MMA fighter Magana is a good role model for those at Riverside Education Center
Juan Magana is an up-and-coming fighter in the world of mixed-martial arts.
The 22-year-old gives opponents trouble with his long reach and strength at 170 pounds.
Magana, though, is doing something that doesn’t always get noticed in the rough-and-tumble world of MMA.
Magana, who is on Saturday’s card in Cage Wars 8 against Brandon Crespin at Two Rivers Convention Center, is trying to be a strong male role model to those who need it most.
Since January, Magana has been working with a group of students at the Riverside Education Center, teaching them MMA for an hour every Thursday. The group gives the students, who can start training once they get to sixth grade, a positive outlet after school.
“We do some pad work, teach them technique, make them do push-ups and sit-ups,” said Magana, who lives in Glenwood Springs. “We’ll let them spar sometimes.”
The group ranges from eight to 12 students, who are urged by Magana to be constantly moving before being taken aside to kick, punch and put together combinations on pads. One of the most exciting things to Magana is introducing the sport to talented youngsters.
“A lot of them really do have great talent,” Magana said. “They have good coordination for being that young and I can tell they’ll be better than me because of how hard they can kick and punch at that age.”
The Riverside Education Center was founded five years ago by Mary Gonzales as a way to provide a place for students to go after school.
“We wanted to provide structure and tutoring for students K through 12,” Gonzales said. “We push academic achievement and fostering personal development.”
The REC is a nonprofit organization that began in 2006 with 12 students. Currently, 115 students use its resources.
Steven Enos-Martinez is the LEAG (Latinos in Education Achieving Graduation) representative at Redlands Middle School, and also works at the center.
He started the MMA training to coincide with the boys council meetings, which deal with issues the boys face as they grow into young men.
Martinez, who grew up and still lives in the Riverside neighborhood, said the program has given the boys something to look forward to each week.
“They needed discipline, and we didn’t have much participation with the enrichment program on Thursday,” Enos-Martinez said. “I pitched the idea to Mary in January and said, ‘Why don’t we bring Juan on board to train with these guys and give them some discipline?’
“We decided the caveat was if you participated in the MMA, you had to participate in the boys council.”
The most important part of the afternoon isn’t Magana teaching how to throw a good jab or escape someone’s clutch, but the council after the training.
Magana and Enos-Martinez sit with the students and talk to them about a variety of topics.
“We talk about being more respectful and what it means to be a man,” Magana said. “What a grown-up should be like, because there are a lot of men who are old, but they don’t know what it’s like to be a man.”
Magana and Enos-Martinez, 37, use their experiences to relate to the students and help them mature.
“They can go either way right now,” Magana said. “I saw a lot of people when I was their age that started experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and because of those early choices, they aren’t in a good position in their life.”
Magana and his girlfriend started volunteering in the arts department at the Riverside Education Center. It was by chance Enos-Martinez found out he was a fighter.
“I went to a fight in October, and he was on the card,” Enos-Martinez said. “I didn’t even know he was a fighter.”
Magana was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and came to the United States when he was 4 years old. Magana fell in love with boxing from watching Julio Ceaser Chavez, but didn’t try any type of fighting sport until after he had graduated from Rifle High School in 2007.
He went to a seminar at the Art of Defense gym in Glenwood Springs, and has blossomed into one of its top fighters.
Magana gets back into the cage this weekend, and has a chance to avenge the first loss of his career, which came against Crespin. Magana lost a unanimous decision to Crespin in 2009, in part because Crespin controlled the fight on the ground.
“I’m a boxer, I stick and move,” said Magana, who plans to turn pro this year. “But I’ve been working a lot at my ground game, and getting back up when I get taken down, because I’m dangerous on my feet.”
Magana, 3-2, has had many of his fights in Grand Junction, and local promoter Alex Trottier said he always tries to get Magana on his cards.
“He’s a good fighter and a tough fighter,” Trottier said. “He’s fought some of the toughest kids from here, and he doesn’t always win, but he makes it a good, competitive fight.”
At Riverside, Magana provides the students not only with a knowledge of MMA, but is another positive male role model in their lives.
“They have to have good role models,” Gonzales said. “Someone that’s gone through it and someone they can talk and relate to. And anytime you are exercising with such purpose, it bonds them. People like Juan are a priceless value to them.”
Aferny Reyes, 15, attends Redlands Middle School and has been training with Magana since February.
“It’s really helped improve my conditioning,” Reyes said. “It’s something I can’t get enough of.”