WASHINGTON, Pa. - A Washington County teenager is fighting against the odds to achieve his dream of making it to the UFC.
Miguel Francisco first walked into the Brownson House in Washington as a shy and quiet 8-year-old.
“I always say those are the dangerous ones, the ones that don't say much,” Mark Shrader, Francisco’s coach, said.
Now 17, Francisco’s determination to prove his naysayers wrong is stronger than ever.
“Nobody believed in me before, and they wouldn't expect where I would be now,” Francisco said. “So I wanted to prove everyone wrong and do the hardest thing.”
Francisco has struggled with asthma, but he doesn’t let it stop him.
“They never thought I would even be able to run,” he said. “My chest will get really tight, but you just have to push through it.”
While Francisco is still soft-spoken as a teenager, he has learned during his nearly decade with Shrader that it’s not all about brawn, even in boxing and mixed martial arts. The brain also needs to be sharp.
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Francisco said playing chess as a kid has helped him in the ring.
“You are always thinking two steps ahead with chess,” he said. “If you are thinking two steps ahead, you are already two steps ahead of your opponent.”
Francisco is so dedicated to achieving his goal that he graduated from school early so he could devote more time to fighting. He trains six days a week.
When Francisco turns 18, he plans to swap out the ring to fight professionally inside the cage.
“I'm going to be in the UFC,” Francisco said. “People think of it as some savage sport when, really, it's just a sport.”
A sport he credits with building his confidence and helping him grow as a person.
“It's given me a lot of discipline,” Francisco said.
Shrader has seen Francisco’s growth first-hand.
“Miguel, he's got all the tools,” Shrader said. “It's good to have that vision, because that vision can become reality.”
Francisco said he and Shrader have become family and he considers him to be like an uncle. Having him as a mentor has helped him believe in himself and his dream.
“It's not saying I want to be -- I will be there. You will see me there one day, for sure,” Francisco said.
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