While elite athletes from around the world gear up for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, five mixed martial arts fighters from Chula Vista are gearing up for their own international championships.
The five kids between the ages of 12 and 16 qualified for the World Championships after competing at the National Championships in Florida earlier this year. The young fighters, who train at One Legacy Training Center in Chula Vista, qualified for Team USA and will be leaving for the world competition later this month in Bulgaria. It will be the first time any of them have left the country on an airplane.
"It felt pretty good. It wasn't sinking in at first and then I realized I'm a National Champion," said 14-year-old Omar Rodriguez.
Their coaches say they have been training in MMA anywhere from three to four hours a day, five days a week, for approximately three years.
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"I mean even during COVID, most of these kids were training with me at the park, so it doesn't matter where we're at, they want to train," said Coach Christian Alvarez, who co-owns One Legacy Training Center.
The gym and the team have faced some challenges over the last three years since it opened. They had to close their doors during the pandemic but reopened at a new location on Broadway in Chula Vista in February 2021.
One Legacy Training Center is the second-most represented training gym among Team USA fighters.
The kids say they feel like their hard work is paying off. They are nervous, but also excited for the new challenge.
"I get nervous, I get butterflies in my stomach, but then when you're walking into the cage, I lose all feeling. I am just ready to fight," 12-year-old fighter Elijah Nehme said.
The team does face one last challenge: they're fundraising for their trip to Bulgaria for the competition on July 30. The last two weeks will determine if they hit their goal, but they say like all the other challenges they've faced to qualify, they're going to conquer this one, too.
"We’re going to get them there no matter what we do. We’re going to get them there, it's definitely going to happen one way or another," Coach Alvarez said.
The One Legacy Training Center has fundraisers on its Instagram page. The gym will also be holding a meet and greet fundraiser at 1016 Broadway Suite 2 in Chula Vista on Sunday, July 18 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The event will feature food, music and raffles.
They are also holding another Jiu Jitsu Clinic with #1 Ranked International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter Fellipe Andrew at One Legacy Training Center on Monday, July 19 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. They will be asking for a $40 donation for the clinic.