By Caoilte de Barra
On Saturday, May 20, two of Spain’s top amateur talents move to the pro ranks at WOW FC 6 in Madrid, Spain. Juan Izquierdo and Rafael Calderon will make the long-awaited jump following each of their illustrious amateur careers.
The pair are shining examples of the amateur setup in Spain. The national federation always seeks to unearth the best talent through the national championships. They do not always bring a large team to IMMAF competitions, but they always have high-level amateur athletes. This has led to them winning multiple medals and establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the competition.
The array of talent in Spain has always tended to have extensive amateur careers before moving to pro. Enrique Hecher Sosa is a glowing example in recent times, and now it is time for two others to join him.
Both Calderon and Izquierdo have five IMMAF medals between them. They each have a 2021 World Cup and World Championships medal, and Calderon has a European Open Championships silver medal from 2019. Ahead of their pro debut, both men sat down to explain their thinking behind turning pro. Speaking collectively on the topic, they said:
“We want to get better. That is why we are taking this step. We have been working a lot to get to this new stage. Everything was going well for us as amateurs, but now we expect similar success in our pro career.
“There are not many promotions like WOW, here in Spain. They are one of the best promotions in Spain. We feel lucky that they are interested in us and are excited to work with them. What we like about the opportunity is WOW promised us real fights, difficult fights that will test us so that we are prepared when we fight outside of Spain.”
Both men look back on their time with IMMAF fondly. They highlighted their time in Prague as a major factor in their lives.
“Being in Prague with the Spain team changed our future. Having the opportunity to be there helped the Spain team shine. It was life-changing. If you do not go there [to an IMMAF competition], you will not be ready for other fights. Being there allowed us to understand what it is like to be in a real fight.
“After that, we went to Abu Dhabi and loved it there. We felt as if we were established in IMMAF. And we understood what it was like to compete in this type of tournament outside of Spain.”
Despite enjoying their time as an amateur and competing at IMMAF events, both men felt it was time to move to pro. The Spanish team does not receive funding, and therefore getting the money together to go to competitions was becoming expensive. They now believe they are at a stage where they can pursue MMA as a career and aim to achieve financial security from it.
Juan arrived in Spain from Ecuador fourteen years ago. He comes from a Judo background, training since the age of four, and after some injuries, decided on moving to MMA. His IMMAF tenure saw him defeat some of the best Featherweight talents in the amateur ranks, including wins over Reo Yamaguchi and Bakhtiyor Husainov.
Rafael found MMA similarly to his teammate. Having started Judo at age six, he trained until he was nineteen when an injury made him consider switching sports. Soon after, he found MMA but continues to be involved in Judo through teaching kids classes. Since committing to MMA, he has faced some of the toughest opposition at Flyweight.
Having represented their nation for so long, they want to continue at pro. Both have UFC aspirations but are looking forward to the journey that is only beginning. And ahead of their debuts, they were introduced to large crowds when individually brought on stage at FMS International.
“We want to be able to represent Spain and show the Spanish people and the World what we are capable of and be someone they can look up to. We want to have a life doing what we love. We would love to be in the UFC, but we are realistic and want to enjoy the ride.”
Juan and Rafael would like to return to help the Spanish team at future events and hope to be in a position through competing where they can pay an athlete’s competition costs.
“We would love to be helping out the Spanish team as coaches, but the main issue here is budget. So if the federation were able to get funding to help athletes and for us to join them as coaches, it would be great. In the future, if we are in a good position financially to help pay someone’s costs from the club, we would love to do it. That is the commitment we have for our team.”
When asked to predict their upcoming pro debut, they did not hesitate and predicted a “KO or submission” win.