it as. I don’t think it was be me fight-wise,” Pyfer said at the pre-fight media day for UFC Fight Night 236. “It was ‘Be Joe Pyfer’—the kid got turned away, broke his arm, almost two years out. My career was supposed to be over, OK? Over. Not f----- hurt. Over. I had to get two major surgeries. I was told I had a 30% chance of success. I still lost like half a f------ inch on my reach.”
Pyfer has rattled off five consecutive finishes—they include his contract-clinching technical knockout of Osman Diaz in his return to DWCS—since he recovered from the Aug. 11, 2020 injury that threatened to put him out to pasture, proving much to himself and to those who doubted him. Resolve became a powerful ally.
“I wasn’t supposed to make it, and I came back,” Pyfer said. “That’s what that message is. I didn’t even have the best performance when I won my contract. I just fought with emotion. I fought with passion. You could see it. I wanted to win. My whole life rode on that. The only reason I’m here is because of that.”
More important business now beckons. Hermansson, on paper, appears to be Pyfer’s most formidable opponent in his most significant opportunity to date. Few fighters draw a headlining assignment in the UFC after just three appearances in the organization. Pyfer has done his part to keep it all in proper perspective.
“It’s another fight,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if we were opening the card or last on the card, I haven’t put any emphasis on being the main event. It’s pretty surreal. I get pretty choked up seeing myself on a poster, especially where I come from and the doubts that have transpired along this career that I’ve been on. I’m super grateful for it. I got like 20 of my most loved people out here. I got almost my whole team out here. That means the most to me.”
Pyfer last suited up at UFC Fight Night 229, where he put Abdul Razak Alhassan to sleep with an arm-triangle choke in the second round of their Oct. 7 confrontation. The decisive victory moved him to 3-0 inside the Octagon and followed back-to-back first-round finishes of Alen Amedovski and Gerald Meerschaert. Even as critics continue with their whispers, Pyfer believes he has done more than enough to warrant a spot at the top of the bill.
“Why am I not deserving? I talk my s---. I back it up. I’m not saying I can’t lose, but dare to say what you feel,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing. I’m confident in what I say. I’m confident in what I believe. It’s not something I convince myself to believe. I deserve to be here. I’m active. I talk truthfully. I would watch me if I wasn’t in the UFC. I say that humbly. I’m not saying that as an arrogant prick. I think I’m good on the mic. I think I’m good doing my job, doing good on these interviews. I don’t really care to do them necessarily. I wouldn’t go out of my way to do them, but it’s a part of my job.
“I could be working a 9-to-5 that I know I would get fired from, so yeah, I am appreciative,” Pyfer added. “I’m thankful to be here. I’m taking it in as much as I can without being distracted.”
Most expect Hermansson to be a willing and able dance partner. The former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder owns a 10-6 record in the UFC, his run on the roster highlighted by wins over David Branch, Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum. While he enters the cage on the rebound following a second-round technical knockout loss to Roman Dolidze at UFC on ESPN 42 in December 2022, Hermansson has not suffered consecutive defeats in more than a decade.
“Jack’s good everywhere, not great at any one thing,” Pyfer said. “He’s got good cardio. He’s got good boxing. He’s got good kickboxing. He’s got good grappling. I don’t see anything in that man’s skill set where I think he will ever be a champion or title challenger again. I think all the pressure’s on him. I think he’s a good dude outside of the fight, but I don’t like him because he’s trying to take my other half. He’s not my f----- friend. I made adjustments as far as my approach to this fight. Stylistically, Jack’s a new challenge. I don’t care that he’s fought some of the best. He’s lost to some of the best.
“One of the things he kept saying in the promo—it’s the only video that I’ve watched—is that he’s not scared of me,” he added. “He must have said it two or three times. I’m like, ‘Look, homie. You are scared of me. You won’t stand in the pocket and trade with me. That’s why you’re saying it.’ This isn’t about who’s afraid of who. This is about who can beat who. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared or not. Often, I’m very nervous going into a fight anyway. I think Jack’s got a lot of pressure on him right now. He’s tough, but I don’t think he’s that great.”
Pyfer understands the high stakes that are in play at the UFC Apex. He plans to bask in the limelight, not shrink in the face of it.
“I’m here to test myself, push myself to the limits and find out where that bitch in me lies,” he said. That’s why I’m in this. I want to know how far I can go. I’m not going to let any man stand across from me and tell me that they’re taking it from me. On the outside, it puts me in the Top 15. I don’t personally care where I’m ranked, but from my life and where I’ve come from and the odds that I’ve defied, it puts me right where I’ve always believed I belong, and that’s among the best.
“I started competing at 5 years old in jiu-jitsu tournaments,” Pyfer added. “This is my whole life. When I tell you I couldn’t be successful at anything else other than this sport, I truly mean that. This is my Plan A, and it’s all I have.”