Air Force brat overcomes childhood asthma to become UFC fighter

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From Stripes.com

Air Force brat overcomes childhood asthma to become UFC fighter

by: James Kimber | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: December 28, 2015

TAMUNING, Guam — An Air Force brat who sat out competitive sports in school due to asthma is among six professional mixed-martial arts fighters visiting U.S. troops in southwest Asia as part of the Armed Forces Entertainment MMA Holiday Tour that runs through Jan. 4.

Jon Tuck, a highly regarded UFC lightweight with a 9-2 record, is an ethnic Chamorro who was born in Guam and also lived in South Korea while growing up. His father’s various deployments often separated the Tuck family, so he can empathize with how deployed servicemembers feel at this time of year.

“Sacrificing the holidays for me and my family is very difficult, especially because I have a 3-year-old daughter, but at the same time the troops are doing the exact same being away from their families,” the 31-year-old Tuck said.

“Growing up as a military dependent, ‘brat,’ allowed me to truly grasp and understand what these families go through. It is very important for me to be able to give back to those who are on deployment working hard to defend our freedom.”

Tuck spent much of his childhood battling severe asthma that kept him from trying out for the base middle and high school basketball teams at Osan, Yongsan and Guam. Though he always considered himself athletic, his mom was concerned about his health.

The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Tuck said it’s “strange to run into people from school and tell them how I became a professional athlete even though they know I wasn’t allowed to play sports as a kid,” but that time on the sidelines helped teach him resiliency and how to learn about his surroundings from simple observation.

“It was hard at the time, but that time helped me become disciplined” in his studies, something he’s known for in the Octagon. “People think UFC and mixed-martial arts are brutal blood sports, but it’s a chess match. It’s a thinking man’s game. Learning how to study as a kid has helped make me the most prepared fighter in every fight I’ve been in.”

Tuck’s late start on the road to the UFC meant he “kept mileage on the tires,” so he is perhaps fresher than other fighters his age.

Following doctor’s orders to strengthen his lungs while at the University of Guam, the one-time occasional backyard basketball player with what he called “a pretty quick first step” began hitting the gym with his cousin and learning how to wrestle.

“He was smaller and quicker than me, so it was really frustrating,” the former physical education major said. “I decided to learn how to beat him.”

The first time he defeated his cousin kicked off a love affair with mixed martial arts.

“I had to learn everything, jiu jitsu, muay thai, boxing — it really became my obsession,” Tuck said.

After dropping out of college, Tuck worked his way into Pacific Xtreme Combat, an MMA series featuring fighters from Guam and the Philippines, while accruing a 6-0 record before getting the UFC call in 2012 and becoming the first Guam native to sign with world’s elite MMA competition.

Having just received medical clearance to resume training following a shoulder injury in September, Tuck hopes to fight in the next UFC Asia card.

“Hopefully, February or March,” Tuck said.

Until then, he is focused on giving back, reflecting pride in his Chamorro heritage.

“I’m excited about each and every event, especially seeing all the troops from Guam and the Mariana Islands,” Tuck said. “It is always an extra sense of comfort when you see an island boy in any part of the world, let alone in the Middle East.”

kimber.james@stripes.com

Twitter: @james_kimber