UFC’s star attraction: ring girl of the year Red Dela Cruz on the responsibilities of her fame
- The 25-year-old was named ring girl of the year at a Hong Kong awards ceremony
- Spanish-Filipina was selected from thousands to join the UFC’s ranks
The eyes of the sporting world turned to Beijing last weekend as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its debut in China’s capital but the most popular person at the Cadillac Arena on the night never even threw a punch.
UFC octagon girl Red Dela Cruz has more than 2.5 million followers on social media since being plucked from obscurity to front the globe’s leading MMA promotion.
“I have so much support,” said the 25-year-old. “When you get out there and wave and the crowd yells your name, it is a wonderful feeling. I feel lucky that there is so much love for me.”
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Dela Cruz believes her rise to international fame has brought with it a responsibility to those millions of followers.
“My mum is the one who has always really supported me and encouraged me to chase my dreams,” Dela Cruz said. “I think of that all the time and I encourage my fans in the same way.”
After a childhood spent in Iba, the capital of the Philippines’ Zambales province, Dela Cruz headed to Manila to study for a degree in tourism management. Some part-time modelling work followed, and Dela Cruz became an annual nominee in FHM magazine’s list of the world’s sexiest women.
But the move to the UFC came on the urging of her personal trainer at a local gym.
“I was pretty unsure of what to expect,” she said. “I had always been a huge fan of the UFC but I didn’t really expect to win. After each round of judging my name came up and I guess that’s life. You never know what to expect but you have to keep trying.”
Dela Cruz was chosen from among thousands of hopefuls at the end of the UFC’s first Asian Octagon ring girl search in 2015.
“I was shocked but thrilled,” Dela Cruz said. “You never really know what’s going to happen in life.”
She says she now uses her position, and daily contact with those millions of followers, to encourage and support others.
“For me social media is like having this huge family and we write to each other all the time,” Dela Cruz said. “It’s important that they know I listen to them and I support them. If you work hard anything in life is possible.”
Such is her popularity that Dela Cruz was a runaway winner of the inaugural Ring Girl of the Year at the Asia MMA Awards, held in Hong Kong in September and decided via a combination of public votes and those from a panel drawn from leading figures in the sport.
“It was a real thrill for me and to be recognised by all those fans and buy the people we work with was an honour,” Dela Cruz said. “Everybody talks about how much the sport is developing out here, but events like those awards really prove how big MMA in Asia has become. When I travel across Asia people stop me in the street everywhere.
“Actually I was a bit shocked about how much attention the award received back home in Australia. Websites picked up on it and a lot of people wrote about it. I was a bit overwhelmed.”
Dela Cruz is back working for the UFC at the Fight Night 142: Dos Santos vs Tuivasa event in the Australian city of Adelaide this weekend but when she’s not fronting the spotlight she escapes into the anonymity of a regular life working at a data centre in the suburbs of Sydney.
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“I get to live two lives,” Dela Cruz said, who moved to Sydney almost three years ago to be with her partner, Sydney businessman Joey Bacic.
“My workmates love to hear stories about the travelling I do and the big events we go to. I feel really lucky that I get to be in the spotlight, and around all these famous people. But when I go home, the make-up comes off and I live a regular life. I just work away in my day job and do regular thinks like everybody else. I know I am lucky but what I keep telling people is that anything in life is possible, just never give up on your dreams.”