You’re an MMA fighter and you have a day off. From training, the diet, the whole thing. Julio Arce, what do you want to do?
“You take a chocolate or a vanilla milkshake,” he explains. “And you put bacon bits in it.”
Sounds interesting. It also sounds like Arce has a bit of an inner foodie. And indeed he does. Arce, who at age 25 is already 8-0 as a pro, is one of the brightest prospects in and around his native New York City. He faces Mike Pope Friday in the Northeast region’s Ring of Combat promotion.
“I was like a fat, chubby kid looking to lose weight,” Arce said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report. “We saw the commercials for Tiger Schulmann, and my sister said 'you have to do something, you’re getting chubby.’ I was very lazy as a kid.”
Arce discovered not only an exercise regimen but a profession. The TV commercial, of course, was for Team Tiger Schulmann, the chain of combat-sports gyms located up and down the East Coast, including in Arce’s home neighborhood of Bayside, Queens.
His calling card? A natural southpaw, Arce packs a powerful left hand, something he discovered in his early days at the gym.
“When you first spar, you’re a nervous wreck,” Arce recalled. “I started sparring and I just threw it [my left hand], and the person was like ‘ah!’ He took a knee. I was like ‘oh, that’s pretty cool.’”
Arce first came to fighting prominence in 2011, when he won the New York Golden Gloves championship at a little venue called Madison Square Garden.
Not long after metaphorically donning those gold gloves, Arce tried MMA on for size. It was a natural fit.
“When I turned 18 I was offered my first amateur fight. It lasted 30 seconds,” Arce said. “I double-legged the guy and choked him out. I felt like I was on top of the world. You see the journey that you take and all the work you do, just for this one fight.”
Though Arce acknowledges his ground game “hasn’t really been seen yet,” he said he’s steadily improving in all phases of MMA. He may have an opportunity to display his ground skills against Pope, a grappler with three of his four pro victories coming by submission.
It would be a cool thing to do in Ring of Combat, the Brooklyn-based pipeline to the pros for standouts from Chris Weidman to Frankie Edgar to Edson Barboza.
“I always see them over there,” Arce said of ROC’s prominent alumni. “You see them and they recognize you. I’ll speak to them sometimes. It gets me hyped up.”
The next goal for Arce, as it is for most fighters in his position, is to join the UFC. He’s had chances before, he said, but never in quite the right circumstances.
“A while back I was offered a fight on three days’ notice in some place like Nova Scotia,” Arce said. “And I had just fought. I would have had to drop too much weight. In my first [UFC] fight, I want to be ready to go.”
In the meantime, he trains and pays his bills by teaching classes at Bayside Tiger Schulmann, still his home gym after all these years.
“I love it,” he said of teaching. “What I’ve learned from my journey, I pass along and you see them absorb it.”
Looks like that lazy kid is long gone. And there are appetizing things ahead.
“I feel like [Ring of Combat] really pumped me up and put me out there,” Arce said. “The next step for me is getting into a bigger promotion like the UFC. Just got to keep working.”
The Beaten Path is Bleacher Report's series on top MMA prospects. For the previous interview in the series, click here. Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand.