‘Getting punched in the face is a walk in the park’: Hong Kong’s Ramona Pascual on training for her MMA title fight

Hongkonger has a chance to make history next Saturday when she takes on unbeaten Singaporean for the IMPI World Series title

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 11:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 10:31pm

Ramona Pascual will make history next Saturday when she becomes the first Hong Kong woman to fight for an MMA title. But the 28-year-old is hoping that her career in the cage ends up leaving behind a far larger legacy.

“Globally the sport is taking off, but in Hong Kong not so much,” she says. “When I tell women what I do they are concerned more than they are excited.

“That’s kind of the culture here – girls shouldn’t be fighting, or doing contact sports. They don’t like to have people come into their personal space much. Ironic given how crowded the city is, but hopefully I can help change that mindset.”

She’s doing a pretty good job, with a 2-0 MMA record that boasts two KOs.

Pascual will face Singapore’s Jennifer Leigh Norris (2-0) for the IMPI World Series title at the top of the card at Wan Chai’s Southorn Indoor Stadium. It will be the first time a local woman has headlined an MMA event in Hong Kong.

“The sport is still in its infancy here and it will take time,” says Pascual. “But events like this will show people more about the sport and the more success we have the more fans will come.”

Pascual came to the fight game after time with both the Hong Kong sevens and 15s rugby squads, and with local club Valley.

Years of muay thai training had also given her taste for combat sports – and a 4-1 fight record. “I’d wanted to try boxing but muay thai was getting really big back around 2005 when I started then and I thought that if punching looks fun, kicking must be as well. It is,” says Pascual.

Tattoo reward as ‘unstoppable’ Angela Lee defends MMA title with Huang knockout

“I was the quiet kid, not aggressive at all. I grew up with two brothers so we’d rough each other up a bit, plus a lot of male cousins. So I played a lot of basketball, and team sports but I like to push myself and the gruelling parts of the training just really appeal to me.”

While studying for a degree in business administration at USC, Pascual found herself training at a “fighter’s gym” – the now defunct Legends MMA in West Hollywood. “I was training with these monsters,” she says. “I was the youngest, one of the smallest and one of the few females there. I did get my ass kicked a fair bit. I think that’s what drove me. I wasn’t as good as them, I moved awkwardly, didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to get better.”

So the seed had been sown but it wasn’t until a while after her return to Hong Kong, and a few injuries out on rugby field, that Pascual’s thoughts turned to mixed martial arts – expanding her range first with Brazilian jiu jitsu – and to the possibilities that are now presenting themselves to fighters both in Hong Kong and around Asia as the sport continues to flourish.

Angela Lee ready for date with destiny as MMA’s youngest-ever world champion eyes One Championship title defence

“At first MMA wasn’t really for women but it has grown,” says Pascual. “IMPI has caught on and are having more and more women fighting. Now we just have to get more women involved in the sport.”

Pascual’s day job as a personal trainer at Central’s Epic gym has been the perfect platform to launch that particular quest. And while the physical side of the sport brings the most obvious benefits, she says the mental side of things has surprised her most.

Previously, he pre-bout plans in muay thai focused on the purely physical – and on overpowering her opponent. But MMA throws a far wider range of dangers, and more of a fight plan coming in.

“[It] starts from the 10-12 weeks of preparation [before a fight] with being able to push through the intense volume and variety of training,” she says. “Dieting and cutting weight is a fight in itself. Leading up to the event it’s the anticipation and fear as you are under unhealthy levels of mental and physical stress to make weight then be at your peak on fight night where the crowd will judge you on 15 minutes or less on what you’ve given three hard months to.

How burgeoning MMA superstar Angela Lee handles success by staying in the moment

“Anything can happen in MMA you could win or lose, dominate or get dominated, finish someone or get finished, all in a variety of ways. Knowing that a date is set for this can be detrimental to the mind and emotions, so to have control over that and be calm and collected throughout the whole process, until the cage door closes, is the biggest challenge of all. Makes getting punched in the face during training a walk in the park.”

While MMA might still be in its infancy in Hong Kong, Pascual is aware that “everyone is watching everyone.” The more victories she can collect, and the closer she might be to taking her talents on to larger stages both regionally ad beyond.

“I know I have to get a record together,” she says. “I was told to build myself locally first. The more exposure you get the better. You just have to take the opportunities when you fight and put on a good show. If people don’t see you live you can bet they’re be talking about you on social media. So I’m looking at around three fights a year. It depends what happens in the fight and so far I’ve not been hurt ... It’s up to me to make sure it continues that way.”