For quite some time, Tiger Schulmann’s didn’t have a reputation for being a gym that could lead a fighter to the professional ranks. Now, that stigma is starting to change, and fighters like Julio Arce are a big reason why.
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Tiger Schulmann’s previously had been looked at as a place for children and adults to learn self-defense principles and gather the basics of combat for safety reasons. While that certainly remains a big part of the business’ clientele, it’s not the only option.
Originally, Arce was a part of that market.
“I started with them as just this fat, chubby kid with a white belt,” Arce told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock,
Over time, though, a way to get in shape became a lifestyle he embraced.
Arce got hooked on martial arts, and he credits Tiger Schulmann’s for it. The gym offered quality coaching as well as an atmosphere that he gelled with.
It also bred relationships he still cherishes to this day. Arce’s main coach Bryan Gotthoffer has been “like a father figure” to him ever since he began his martial arts journey.
“He brought me from, you know, the level of a white belt to a black belt and kinda just like really showed me a lot,” Arce said. “He guided me through like a lot of places in my life.”
Julio Arce on the next generation
Having that guidance helped Arce toward a career in MMA, and eventually the UFC. And even when his time as a fighter is done, he has his future laid out for him.
“They bred me to get to this level and then even after this, after fighting eventually, you know, they still set me up to like be able to run my own school,” Arce said. “And so I’m financially set where it’s, you know, I have something after fighting as well. So, you know, between all of them it’s been amazing. Just like the guidance, you know, the mentors, like they’ve been just such great mentors to me and they helped me achieve so much through this journey.”
In finding this path for himself, Arce hopes that he can one day pass the experience down to others.
When he’s not preparing himself and his teammates for fights, he’s leading classes and helping the youth along a similar path to the one he has gone down. And while he admits that he’s part of the “1 percent” who pursued a career in fighting while training at Tiger Schulmann’s, he sometimes sees some future Julio Arce’s in his classes.
“Sometimes you see them at a super young age and you’re like, man, if they stick it out, they’re going to have so much potential,” Arce said.
Arce knows that he most certainly took the road least traveled, but when he sees these young students showing interest and following in his footsteps, he can’t help but provide encouragement.
“I see a couple of up and comers who want to take it that to that same level,” Arce said. “So I’m like, ‘Hey look guys, just put in the work, put it at the time, let yourself be coached and you guys are gonna get there.'”
Becoming a contender
For the time being, Arce still has most of his focus on himself. Since joining the UFC by way of Dana White’s Contender Series, he has put together a 3-1 record, with two of his wins coming by stoppage and his lone loss being a split decision.
The 30-year-old featherweight is building momentum in an extremely competitive division in the UFC, and he’ll get the chance to keep the train rolling in front of a hometown crowd.
Following his third-round knockout win of Julian Erosa in May, Arce took some much-needed time off. He was originally offered a fight with Hakeem Dawodu at UFC 240 in July, but the turnaround was too quick.
“It’s not like it was a quick knockout victory [over Erosa] where I was like, okay, I’m ready to go,” Arce said. “I did sustain some damage so I wanted to go heal up. And I’m like, look, if you just push it back, I’ll fight him at The Garden.”
Sure enough, Dawodu got an impressive TKO win at UFC 240, and the schedules matched up for a meeting at Madison Square Garden at UFC 243.
“I always wanted to fight at The Garden, you know, that’s always great,” Arce said. “I did it last year, and I wanted to be in New York again because it’s home turf.”
Not only is this an opportunity to get a win in MSG, but it’s also a chance to again show that his development is ongoing.
“[I’m] constantly looking to improve,” Arce said. “So in this fight, I’m looking to do even more than what I did last fight, and like each time just get better and better and better. So I’m going to have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.”
UFC 244 takes place this Saturday, November 2, and the PPV main card airs exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States.
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.