Education is really a lifelong experience. Even a know-it-all, regardless of age, stands to learn a thing or two on a pretty regular basis. The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so being open to learning experiences is one of the only ways to get better in life.
From formal education to the school of hard knocks to pure happenstance, education can take place in many forms. Itzel Esquivel’s education started at a very young age. She grew up practicing martial arts from around the same time she started school.
“I did taekwondo when I was very little,” Esquivel told Combat Press. “I started at the age of four. Then I transitioned into karate after getting my black belt in taekwondo when I was in middle school — I was 11. I ended up getting my black belt in Kenpo Karate, as well. I decided that I just didn’t want to do that anymore, and I went into boxing. I boxed from the age of 18 to 19. From there, I wanted to make it onto the Mexican Olympics team for boxing, but I didn’t end up making it, so I just decided the next step was MMA. Here I am.”
Esquivel is currently a full-time student. Not only does she train as a pro MMA fighter at Paradigm Training Center, but she is also studying for a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston. Esquivel would have graduated this year, but she decided to switch majors to Human Resource Development. Now, she is slated to walk across the stage in May 2019.
Like fighting, human resources is a very broad field. This will allow Esquivel to pretty much work anywhere. However, while work is important, so is fighting at this stage in her life. Her primary coaches are her father, Daniel, and Leroy Vazquez.
Esquivel’s last outing came in November, when she faced Nicolle Caliari at Legacy Fighting Alliance 26. It was her fourth pro fight, and it ended in her second loss in a row. At 21 years old, and having been competing as an amateur only 11 months prior, there was a lot to take away.
“No one likes to lose, but I think I learned a lot from those losses — way more than when I was winning,” Esquivel explained. “I fought four times in one year. That was a lot for one year. I think we were trying to get to the next level in MMA too quickly, so I think we kind of rushed things a little. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared, but I wasn’t ready in certain aspects of fighting — the other fighting styles. I don’t really think I had that much ground game then to how much how I have now, and I think those past two fights that I lost have helped me become a more mature fighter.”
With a combat background that consisted primarily of striking arts, Esquivel was given a big wake-up call when she met Maycee Barber, a jiu-jitsu specialist, in her second-to-last fight. However, Paradigm has a solid grappling program, as does the University of Houston, and Esquivel has spent the last several months focusing on that aspect of her game.
“I train with Marcus Bello, who is the jiu-jitsu coach at Paradigm,” Esquivel said. “Steve Woods is the wrestling coach. Leroy Vazquez is mostly the ground coach for me, specifically. My brother is a high school wrestler, and he helps me a great deal of the time. He’s around my weight right now, so he’s one of my main training partners. He’s been really helping me a lot.
“We weren’t really in a rush to get back in. I also had a couple injuries, so we were trying to get me back to a healthy body, and we were also trying to get me better at the things I need to work on, which was mostly the wrestling and jiu-jitsu side of MMA. In that time, folkstyle season was going on at the University of Houston, so I decided to wrestle for the University of Houston in their 123-pound division for females. I ended up placing third in the National Wrestling Association for club wrestling.”
Esquivel’s education at the University of Houston has stretched far beyond human resources. To compete in collegiate wrestling for a season and place in the top-three is a huge accomplishment, and she is excited to showcase those skills in her next fight.
On Friday night, at LFA 43 in Beaumont, Texas, Esquivel will return to action against Desiree Yanez on the AXS TV main card. Yanez is a fellow young up-and-comer with a 1-0 record as a pro. Her amateur debut was in February 2017, and her pro debut was only three months ago.
“I think she’s a great match-up,” Esquivel said. “She’s super tough. I know she’s fought for 15 minutes. I know she’s only had one pro fight, but her amateur title fight did go to 15 minutes, so she has really good conditioning and stamina. She’s pretty good all around. I know she’s pretty good at scrambling, so that’s something I need to watch for.”
After a successful wrestling season, Esquivel should be better in scrambles. Her striking is on point, and she’s ready to get back in the win column. Esquivel’s two losses were not against tomato cans, either. Barber is slated to appear on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in a few weeks, and Caliari has four pro knockouts and her only loss coming by way of decision.
“It definitely gives me confidence knowing that I’ve fought people that possibly have a future in the UFC later on,” Esquivel said. “They have a good record. I don’t want to fight people who are just given to me so I can beat them. I like a challenge, and I want to fight people who are actually good in the sport.
“I see people who are just trying to get fights that are super easy, just so they can get into the UFC already. I think that’s the wrong way to go, because I think you should challenge yourself. How are you going to learn if you are fighting people who aren’t good? I’m glad I fought those two girls, and they are molding me into how I fight now. They made me change in the mental part of this sport, and I had to adapt to different things.”
Adaptation is a result of learning. Esquivel is a sponge for knowledge. Whether it is formal education or her fighting career, Esquivel has a lot to learn still. Not even Esquivel knows what the future holds, but she definitely plans on continuing her lifelong education in martial arts. How she approaches that after graduation is still to be determined.
“I would like to go straight into fighting — continue fighting — but, I have to pay for bills and stuff like that also, so I would probably have to go into human resources as well,” said Esquivel. “I don’t know. Mostly, I would like to just fight, you know?”