Padding up after a thorough stretch, senior Francisco Vargas reassures himself of his confidence in his own abilities. In a parallel situation, senior Francisco Ortega dismisses his insecurities, reminding himself of all the hard work put forth into making his competition day possible. The hours spent on conditioning and sparring have come down to this: a mixed martial arts (MMA) match. In recent years, both Francisco Ortega and Francisco Vargas have become enamored with this sport.
Two years ago Francisco Ortega joined Serao Academy, a MMA facility, with some friends.
“One day I was just walking by a studio and I decided I wanted to join that place,” Francisco Ortega said. “I joined with a couple of friends.”
Francisco Ortega began training in Muay Thai, a form of kickboxing, and has since added Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and wrestling to his repertoire. His training has taken him to five competitions, and placed third in three of them. Francisco Ortega initially began training recreationally, but became involved competitively last school year because he wanted to further practice his own abilities.
“It’s a natural aspect of training,” Francisco Ortega said. “You want to put [your training] to the test. There’s not really a pressure at the gym to compete, but everybody else there does it so you want to do it yourself. You want to be part of the team, like everybody else.”
Francisco Vargas began training two years ago when he was grounded and MMA served as an outlet. Like Francisco Ortega, Francisco Vargas began training in Muay Thai. Training in MMA led him to participate in his first competition this past October, in which he placed first. In the same competition, Francisco Ortega placed third. Despite Francisco Vargas’s stellar performance, he said that the competition was a learning experience.
“It was an eye-opener,” Vargas said. “It made me realize that I need to attack more. I let my opponent play his game instead of mine. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to.”
Ortega said that MMA training can be rigorous and eclectic. From running to gain endurance to lifting tires for strength building, the overall process is very demanding.
“The workouts get really tiring,” Francisco Vargas said. “Especially since we train for a few hours at a time.”
Workouts and conditioning can last anywhere from three to six hours, six days a week. Included in the training is sparring, in which both students have drastically improved.
“We train with older men and they’re all heavier and stronger,” Francisco Vargas said. “The past three months, we grew a lot and for them it was really unexpected. They’re surprised to see us grow so much. Before they used to tap us out really fast, and now they can’t tap us out and we’re really close to are tapping them out at times.”
The training process also requires strict self-discipline, a trait that both Francisco Ortega and Francisco Vargas have picked up through training.
“My favorite part [of Mixed Martial Arts] has been the discipline,” Francisco Vargas said. “I’m a lot mellower … If people want to… start a fight, then [I] take the high road.”
Both said that being involved in MMA has shaped them as individuals.
“I’m not the same person I was freshman year,” Ortega said. “I was louder and rowdy. I was that kid that would never shut up. Now I’m just calm and the experience [of doing MMA] has really humbled me.”
Both Francisco Vargas and Francisco Ortega hope to continue MMA while pursuing higher education.
“I would want to do this professionally, along with studying,” Francisco Vargas said. “Doing this and something else as well would be really cool.”
Francisco Ortega has similar intentions, but a professional career in MMA remains undecided.
“I know I want to go to school and I know want to continue doing this,” Francisco Ortega said.