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Martial arts

Let’s get real: Hong Kong MMA fighter Ramona Pascual back in the cage after TV ‘takedown’

After turning heads in the popular reality show Fearless Guys, the 29-year-old earns the right to fight in Seoul on Saturday night

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:02pm

Ramona Pascual knew there would be dark times when she set off for South Korea to further her fledgling mixed martial arts career.

There would be the loneliness that comes with travelling solo to a foreign country, as well as the extreme punishment the Hong Kong fighter was prepared to put her body through as she trained with Road FC, the premier Korean MMA outfit.

There was also the little matter of Seoul’s plunging temperatures, and early mornings in the gym being battered around when the air pressing against you feels like ice.

But all expectations were thrown out the window when the 29-year-old was picked up to star in the popular Korean reality television show Fearless Guys – screened nationwide on the MBC network. Nothing could have prepared her what lay ahead.

“I was sort of expecting it would be like The Ultimate Fighter, but it wasn’t like that at all,” said Pascual.

“We just got these random challenges that may or may not have had anything to do with MMA. At one stage they had me fighting a man two weight classes above me and another time they threw us into a haunted house course.

“It was a full-on production with people in masks and make-up coming out to scare you. Bloody fingers and doll heads. It was honestly crazy.”

Pascual’s efforts on the show – and in the gym – have led to a bantamweight bout on the Xiaomi Road FC 45 XX card in Seoul on Saturday night, against fellow Fearless Guys alumni Jin Seo-woo.

The billing is a direct result of the pair’s popularity on the TV show – which also featured supermodel Han Hye-Jin and K-pop idol Leeteuk of the band Super Junior – and the promise they show in the cage.

“I’ve been getting lots of Facebook friend requests,” said Pascual. “The training has been incredible. I’ve been pushed to my absolute limit, physically and psychologically.”

Pascual’s record in MMA sits at 2-2 and she took up the offer to train with Road FC not long after losing by second-round TKO to Australian Janay Harding (3-3) in Hong Kong in May.

Hong Kong’s Ramona Pascual adding firepower to her arsenal as she aims to get back in the habit of winning

Two losses on end – the other being to British fighter Jennifer Leigh Norris (3-1) via submission (third-round arm bar) in April – had shown her just how much she still had to learn in the fight game.

Unlike her previous two opponents, there is not much mystery surrounding the 20-year-old Jin, given the time they spent on-set together, and in the gym. The Korean is making her pro MMA debut after going 4-1 in kick boxing.

“Even though she’s young and I have experience over her in the cage and in life, she’s more experienced in MMA training,” said Pascual.

“That’s something I have to look out for. She’s strong for her size and has incredible willpower. It’s not going to be an easy fight. It’s going to be a scrap, but it’s also going to be a good one.”

Beaten but unbowed, Ramona Pascual vows to return a better fighter

What has helped also, she said, was that Road FC coaches and Park Chang-sea at Team Gangnam in Seoul have lived up to their reputation for being meticulous when it comes to setting out a fight plan.

“What blows my mind about coach Park is that he has a game plan for every situation,” said Pascual.

“It’s very specific but it’s also very simple. He’s given me all the tools I need. Minimum improvisation – but in a good way. I can go in there and go on autopilot. I won’t need to overthink or panic and I feel amazing.”

Victory on Saturday night would open up further opportunities with Road FC which would be a huge boost to Pascual’s career, given the organisation’s growth into mainland China and beyond.

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“It’s all happened not as planned. I started quite late so I am just going for it,” said Pascual. “Especially after my two losses I just thought I will grab every opportunity to be exposed to this level of MMA.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, just go for it. That’s what takes you to the next level. That mindset has brought me to some dark places but it has also rewarded me in so many ways.”