Trailblazing MMA Fighter Ramona Pascual On Overcoming Adversity And Inspiring Young Women In Martial Arts
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters
Just 26 seconds. That is how long it took mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ramona Pascual to defeat her Russian competitor, Yulia Kutsenko, last year. It was Pascual’s comeback fight after an injury forced her to stop fighting for two years. With 10 years of experience fighting professionally, Pascual is no stranger to knocks and scrapes, but tearing a ligament in her knee brought a mix of emotional and physical pain that forced her to reassess her identity.
Pascual never could have dreamed she would be the first female fighter in Hong Kong to make a career out of MMA. She studied finance at university and joined a small financial services company after graduating. However, office work left her feeling unfulfilled. “It didn’t make me excited to get out of bed and go to work and really put in the hours,” she says. Aged 27, Pascual decided it was time to throw away the safety net of her nine-to-five job and dive into martial arts full time. “I realised I was almost 30 and I thought, it’s now or never because eventually it’ll be too late. I had to fight a lot of my own self-doubt, society, my parents and culture, and when I started, I almost had to sneak around and hide it,” she says.
In her own words, she explains what it has taken to get to where she is now.
Who wants their daughter to have a job where she goes into a cage and fights somebody as a career? No parent wants that and that’s completely understandable. My parents were against [MMA] to begin with, but now I’ve achieved enough that they know I’m going to keep going regardless of what they think. Though they often still say, “What are you going to do when are you done with this?”
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A turning point for my parents was when I did my Ted Talk: they saw that I was really doing something with [martial arts]. It was also one of the proudest moments of my career, and not because it had anything to do with winning. In fact, I spoke about losing because there’s nothing that forces you to grow more than failure. It makes your weaknesses obvious so you can make strategies to address those weaknesses. My greatest fear is public speaking, so if it wasn’t for my MMA career, I wouldn’t have been able to go up on stage to speak to that many people. But I wanted to become that person and that’s why I did it.
My greatest challenge was the process of recovering from my career-threatening injury when I was training for my second fight at the Road Fighting Championship [a South Korea-based MMA organisation] in Beijing. I worked hard to get that contract, so I was pushing myself really hard but ended up getting injured in training. It was so painful. It was the biggest fight of my career at the time and I had to pull out. That led to a black hole of anxiety, depression and feeling lost. I didn’t know who I was or what was ahead of me. I felt like a different person.
When you’re on a high in life, you’ll get taught lessons that will bring you to a low, but it’s the lows that help you reach even higher
— Ramona Pascual
Two months later, I got the surgery I needed, but I had to learn how to walk again. It was a very humbling experience. I believe that when you’re on a high in life, you’ll get taught lessons that will bring you to a low, but it’s the lows that help you reach even higher.
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People tell me what I’m doing is inspiring, and that I’m paving the way for other women. I see myself in a lot of these girls who are afraid to do martial arts, so when anyone asks me for advice, I take the time to write them a long message about everything I’ve learned and how it might relate to their situation. It would have been so helpful if I’d had someone to give me those insights when I was at that stage. So I do that as best as I can.
See honourees from the Sports category of the Gen.T List 2019.