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Hard work and big break paying off for Bellator's Fernando Gonzalez

Good things come to those who wait -- and, in the case of Fernando Gonzalez, to those who politely ask for them.

In February of last year, after suffering a TKO loss to David Mitchell on a regional show, Gonzalez was prepared to walk away from what had become a discouraging, 10-year professional fighting career.

Despite 20 wins and the longtime support of a strong camp in Team Quest, the 31-year-old Gonzalez had more or less fallen through the cracks of the MMA scene. At the time of the Mitchell loss, he was working two jobs on the side just to pay his bills. He managed his own career, which essentially came down to him accepting any and every fight that was offered to him. Most of them, he says, were on short notice.

At the encouragement of longtime friend and sponsor Steve Harriman, Gonzalez decided to make one final effort to salvage his career.

On April 11, 2014, Bellator MMA promoted an event in Temecula, California -- a 15-minute drive away from Gonzalez' hometown of Menifee. Gonzalez, who says he was so strapped for cash he had to rely on Harriman to purchase him a ticket, attended the event, walked up to Bjorn Rebney, the then-CEO of Bellator, and asked him for a job.

"I was at the end of my rope," Gonzalez told ESPN.com. "I had been doing this for too long to have nothing come out of it.

"I was at the end of my rope. I had been doing this for too long to have nothing come out of it."

Fernando Gonzalez, on his decision to try and ask for a job with Bellator MMA during an event in Temecula, California

"Once we were at the show, I walked up to Bjorn and said, 'Hey, I've been doing this for a long time. Give me an opportunity. Whoever you think will whip me and kick my ass, that's the guy I want. I will prove to you that I can do this.' He had no idea who I was. If he had said 'no,' that probably would have been it for my career."

A funny thing happened next -- Rebney didn't say "no." In fact, he directed Gonzalez toward one of Bellator's matchmakers, Zach Light.

Within weeks, Gonzalez (23-13) was offered a fight against Karl Amoussou. It was the exact kind of opponent Gonzalez had asked for -- someone who, many thought, would absolutely whip him -- beat him down badly.

Rebney never got to see it during his tenure as CEO -- Bellator would replace him with current president Scott Coker before Gonzalez' debut -- but his faith in the welterweight journeyman paid dividends.

After fighting the vast majority of his career on the regional circuit, Gonzalez has been excellent inside the Bellator cage. He is 3-0, with upset victories over Amoussou, Karo Parisyan and Marius Zaromskis.

The "Menifee Maniac," as he's called, meets Curtis Millender (7-1) at Bellator 137 on Friday inside the Pechanga Resort and Casino -- the same building he asked Rebney for his current job early last year.

"He saw something in me that night and I'm extremely grateful for what he did," Gonzalez said of Rebney. "Scott Coker is great and he's taking this in another positive direction, but I owe Bjorn Rebney a lot."

Many in Gonzalez' position might feel the weight of the pressure. After more than a decade of competition, the Mexican-American is finally reaping tangible benefits in a major MMA promotion.

Gonzalez says he doesn't place any pressure on himself in terms of worrying over job security, though. He's always had confidence that when his time came, his skills inside the cage would come through.

"I honestly believe I'm deserving of a title shot if I win this fight," Gonzalez said. "That would put me 4-0 in Bellator. Douglas Lima is the champion, so I'd obviously love to fight him. We've got a great striker now in Paul Daley. That's a fight that, ever since I saw Daley, I told myself, 'I want that fight.' There are so many different fights for me here."