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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Julio Arce (left) lands a kick on the padded hands of Bryan Gotthoffer (right).

He first walked into Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts gym in Bayside as a chubby 12-year-old kid just hoping to get in shape, but today at age 28, Julio Arce is a winning fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Arce made his UFC featherweight debut on Jan. 20 in Boston against another first-time fighter, Dan Ige, and won the three-round fight by unanimous decision. After working his way up through the amateur ranks, fighting as a professional kickboxer, then going pro in mixed martial arts in the Ring of Combat league, Arce finally got to showcase his talents on the biggest stage.

“It’s just an unreal moment because it’s been a journey just getting there,” Arce said. “It was just constantly staying in shape, staying ready, and just waiting on that moment to happen.”

Yet, this was not Arce’s first opportunity to prove himself to UFC. Nearly six months prior to his official debut, Arce was invited to compete in “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” on Aug. 8, 2017, a five-fight series in which the president of the UFC, Dana White, evaluates potential new fighters to join the league.

Arce defeated his opponent in a second-round technical knockout (TKO), but despite the win he was not awarded with a UFC contract.

“Everybody felt he should’ve got the contract, because out of the five fights that night, his was one of the top two finishes,” said Bryan Gotthoffer, the shihan (master) and owner of Tiger Schulmann’s in Bayside. Gotthoffer has been Arce’s trainer since that first day he came into the gym.

After the Contender Series fight, Arce had no idea when he might get a call from the UFC giving him another chance, but he knew it would come eventually. So he stayed ready the best way he knew how, by accepting a kickboxing fight in Madison Square Garden. He won that fight with a second-round TKO as well, and continued building momentum toward his ultimate goal.

When the UFC came calling in January it was a last-minute offer because another fighter got hurt and had to drop out. Arce accepted without hesitation, and when he stepped into the octagon he won in dominating fashion. Arce struck his opponent 72 times and got hit just 35 times. He barely had a mark on him, Gotthoffer said, and after the fight Arce went back into the locker room and helped warm up his teammate who was about to fight.

Since he walked away from the fight so cleanly, Arce was not given a post-fight suspension that is the standard for letting fighters heal before their next bout. That meant he could start communicating with the UFC promoters right away, and he is eyeing an April 7 fight in the Barclays Center. If he gets it, Arce said, it would be another amazing achievement to notch his first UFC fight in his home city.

“He’s like a son to me, more than just a student or an employee or anything like that,” Gotthoffer said. “I’m just super proud, and if you see the way his students, who are also his fans, feel about him, it’s unbelievable the respect and the love they have for him.”

Arce said that his goal is now to make it all the way to the top and win a championship belt in the UFC, but for now he is still in shock about the outpouring of support he has received, especially from his family’s native country of Colombia.

“An immense amount of support just came out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m the only Colombian in the UFC, so to them over there it ignites something for them, and everyone comes together and is so proud about it.”


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