Moving to Merced changed the life of Josue “Junior” Lugo, a mixed martial arts fighter who spoke to students Friday at Sequoia High School, encouraging them to make positive choices.
After being expelled from his Salinas school where he constantly got into fights, Lugo and his family moved to Merced, where he thrived during his junior and senior years. He joined wrestling, where he excelled and competed at state and national levels. When he graduated, he joined the Army and served two tours in Iraq.
“I didn’t know who I was before I came here,” he said. “I was this hardened kid.”
Lugo, now 34, told the students that all actions have consequences, and he learned from his Army experiences to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in the United States.
Four other mixed martial arts fighters shared their stories Friday and gave a demonstration of their skills for about 100 Sequoia students, including some who participate in a class that analyzes MMA fights. The presentation was part of the school’s Make Positive Choices Day, where students also raised money for multiple sclerosis research.
William Fontes, 15, said it was exciting to meet the fighters in person after watching their fights on TV for his MMA class.
“It gives the school the idea of how it’s like growing up in hard times and still being able to accomplish your dreams and be successful,” he said.
Each fighter shared the challenges he or she overcame in life and how fighting helped reshape their futures.
Luis Vargas of San Jose was bullied as a child and used wrestling as an outlet. After wrestling for a junior college, he returned home and became a wrestling coach himself. Vargas, 25, will make his debut as a pro fighter in just a few weeks.
Brooke Mayo, 24, devoted her life to soccer. But after overworking herself and having surgery, she was forced to quit the soccer team at Saint Mary’s College of California. That was the lowest point in her life, she said. She cut classes, started partying and wasn’t working out. Then she discovered jujitsu and has been fighting ever since.
Jumoke Hunter, 24, wrestled at Clovis West High School and earned an academic scholarship to Northern Arizona University. But after a family tragedy, he flunked out, became depressed, was unemployed and, at one time, was on the brink of homelessness. After he stepped into a gym and “got the crap beat out of me,” he found happiness and continued fighting.
Andre Fili, who is signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, said he grew up in a violent home life surrounded by negativity. Born in Seattle, he moved to the Sacramento area in middle school. By the time he was 14, he knew he wanted to be a fighter, he said. MMA has been an anchor in his life, he said, pulling him in the right direction.
Each fighter encouraged the students, who attend Sequoia because of attendance or behavioral issues, to find their passion, persevere and make good choices now to set themselves up for a successful future. The fighters encouraged the students to lean on people like teacher Yvette Brisco, who organized the event, for support.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477