Ahead of UFC 222, we caught up with middleweight Julian “The Cuban Missile Crisis” Marquez to hear about his journey from Kansas City to the highest level of mixed martial arts.
Julian Marquez (7-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) burst onto the national MMA and UFC scene after a stunning knockout on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series back in August of last year. Apparently, he didn’t even speak with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President after the fight, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago they sat in his office to chat:
“I actually didn’t talk to Dana until after my first UFC fight. We sat in his office somewhat recently, a few weeks ago, and didn’t speak with him before or after that.”
It’s probable they will be speaking much more frequently from now on. Just eight days after the Contender fight, he signed a coveted UFC contract and appeared in his first fight in Winnipeg on 16 December. He took on and defeated Darren Stewart in the ‘UFC on Fox 26’ undercard, submitting him with a guillotine choke in the second round.
Currently, he’s training and fighting with Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vegas is the capital of the UFC (and fighting world in general) and is also home to their Performance Institute, where Julian and other UFC fighters spend their days preparing and improving their craft. He’s been in Vegas for less than two years, but his relocation was for good reason:
“The reason I moved out of Kansas City is because I had to get out of my comfort zone. Many connections, many ways to not train, to find excuses. So when I moved out here almost 2 years ago, it made me hyper-focused on what I need to do. I changed certain habits, in the gym I changed certain striking techniques, certain grappling techniques, and it’s actually strengthened my mentality. I don’t have those friends I can call to go hang out with every night, so I prioritized myself more towards what I wanted.”
He elaborated on how his training regime has changed since arriving in Sin City: “No, I was still disciplined (in Kansas City). I would always find some time to train, but I trained once or twice a day, whereas here I’m training 3 to 4 times a day and having practices. It sounds crazy but I’m doing it correctly to where my body isn’t getting beat up, and I’m constantly improving more and more everyday and I can feel it. That’s what Vegas has done for me.”
His transformation as a person is undoubtedly intertwined with his evolution as a fighter, but there was a common theme throughout our conversation- he will never change who he is for the cameras, for reporters or interviews, and that is the real reason behind his success.
“The difference between a really good amateur and a really good pro is centimeters. You know what I mean? It’s really how you train, and how you look at things. I put my heart and soul into it no matter what I did. I just stayed true to myself. I didn’t get here being anyone else, I got here being myself. To answer your question, nothing ever really changed. I still want the same things now I wanted in 2003.”
Julian is incredibly focused and intense, and he gives massive credit to his Cuban heritage. His father immigrated to the United States from Cuba, a nation that consistently churns out world-class fighters from many disciplines: “They’re a different breed. They decide when you’re young. You have one track and you’re going to succeed and excel, that’s the Cuban way.”
His brother Antonio and his father are massive fighting and UFC fans themselves, and I was extremely curious to know what it is like to have them along for the ride:
“It’s like a dream. I’m living in a dream world. I’m able to bring my family up with me. We’ve had struggles all my life so it’s really cool finally to know I did something in my life where I can involve my family members to see something I see everyday. Being in the green room was awesome, having the food options and watching the fights with the other fighters, but that’s the lifestyle I live out here, you know? Obviously I don’t see it the same as him, my dads a huge fan, and seeing my dad here eating with these UFC fighters was amazing. To bring him into the world I live in and show them some relief, and the life I lead.”
It must be a dream to see him thriving as a professional fighter who’s launching his career, as his father was a huge reason all of this began in the first place. Early in Julian’s life, he noticed his son needed something intense and challenging to hone his potential and ambition:
“2010 is when I started the MMA thing. But I’ve been wrestling since I was in seventh or eighth grade. Before I wrestled I was playing violin and singing in choir. My brother played the violin before me, so I followed in his footsteps. That was when I lived in Kansas City, but when I moved to Kearney (Missouri) with my mom, I remember my dad coming out to have a discussion with my special education teacher who was the wrestling coach at the time. He talked to him and said ‘this is going to give your son discipline and help him out, bring him in here.’ So my dad said ‘I’m putting you in wrestling, and that’s it.'”
After wrestling for the school program at Kearney middle school and Kearney high school, he continued his wrestling career at Missouri Valley College. After getting into a fight with a teammate and eventually leaving the program, he was feeling lost and starving for a new direction:
“I used to watch MMA and UFC fights thinking ‘I’m gonna fight one day.’ Not too long after that my buddy Mac Bailey gave me a call, he said ‘What are you doing, working?’ I said no, and he said ‘Good, get in the car we’re going to go fight, these people want wrestlers.’ I was sitting there just watching cartoons, let’s just throw it out there I’m not ashamed. We ended up going to Grindhouse (now Glory MMA and fitness), started training with them and the rest fell into place. The rest is pretty much history.”
Julian is still relatively unknown, and made it clear he is completely content with that. His unique approach to his budding career in the most competitive fighting league in the world coupled with his confidence are what set him apart:
“Look, this is the thing. I will always be under the radar and I’m okay with it. People out here didn’t know when I got the Contender series kick, or my first UFC fight, people thought I didn’t have it in me. That’s the thing people don’t know. I’m willing to die inside the cage. I put my heart and soul into training and fighting, I gave up everything like moving away from my home and family, I’m not playing with this.
I know my family is always going to be there, I could be in a different country, I can be in a different city, It doesn’t matter. So when I go in that cage I know I have them with me. I don’t fight to win. Everybody fights to get the victory, forget that. I fight to fight. To give everything I have. If I get injured, If I lose, then it is what it is. I’m in this because I love fighting, I love to battle. I love playing chess with the human body.”
As far as he has come since starting down this path in 2010, Julian stays incredibly true to his roots and refuses to forget where he came from. He was adamant that Kansas City “has given me everything, really. I will always represent and support K.C. and show the world what the city is capable of and what it has done for me. The greatest times of my life come when I’m in Kansas City, so that’s why I can’t be there in this particular moment.”
Julian and UFC fighters alike are consistently asked what their next move is, and what the future holds. He rightly thinks it’s a ridiculous and lazy question, as the next fight is what’s on every fighter’s mind. The 27-year-old has plans for his next fight. UFC 225 is set to take place in Chicago on June 9th. The main card hasn’t been announced yet, but there are rumours it could be a Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero (a Cuban fighter himself) rematch.
He thinks 225 is destiny: “The world works in mysterious ways, and I have a feeling everything is going to happen and I’m going to get on that card. Look, I fought in Winnipeg my first UFC fight. Zak Cummings’ (a training partner) second UFC fight was in Chicago, and another of my partners James Krause won his first in Winnipeg. I literally have a mouthpiece that has KC on one side, the skyline, and the other side with Chicago, its truly my second city and one of mine. It’s destiny, man. It’s the reason why I’m in the UFC, and this card is perfect for me. It’s all connected and synchronized and this could actually happen.”
The fighting world simply won’t be able to ignore this knockout artist for much longer. Racking up six knockout wins in just eight fights, his story has only just begun. From his powerful support network and his family to his fearless confidence and unfaltering commitment to staying true to himself, Julian Marquez is bound for the highest levels of the sport. Regardless of rubbing elbows with the likes of Uriah Hall and Stipe Miocic on a daily basis, he knows where he came from just as well as where he’s going.
He left me with his thoughts on his current trajectory: “The world will know my name, I promise you that.”
Julian would like to thank BLT foods for helping with his nutrition, Syndicate MMA, and the UFC Performance Institute.
Featured image courtesy of Julian Marquez.