Being a prizefighter isn’t an easy line of work. For most, the prospect of it alone is downright scary. No one knows that better than flyweight prospect Juancamilo Ronderos. But as he prepares to make the walk to the Octagon for the first time since May of 2021 to face Clayton Carpenter this Saturday at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, it’s key to point out that fear may not be a factor for someone who has been studying in aviation school since he was 15.
“Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of time and money to be able to finish it and I haven't been able to have gone in a little bit,” said the 28-year-old. “I was actually an office manager for a dental office for the last eight years, working 40 hours a week on top of the 20 hours of training, so that's really why I haven't been able to complete that, besides my injury last year and everything else. But I'm going back to it.”
Yes, getting punched in the face doesn’t seem that intimidating anymore when you compare it to being in charge of piloting a plane.
“I have flown a small Cessna, and I have a couple hours of flight time, obviously nothing crazy to talk about, but I did pass ground school and got my permit to start flying. I just haven't been able to fly as consistent as I want to.”
So not scary?
“Oh, it's not scary at all,” Ronderos said. “It's so much freedom. I love it. One of the things is that I have control of the plane, so it's not like, ‘Oh crap, somebody else is flying it, what's going on?’ I have authority and control over it, so that kind of takes the fear away from me a lot. And I love flying. I’ve been wanting to become a pilot because of Buzz Lightyear since I was very small.”
That will make you feel old, and Ronderos laughs the laugh of a man who hasn’t reached 30 yet. And though it’s nice to be able to be in control of an aircraft, unfortunately, control is not something many feel in the fight game. It’s always about who’s available to fight, where, when, dealing with injuries and other issues, like Ronderos’ nine-month suspension after his first UFC fight against David Dvorak. That’s a crazy 21 months, but Ronderos is happy that it’s over with and he can focus on his return this weekend.
“I have just taken it day by day, man,” said Ronderos. “It's been rough. From my suspension to my injury that took me out for another nine months. I'm not proud of that (the suspension). But hey man, that's what happens when you take a fight on short notice and you're not prepared for it and for all that comes with it.”
Originally penciled in for a fight on Dana White’s Contender Series in September of 2021, Ronderos was in the gym, but also confident that he wouldn’t get called for a short notice assignment since he was going to be on the show. So on the week of UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt, he hit the town.
“I went out drinking with some friends and that stuff happened,” he recalled. “And then Thursday they called me at 10 O'clock like, ‘Hey, can you make weight tomorrow?”
You know the answer most fighters will give.
“I was like, yes, I can do it, of course I can do it. And it was just a surreal experience. Everything happened so fast. I didn't even know what happened until I got home and put the UFC bag down. And then I was like, ‘Did I just fight in the UFC?’”
He did, but was submitted by Dvorak, who, at the time, was riding a 15-fight win streak. Ronderos was 4-0 as a pro. Then came the suspension, injuries, and a long wait. But no regrets about taking the fight.
“There was never any doubt,” he said. “There's never any doubt because I've worked 15 years of my life for this. I've had nine amateur fights. I didn't just start this three or four years ago. I've been doing this for most of my life, and this is what I wanted. This is my dream. So if somebody tells me, ‘Hey, you have the opportunity to accomplish your dream,’ what are you going to say? ‘Oh no, I'm not ready?’ You're never going to wake up and be like, ‘I'm ready.’ The opportunity's knocking on my door. And who am I to not take that? This is God giving me a gift. It lit me up more than anything because, hey, if I can finish this guy or if I can win this, look where I'm at now. Life's about taking risks, and if I didn't take that opportunity, I would've missed a hundred percent of it. And now look, I'm in the UFC and I've been blessed to be here and with the Performance Institute, and I can say I’m a UFC fighter now. Whether I won or lost, it doesn't matter. I took that chance, I took the risk, and I'm happy with that.”
Took the risk…just like flying a plane, right?
“A hundred percent,” said Ronderos. “So that goes to show, this is not for fame, this is not for money. This is just for my own personal glory to become the best fighter that I can. That’s what I love to do. I love to scrap, man. That's just what I am.”