Christian Hernandez, a 23-year-old Jersey City resident who has been practicing martial arts since he was nine years old, will step into the cage for his first amateur mixed martial arts fight at the “Battle in the Ballroom” tomorrow night.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Hernandez, who turned 23 yesterday, didn’t get to celebrate with a hearty dinner, birthday cake or a a drink or two since he has to make the super cruiserweight limit of 197 pounds tomorrow – no easy feat considering he walks around at about 220 pounds.
Given that a significant portion of his life has been dedicated to martial arts, Hernandez knows that making weight is an inevitable part of the fight game.
“I trained Tae Kwon Do from the time I was 9 years old until I was 17, then I stopped because I thought I hit a wall,” Hernandez told Hudson County View over the phone.
At that point, he began training in another striking discipline: Jeet Kune Do, a style made popular by the legendary Bruce Lee that is the recognized as one of the first martial arts to blend striking and grappling.
“From there, I started training MMA, around the time I was 18 or 19, and at the time I had no interest in competing. But recently, I felt like something was missing,” Hernandez said about deciding to test his skills in the cage.
Although his strength is his striking, calling his style “a freestyle mixture between Jeet Kune Do, Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai,” Hernandez tested his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills in a no-gi grappling competition in October.
Although he lost the bout, which was one seven-minute round contested inside a cage, via decision, he felt the experience helped him understand which techniques needed the most improvement.
To prep for Saturday night, Hernandez endured a roughly two-month fight camp that typically included an hour-long cardio circuit in the morning and a two-hour MMA session at night to hone his wrestling, jiu-jitsu and striking skills.
The nightly sessions involved hitting pads, drilling and plenty of full contact sparring.
When asked why he enjoyed the intense, one-on-one nature of martial arts training, Hernandez said it’s in his blood and he just never found the appeal of team sports.
“I got into martial arts because my grandfather trained, and even as a kid, I was a fan of things like The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” Hernandez explained.
“I was never a team sports kind of guy: I never got into basketball or baseball, I always liked working on my own. With MMA, I work on my own, yet still get to be part of a team.”
“The idea of pitting myself against someone else to see whose the best, and become the best … that’s what motivates me.”
Hernandez also offered strong praise for his coach, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Rodriguez, whom he met while he was a sophomore at James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City.
“We’ve really become close, we’ve developed a bond: he’s like a second father to me,” Hernandez said about his current head MMA instructor, noting that he has helped him deal with depression and other family crises in the past.
Hernandez noted that Rodriguez, his then-gym teacher, “got me into the weight room” and they soon began to chat about their mutual love of martial arts. The rest is history.
Hernandez and his teammates have previously trained at the Global Boxing Gym and North Bergen, as well as Teterboro’s Team Endgame, but are currently training out of Rodriguez’s garage – which has been converted into a mini MMA gym – in Secaucus.
According to Hernandez, the team has “four or five” athletes that regularly train, with another handful of guys who are in and out.
As far as Saturday night’s bout goes, Hernandez says he was so focused on getting his “body and mind ready, preparing for anything that could possibly come my way,” he hasn’t had time to worry about what his opponent is doing.
As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even know his opponent’s name as of this writing (it’s Ivan Taylor).
”I don’t know anything other than he is five-foot eleven (inches tall) and is another freestyle fighter … I’m going to take the first round to feel my opponent out, then I’m going to overwhelm him,” Hernandez said.
A lifeguard and personal trainer, Hernandez says he still has UFC aspirations, looking to compete at middleweight in the future (185 pounds), but realizes that’s a lofty goal. Therefore, he has a backup plan in mind.
“Realistically, I want to start teaching students the knowledge I’ve gained, passing it on to the next generation,” he said.
The Battle in the Ballroom is hosted by the Fight Club Champion promotion at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the first fight is scheduled to commence at 7 p.m.