F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
In a small room the size of a dorm, a determined fighter gets his hands wrapped and gloves signed. With headphones on and classical music playing, the room is quiet except for the smacking of gloves against the coaches pads. The fighter says a prayer before walking out to the octagonal ring. He sees his opponent and the first bell rings. Time to fight.
These were the moments right before Airman 1st Class Raul Veliz, 90th Missile Security Forces Squadron response force leader, competed in and won his first amateur mixed martial arts fight.
“When I had my first fight, I wasn’t really nervous,” Veliz said. “I told myself that I trained for this and I would do my best. I went in the cage and got hit for the first time, I thought to myself ‘What am I doing in here?”
In addition to squaring up with other fighters in the ring, the Washington native faced his own mental barriers which threatened success. Many people doubted him in the beginning, including those closest to him.
“I never really cared that some people didn’t think I could do it, but I care how my family feels,” Veliz said. “My dad told me some people are born to be fighters and some are born to be doctors or artists, and he didn’t think I was born to be a fighter. That hurt me a little because his opinion means a lot to me.”
In the face of his family and friends’ reservations, Veliz remained focused on his goal of becoming a successful MMA fighter. He leveraged the skepticism to push through the extra mile in training.
When Veliz is not working in the missile field, he is training with his coach Matt Manzanares, which requires an hour trek to Fort Collins, Colorado.
“I get about four days a week to train and I try to make the most of that time,” Veliz said. “I wake up at six, lift weights, eat breakfast, go swim or run and then go practice with my coach. In the afternoon, I have two more practices where we’ll do jiu jitsu or sparring.”
Veliz got started with fighting and jiu jitsu shortly after his arrival to F.E. Warren two years ago.
“I didn’t even know how to throw a punch when I started, I only knew how to wrestle,” Veliz said. “But I did my best and hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Manzanares said Veliz is a tremendously hard worker.
“Before he competes, I always tell him to just go out there and have fun,” said Manzanares. “All of the hard work is done and now it’s time to play.”
But achieving his goal is not the only fuel driving Veliz to push himself out of his comfort zone. The fighter said his family motivates him to push and seize every opportunity he is presented.
“My dad is my motivation,” Veliz said. “He came here from Guatemala, leaving everything behind. I visited where he grew up and it just helped me realize he didn’t have the same childhood as me or the same opportunities so I want to make his sacrifices worth it.”
Veliz also said it’s important for him to be a role model for his three younger brothers.
“I know they follow what I do, so I try to make the right decisions and set a good example for them,” Veliz said.
Veliz has come a long way in a short period of time using physical training and strength to overcome mental barriers that he said made him want to give up at times, and his effort has paid off.
Veliz’s father said it’s not easy as a parent to watch his son get hurt, but he is very proud.
“As a father I get worried about him fighting, but he is confident in whatever he does and I see the effort he puts in,” Veliz’s father said. “Sometimes you have to take risks to be someone and I am proud of him. I know I am the father, but he is my hero.”
Veliz hopes to inspire his younger brothers and others whom he works with to pursue their passion and make their dreams a reality.
“I would advise anyone pursuing a dream to set goals because dreams are just something you think of, but goals are something you work for,” Veliz said.
The 22-year-old said to accomplish goals people must get out of their comfort zone and do things they’re not used to.
The fighter has had three MMA fights so far and said it’s just the beginning for him. He hopes to keep working hard to make this a career and to continue making his family proud.
While he has already overcome significant barriers on the road to success, he knows he can’t take his foot off the gas.
“Every morning I look in the mirror and tell myself, ‘I am a champion’, Veliz said. “Any time I feel like giving up, I just keep reminding myself, that I am a champion.”