Jose Alday was eating Taco Bell on a Friday morning seven years ago when he was picked up by ICE and deported to Mexico.

It was almost ironic, he says, and somewhat comical.

Alday rarely eats what he calls “fake Mexican food.” He likes the Sonorense tacos or even El Güero Canelo. Add that it was Sept. 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, and Alday was almost doing a patriotic disservice to his home country.

He was back in Mexico by that evening.

“I was upset with the United States because I had felt that it was also my country,” he said. “But the law was against me and I had to return (to Mexico).”

Years later, Alday can see a silver lining. Had he never been deported, Alday would have never started fighting. On Friday, Alday — who goes by “Pochito” in the cage — will take up against Gustavo Lopez in the Combate Americas Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) World Championship in Phoenix.

If Alday (11-3-1) wins, he will become the first Mexican-born fighter to win the title.

“It’s a gift, first off,” said Alday, who’s fighting on his 27th birthday. “Even though I haven’t won yet, I feel like I’ve already won this fight. I feel honored to have been chosen to fight for the first title of Combate America.”

Alday was always interested in mixed martial arts, but said he never got started because of his immigration status. When Alday was 10, his family moved from Nacozari de Garcia, Sonora, to Tucson on a tourist visa and overstayed. Alday said he didn’t really know how the immigration system worked. He didn’t know that he was “illegal.”

By middle school, however, Alday he started picking up on the fact that he was different from other kids. And by the time he attended Ironwood Ridge High School, he fully understood.

Alday wasn’t allowed to drive. He couldn’t get a job. He didn’t have the same opportunities to go to college as his classmates. And he definitely couldn’t start fighting because, if he got hurt, there was no medical insurance to help pay for his hospital visits.

So, Alday kept a low profile and avoided anything that could lead to questions about his immigration status.

“At 15, 16 years old, I started to feel the pressure of not being an American citizen,” Alday said.

Alday enrolled at Pima College after graduating from I-Ridge in 2010. He spent one year there before he was deported.

But luckily, Alday had family to support him through the difficult time. Alday moved to Hermosillo, where he lived with his aunt, Maria Guadalupe Alday.

“She’s like my other mother in Mexico,” Alday said.

He began fighting five years ago with the goal of eventually returning to the United States for an event.

Alday was allowed back into the U.S. in August 2017 and is excited to be able to fight for the title in Phoenix. Hopefully, it will be the first of multiple world titles, but he’s happy to have this one close to home.

“I fight representing Tucson and Sonora,” Alday said. “Yes, I’m Mexican, but I’m proud to be from both Tucson and Sonora.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at ngonzalez@tucson.com or 262-3265