Julio Arce is the head instructor at Tiger Schulmann’s Bayside in Queens, and this second-degree black belt is no stranger to competing at one of the biggest arenas in the world: Madison Square Garden. After achieving top titles in boxing and kickboxing at The Garden, he’s pursuing a combat sports trifecta: an MMA win at UFC 230 this weekend.
Ahead of his upcoming bout, we caught up Julio to learn more about how growing up in New York City and training at TSMA paved the way to his competing at The Garden, now, for a third time.
What was it like growing up in Bayside, Queens?
It was rough. I know that other kids have often experienced the same thing growing up in NYC. I was a chubby kid, out of shape. I didn’t have much confidence and definitely didn’t see myself the way I do now. I always felt very very self-conscious because of the way I looked: if I went to the beach, I would keep my shirt on.
Then, my sister brought me to Tiger Schulmann’s to try to help me lose weight. I fell in love with everything about it during that first class, and here I am now! I went from a fat kid just trying to not be chubby to becoming a fighter in the UFC. As a kid, I never thought I’d get to this level. I really just wanted to make myself a better person: the best version of me that I can be.
How has your family supported your journey?
My family is unbelievably supportive. When I started competing, it got a bit nerve-wracking for my mom because, you know, she’s a Mom. She’s protective of her kids. But, after seeing the amount of work that I’d been putting in, day-in and day-out, my family started believing in my ability, and what I can do. My whole family supports me and they cheer me on. My 2 sisters have been to every single bout since I started, and their support has been (and still is) a major part of my journey. Though, my Mom still can’t help being a little nervous when I go head-to-head.
How does it feel to be returning to The Garden?
In 2011, I competed in the New York Golden Gloves, which was an amazing experience. To be honest, I actually didn’t want to do it at first; I didn’t even want to do boxing at all. But once I got in, I was competing every week, and worked all the way up to win. It was a huge, groundbreaking accomplishment for me. I kept training hard, and eventually got the opportunity to compete under one of the biggest kickboxing promotions, GLORY, which was also at The Garden. And I won there, too!
So UFC 230 is extra important for me. This time, I made a push to be on this card, because it’s mean I’ve done all 3: Golden Gloves (the biggest amateur boxing competition), GLORY (the biggest kickboxing promotion in the world), and UFC (the biggest pro MMA competition). So, here we are. I don’t think there’s anybody that has accomplished that, which is is huge for me. I’d be able to say that I not only won all 3, but that I won in MY city, and at MSG.
Are there any other pros who have inspired you?
Growing up in my family, everyone was always working super hard just to be able to live in New York City. That work ethic inspired me. That tenacity and grit I saw in my own family just trying to get by inspired me more than any athlete.
I learned that you can’t get anywhere by just sitting back and waiting for somebody to hand it to you. You have to get out there, commit, and work your butt off. That’s the only way to get anywhere. I admire that drive in successful people, and it pushes me to keep finding that within myself.
What role have your coaches played in helping you get to where you are?
My coaches—Tiger Schulmann and my mentor Bryan Gotthoffer—have been like father figures to me. They took a chance on a chubby little kid, and have guided me to becoming who I am today. After 17 years of putting in the work as they motivated me, I see now how far I’ve come as a person, and how much I’ve been able to achieve in my amateur and professional combat career. They’ve instilled that work ethic in me, that keeps me training.
Do you have a dream opponent?
I’m just excited that I made it to the biggest MMA promotion in the world. I go into every fight not worried about winning or losing, you know, because no matter what I made it to the top level.
It’s like if you make it to the NFL ,no matter what anyone says, you can’t take that away?. Now that I’m here, it’s just about climbing up the ranks to get to the top?. So whoever’s at the top by the time I get there, that would be my dream opponent.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for who I am: a dude who worked hard to accomplish something significant. I want people to see that nothing’s impossible. I wasn’t knocked down when I didn’t immediately get the call from UFC, or cast for “The Contender.” It would’ve been easy for me to say, “I’m done with this.” It would’ve been easy for me to stop chasing a dream that I wasn’t sure I could make happen. But I didn’t. I just kept my head up and just kept going. I felt like success is right around the corner, and if I gave up too soon, I couldn’t live with the thought of “what if.” ? So, I want to remind everyone to keep working hard towards what you want to achieve. Of course, there’s going to be bumps along the road, there’s going to be ups and downs, but you gotta tough it out to win.