By Mike Heck, My MMA News

Alex Hernandez got an opportunity to travel to the Middle East as part of the ongoing “Fighters for Freedom” tour to visit the brave men and women of our armed forces. It’s safe to say that the experience is one he will never forget.

Hernandez, in conjunction with Armed Forces Entertainment, made the two-week trip with fellow UFC fighters Carla Esparza, Vinc Pichel and Louis Smolka, along with Bellator MMA competitor — and former Marine — Shane Krutchen.

“The Great” discusses the tour and how he became a part of it on somewhat short notice, what it was like being a part of an attack dog drill and how it was a good test of his shoulder that he recently had surgery on, hoping to ride a camel and how that has become a goal of the entire group, how all of the grappling sessions with the soldiers has helped with his recovery and comeback, how the soldiers have looked in the grappling sessions, the group becoming very close throughout the tour, spending Thanksgiving overseas with the soldiers, a hilarious story about Louis Smolka getting “smoked” by a commander in a swimming race, who the biggest troublemaker has been among the fighters, his call out of Anthony Pettis and how he was offered that fight in December and much more.

The 27-year-old Hernandez has taken a lot away from the experience, including getting a better grasp on what people see from the outside looking in.

“It’s been incredible,” Hernandez told MyMMANews.com. “It’s been a profound experience. I know a lot about a little and political climates, conflicts and geography are not among them so this has been extremely eye opening for me. I’ve learned a mess about Middle Eastern culture’s customs, and one of the biggest things I think [I’ve come away with] is forming opinions for yourself instead of leaning on the perceptions of others. It’s really been an awesome experience learning about the different branches of the military in the hierarchy in those. Also, I’m with these four other fighters — three UFC fighters and one Bellator — and these are [now] my brothers and sister. It’s been a pretty awesome experience across the board.”

With Pettis off the table, and also being a little more cautious when it comes to his return date, Hernandez has his sights set on a March return against a top-10 lightweight to build upon his recent win over Francisco Trinaldo at UFC San Antonio.

“I’m looking at the guys that are booked and most of them are, whether most of them have been announced or not, they are, and the guy that seems available is Al Iaquinta,” Hernandez said. “I’m already having my manager trying to get him for me in March. I’d like to fight Al. I’m not sure there’s really too many other free options right now. But whoever, man. Al is a top-10 [lightweight] so that’s a perfect shot for me.”

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