Javier Lopez: mixed martial artist fighting for family

Sitting at a bench in the clock tower courtyard on a sunny May afternoon 24 year old Santa Monica College students Javier Lopez and Bridy Azurdia share smiles and laughs between classes.

Affable, thoughtful and seemingly care free, you would never suspect at first glance that the soft spoken Biology major would also be a man of combat.

Javier grew up in Inglewood, California and at 24 is the eldest of his six siblings. Javier found martial arts at 5 years old. "My mom says I was being bullied," Lopez said. So his mom enrolled Lopez into taekwando class in order to learn self defense.

Lopez struggled at first but quickly caught on to the sport advancing through the belts and over time, began to explore martial arts even more. "I guess you can say it's become a habit to seek out the physical," Lopez said.

Feeding his hunger for sports, Lopez began practicing Muay Thai, Ju-jitsu and boxing while also playing basketball and even varsity football in high school. Eventually Lopez became training others and competing in tournaments. Being the new kid in a gym didn't come easy to Lopez who recalled his first lesson in Ju-Jitsu which he began taking in high school.

"I almost got choked out" Lopez said recalling the sparring match in which he was out maneuvered by a considerably smaller opponent.

But this didn't deter Lopez, he says that the experience only strengthened his resolve to learn more.

Eventually Lopez began both training and competing and even thought of making a career out of MMA before an injury led to a changed his plans.

"I guess It all just got stuck in my head that I was going to get somewhere extremely quick " Lopez said. "But, I got a reality check."

That reality check came when Lopez agreed a title fight in place of a fighter who'd pulled out two days prior.

"I felt pretty confident," Lopez said. "My first fight was an hour notice," But this fight would be different.

Lopez took a hard fall in the fight when his opponent connected with an uppercut that sent him to the mat head first, suffering a concussion.

For Lopez, the incident was enough to make him consider a more sure career path.

"Even if I am able to [make] something out of this career, there is a chance I can get hurt. And so, I decided that I needed something to fall back on." A back up plan is important for Lopez because as the oldest sibling in a single parent household he has always had a family to think about.

Lopez says that for a long time his mom played both roles but with so many kids he say that it was too much.

So he began taking responsibility for contributing support and being a care taker in the house providing for and making decisions with them in mind.

Of Lopez's many siblings, Enova was born with a host of medical ailments that have left her blind, mentally underdeveloped and in need of 24 hour care.

To make ends Lopez works in a restaurant and provides personal training sessions. In between he goes to school and makes sure that his siblings have what they need.

For Lopez the days start early and end late and while tough he is no longer alone.

Lopez has an adopted sister, Azurdia. Whom he first met while teaching youth Muay Thai classes.

"It's strange because you meet somebody and then you fight" Azurdia said of her first memory of meeting Javier.

Lopez remembers their first meet differently, "she was being playful and insulted my pants. I remember her face when I came in and I introduced myself as the days instructor." Neither will say who won the match but Lopez remembers that she had "amazing kicks."

However the two met, Lopez began training Azurdia and she began helping Lopez out around the gym. Over the years the two built a close bond.

A bond that became strong enough that Lopez opened his home last September when Azurdia, started having problems with her own family.

Today Lopez and Azurdia consider themselves family, facing life's challenges and working together to achieve in school and life.

"We could use tutors and other services that SMC offers but one thing that we know for sure is that we can count on each other," Azurdia said.

The two commute to school together sometimes going over flash cards in the car to prepare for tests among other tricks that the pair uses to stay ahead.

It is good mental training for a fighter who is disciplined in both mind and body.