New generation of MMA fighters balance bouts with books

Student fighters get out of the class and into the cage

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Photos and story by TY LIM

Since MMA’s rise in popularity, the stereotype of backyard brawlers is dead and buried. Nowadays, the MMA world has a population of fighters with diverse backgrounds. Fighters like ONE FC’s Demetrious Johnson, who is a former factory worker, and the UFC’s Dominick Reyes, who holds a B.A. in information systems, are some of the fighters at the top of their respective rankings.

Locally, MMA has grown in B.C. The British Columbia Athletic Commission approved 96 applications for amateur MMA fighters in 2023 alone. That number accounts for nearly 58 per cent of applications from 2019-2023.

Pinnacle MMA is a gym in the Metro Vancouver area with a number of young MMA fighters. Pinnacle MMA’s owner Vicente Mabanta said that the public now has a better understanding of the sport, which has helped end the stigma surrounding it. “It’s actually very strategic versus way back in the day when it was treated like it was barbaric.”

Mabanta said he has noticed the interest in fighting is getting younger and younger. “You have guys walk in the gym. I’ll ask how old you are, and they’ll be like ‘I’m 19.’ It’s one of those things I wish I started when I was 19.”

Michael Tse is one of those young men looking to take their athletic talents into the cage.

Battlefield Fight League amateur Michael Tse picks up his gloves before weighing in for his fight on Oct. 18, 2023

 

The 21-year-old has recently entered the amateur scene. He holds a record of one win and one loss.

Michael Tse wraps his gloves before the official photo shoot on Oct. 18, 2023

 

Tse knows his dream of making a career for himself in the sport isn’t guaranteed.

Michael Tse and Justin Situ coach two of their training partners as they light spar on Oct. 13, 2023

 

Tse balances MMA fighting with his school life. Currently, he attends SFU where he studies criminology as a pathway to a future career in law. Others, like his training partner, Justin Situ, do the same. “School is definitely tough, especially midterm season… I have a fight next week, I have a midterm on the same day as the fight.”

After finishing training, Michael Tse and Justin Situ admire the rest of the kickboxing class on Oct. 17, 2023

 

While he can balance his school life with his MMA career, Tse said that concussions sometimes hamper his academic ability. “You get minor concussions and sh**, or you’re fully concussed. I’ve had times when I’ve tried to do some readings and you’re looking at the screen and light hurts your eyes, you don’t really want to be studying, you can’t focus as long.”

During drilling, Michael Tse throws a powerful punch which Justin Situ proceeds to dodge on Oct. 13, 2023

 

Despite being aware of low pay, Tse aims to go as high as he can in the sport by training with Battlefield Fight League champion Achilles Estremadura.

Michael Tse drills with BFL Lightweight Champion Achilles Estremadura on Oct.13, 2023

 

MMA fighters must cut a considerable amount of weight for a fight. Tse himself dieted and cut his water weight to go from 170 pounds to 155. After weighing in, his dietary restrictions were lifted.

After weighing in at 155 pounds, Michael Tse could finally eat for the first time in the day on Oct. 18, 2023

 

Tse won his most recent fight adding his first win to his record. As an amateur, he was not paid for it. “I don’t think anyone in the MMA world does this sh** for the pay, especially in the beginning. You do it ’cause you love it and you want to compete in it.”

At the BFL weigh-ins, Michael Tse faces off and shakes the hand of his opponent Valentin Yu-Ming on Oct. 18, 2023

 

Michael Tse mentally readies himself for his fight, photo taken on Oct. 17, 2023

 

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