Eugene Correa has always been a fighter.
The Long Beach native fought his way through a difficult upbringing, and now the 29-year-old is back in his hometown preparing for one of the most meaningful fights of his MMA career.
Correa will be the only competitor fighting out of Long Beach during the upcoming A1 Combat, presented by UFC and Urijah Faber. The event will be held at Infinite Reality Studios in Long Beach on Saturday, March 18.
This will be Correa’s second time competing in Long Beach, after he placed fourth in the 2017 Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) World Jiu-Jitsu Championship held at the Long Beach Arena.
Growing up on the Eastside, Correa used sports as a way to avoid the gang life and forge a better life for himself and his family. His childhood saw him bounce around Southern California, going in and out of the foster care system. Correa attended Millikan High School, where he had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. When that didn’t pan out, he focused his attention on the training he’d picked up in karate and kickboxing.
Correa first learned karate while living in a group home that offered free classes. Once he came back to Long Beach, he began training under Oum Ry at the Long Beach Khmer Kickboxing Center, where he began to develop his repertoire as a fighter. Correa considers himself a well-rounded fighter who can succeed on his feet or on the ground, but his strongest discipline is jiu-jitsu.
Throughout his time living in Long Beach, Correa encountered some dangerous situations that motivated him to get his career on track. He remembers one day in particular at MacArthur Park when things could have taken a deadly turn.
“There was a situation where I had people pull out shanks on me while we were playing soccer there,” Correa recalled. “The violence really made me choose a different way, bro. To not be part of these gangs and to be a fighter instead. That was my X-factor to strive forward and find a way.”
As a professional fighter, Correa has a 4-2 record with an active three-fight winning streak. He’s hoping to continue that momentum on Saturday against Owen Craugh, a 34-year-old out of Reno, Nevada, who is 2-0 in his pro career.
While preparing for the fight, Correa has been training at least six days a week, with multiple training sessions each day. A typical wake-up time is before 5 a.m., and he’ll train at multiple locations from Huntington Beach to Long Beach to LA, including working with famed Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Eddie Bravo.
During the hours that he isn’t training, Correa is hustling. He drives for Uber and Lyft as a way to bring in extra money, and works with a number of clients as a personal trainer, helping them learn self-defense and get in better shape. Correa says the time he spends in the gym is incredibly important for him as a person, helping him persevere through life.
“It’s also an escape for the pain, you know, the pain and scars that I went through in my childhood,” said Correa. “(Fighting) has pretty much always been an escape from that. Like that is a drug, you know, I try to make that my addiction. Some training sessions could be bad or I could get hurt. But most of the time it’s really good, like a good cardio session. And it’s good for your mental health.”
Correa is optimistic with the next stage of his fighting career, and hopes that a win in this Saturday’s fight will lead to a title bout in the near future, and ultimately land him a spot in UFC.
He is currently living in Long Beach with his mom, Martina Gallardo, and his 15-year old younger brother. When Correa steps into the octagon on Saturday, he’ll have his mom’s face proudly tattooed on his chest, right next to his heart. It serves as a constant reminder of what he’s endured, and what motivates him to keep fighting.
“My mom has always been someone strong to look up to,” said Correa. “Growing up, I knew my mom loved me and she showed it. She always had food on the table and was always supportive of whatever we wanted to do. She would give me money for the gym or if I needed soccer cleats, I knew my mom was the one I gotta ask.”
Saturday’s event will have eight different fights, and Correa will be competing as a welterweight at 155 pounds. The event can be streamed live online via UFC Fight Pass, or you can purchase tickets here.
Doors will open at 4 p.m. at Infinite Reality Studios, at 20434 S Santa Fe Ave. in Long Beach. Preliminary fights are scheduled to start at 5 p.m. with the main card starting at 7 p.m.