The bell rang and, as trained, Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez (4-0) stood on his end of a confined space with the gaze of onlookers studying his every movement. On September 16, 2016, the prize, well after the championship rounds (of inquiring minds), was one that a group of fifth-graders in the Sacramento region won’t soon forget.
Inside the cage, exceptional footwork plants Hernandez in a position for success, but the path he’s walked, the one hidden from the public’s eye since becoming a mixed martial artist at the age of fifteen, requires a mindset prepared to be battle-tested. Hernandez hoped his message to the students—the sky is the limit—connected like one of his killer combinations:
“It’s important to go talk to kids because they need to know: school is not for everyone, and there are options available. If you put your mind to something, you can accomplish anything.”
Questions were fired at Hernandez in rapid succession, though his cardio, thanks to the strength and conditioning program of Coach Doug Casebier, never faded. Even after fielding the crowd’s curiosity about his career, family, hobbies, and favorite type of shoe, Hernandez was delighted to sign autographs for each of the students, offering a brief interaction that will stick with them forever. He reflected on a couple of questions that caught his attention:
“My favorite question had to be: ‘Have you ever almost died?’ I also liked being asked: ‘What’s your favorite animal?’”
Prior to Hernandez’s departure, he sat in on a portion of the class’s writing lesson. Not wanting to go down on the scorecard of their celebrity guest, the students wanted to highlight their own renewed warrior spirit when it came to tackling a difficult workload. According to Hernandez, these pupils exceeded his expectations,
“That was a smart group of kids. They have way better grammar than me.”
As if the ten-second clapper sounded, Hernandez’s time with his newest fifth-grade fans drew to a close. Hernandez incentivized the importance of displaying diligence by leaving a signed MMA glove, which would be awarded as a performance bonus to October’s Student of the Month. To this point in the year, the students hadn’t sat straighter or appeared as focused as they were in that moment, and Hernandez reminded them to tuck their chins and push forward when met with adversity.