MANILA: Academia and combat sports have never strayed very far from the life of ONE Championship fighter Geje Eustaquio.
The 28-year-old Filipino – who is also known as The Gravity - believes his success in and out of the ring has come with a bit of luck.
A master’s degree holder in physical education, Eustaquio is a perennial contender in ONE Championship’s flyweight and bantamweight divisions.
However, his parents did not always support his martial arts pursuits. In fact, they discouraged him from it during his childhood days in the Benguet province.
While Eustaquio’s two sisters have embarked on more secure career paths, such as nursing and engineering, he planned on invoking his culture’s Igorot warrior spirit and testing his skills in battle.
“In our region, our culture is simple. You go to school, you graduate with your degree, and you go find a job,” said Eustaquio.
“When I was in college, they did not want me to play sports, because it was a distraction. They did not want me to do martial arts, but I was a hard-headed boy and I was stubborn. I proved to them that I could do a lot of things at the same time.”
As a teenager, Eustaquio first took an interest in kickboxing, which operated as a gateway to all other traditional and non-traditional martial arts. He did not have to travel far from home to watch the inspiring action up close and personal.
“In our community, there is small local kickboxing promotion. I used to watch those events. I got encouraged and wanted to be those guys ... so I looked for a gym to train,” he says.
UNSATISFIED WITH A DESK-BOUND CAREER
While attending Baguio City National High School, Eustaquio found the perfect place to kick off his martial arts journey. At 14, he was a big dreamer, but he put in the work to make his lofty goals become a reality. “I just did my best,” he said. “And then, the opportunities came.”
Eustaquio was selected to be on the junior national team for wushu, and by the time he graduated from high school in 2005, had earned a wushu scholarship to the University of the Cordilleras. He then moved to the university to train under the national team’s head coach Mark Sangiao.
In 2009, Eustaquio earned his bachelor’s degree in education, and taught in school for a year. However, he quickly realised that his heart yearned for the challenging world of martial arts, and not in a classroom all day, and at home grading papers all night.
“I was done with my degree,” he said. “I was so excited to apply it to my work. Then I tried it for a year. My world became so small. My job took all of my time."
He added: "They get you from 7.30am in the morning to 5.30pm in the afternoon, then you have homework and paperwork. I was like, ‘No, I am too young for this.’”
THE JOURNEY INTO PRO MMA FIGHTS
Another opportunity arose in February 2011, when a Filipino promotion was in desperate need of some competitors. Eustaquio, who had semi-regularly trained out of Sangiao’s Team Lakay camp, was encouraged by his coach to test his skills inside the cage.
“Coach Mark said: 'Why not try?'” He said as he recalled their conversation. “So I said, ‘Let’s go!’’
The Filipino knocked out his opponent within a minute of the opening bell and his professional career immediately took off.
Now signed to ONE Championship, Eustaquio is highly regarded as one of the most talented strikers in the promotion.
In 2014, Eustaquio’s hard work paid off, as he was granted a shot at the inaugural ONE Flyweight Championship against reigning titleholder Adriano Moraes.
Although he was met with resistance from his parents previously, they are now in full support after seeing what he is capable of achieving.
“They are telling me to train harder and prepare more,” he said with a chuckle. “They tell me if you want to be a champion, you need to work harder. My parents now push my little brother to train, too.”
Even with his hopes of someday capturing the ONE Flyweight Championship, he still has not left the classroom entirely behind.
Last year, he earned his Master’s in Physical Education, and plans to get his doctorate sometime in the future. “I found the understanding that we are martial artists, and we are expected to behave as complete athletes,” said Eustaquio.
“Besides the body, you should also train the mind. I found out that teaching is my spiritual gift, so I am going to use it to the fullest, if God permits.”
INSPIRED BY BRUCE LEE
Eustaquio, who is known for his cool and collective offensive approach, is a master wushu practitioner with great power and accuracy – qualities which he said stems from watching his favourite sports and action heroes.
“As a child, I definitely was into martial arts,” he said. “Some of my biggest influences were, of course, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Jackie Chan. Bruce Lee, in particular, moved with so much grace and fluidity, and at the same time, struck with such precision and power. It was awe-inspiring.
“I wanted to be just like him. As I continued to be inspired, so grew my passion for martial arts.”
However, that was not the greatest lesson Eustaquio learned from his idol, singling out the late Lee's humility.
“One of the greatest lessons I have ever learned from Bruce Lee is that of humility," he said. "Yes, Bruce was brash and confident in his skills, but underneath, he was a student of martial arts.
“His own system, Jeet Kune Do, was based on multiple martial arts meshed together to form the most comprehensive style of unarmed combat.
"That, in itself, is a lesson in humility, because it required him to learn various techniques from so many others who were much greater than he was."
He added: “And that, in my opinion, is what made Bruce so great. He truly was a gift to the world.
"Even today, his influence continues to shape the martial arts landscape. Today, he continues to give me belief in my capabilities.
“Humility is the most basic human trait, and it is what allows us to improve, not only as martial artists, but also as human beings."
Come Saturday (Sep 16), Eustaquio will be hoping to channel his inner Bruce Lee as he faces former ONE Flyweight Champion Kairat "The Kazakh” Akhmetov in the main event of ONE: Total Victory at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
“Akhmetov is a great wrestler, but my opponent should be prepared to deal with my striking, because all bouts start on the feet, and this is where I am most comfortable," said Eustaquio.
“I will bring the timing and the precision, power and speed, and God willing, I will end matters early."