Chasing dreams: Mexican engineering student leaves life behind to become MMA fighter (Video)

The Only Place to Train
Mural on wall at t Izzy Style Wrestling in Addison, where Jose Verdugo trains. (Michael Bacos/Medill)

By Michael Bacos

While other kids dreamed of being Superman or Batman, Jose Verdugo always dreamed of fighting bad guys — as himself.

As he got older, those dreams faded. But it was no fault of his own.

“Other people told me that it wasn’t good to dream like that,” said the 31-year-old engineering student from Mexico.

Despite Mexico’s penchant for developing legendary boxers — and his own father being a boxer — Verdugo let other people talk him out of his dreams. Instead, he played soccer as a youth and eventually, he followed an average, run-of-the-mill path to a successful life. He was working on his master’s degree in engineering, he had a full-time job, a car and was set to get married.

Deep down, he wanted something different.

When Verdugo injured his knee playing soccer, he used MMA training as a way to rehabilitate his knee. Then, those dreams that were long dormant began to return.

After three years of training in MMA, Verdugo reached out via social media to MMA striking coach Mike Valle, who was holding seminars in Mexico. Valle invited him to train in Chicago.

“When you see a guy pursue his passions, it’s very impressive for me. I wanted to help him out,” Valle said.

After training with Valle for a month, Verdugo felt he had more to learn about fighting. He decided that he wasn’t going to go back to Mexico.

“I can always come back and be an engineer,” said Verdugo. “But to be a fighter, I’m not young. I’m 31 years old. It’s either now or never.”

He left his life in Mexico behind to pursue what he wants to do. Verdugo noticed that the number of people in his support system began to dwindle. His only family strongly questioned his decision.

“After awhile, you begin to realize that your inner circle is getting smaller and smaller,” said Verdugo. “But in the end, [you find] your true family.”

Verdugo has been in Chicago for 15 months and how has a 3-2 professional MMA record. He recently lost to Andres Quintana, who appeared on the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter 22. 

Verdugo said his parents ultimately came around and have supported him in his quest to reach his full potential as a fighter.

He hopes to be an inspiration to Mexicans to follow their dreams.

“I want to be an example for the people in Mexico that they can achieve whatever they want,” Verdugo said. “This is what I want to do.”

Verdugo left behind a girlfriend in Mexico. Asked about her, Verdugo laughs.

“I don’t have a girlfriend anymore.”

Photo at top: Mural on wall at Izzy Style Wrestling in Addison, where Jose Verdugo trains. (Michael Bacos/Medill)