I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to be surrounded by good men. I married one, I work with many, they’re part of my family, and they are my friends. But even though good men are the rule rather than the exception in my life, I’m still sometimes surprised when I come across them. One of the biggest of those surprises happened while I was making a documentary about an up-and-coming professional MMA fighter in New York City.
When I first started training as a martial artist in 2010, I braced myself for a “breaking in” period of having to deal with massive machismo and needing to prove myself to a bunch of meatheads who didn’t take me seriously. What I found instead was an abundance of well-spoken, respectful men who were delighted to have me around. They were universally patient coaches and enthusiastic teammates who welcomed me into their world without hesitation.
I met Ariel Sepulveda when I started training at Next Evolution MMA a few years ago and was immediately inspired. His incredibly intense, 40-hour-a-week training regimen was enough to impress anyone, but on top of that he worked five days a week at his brother’s bar in the Bronx, and he did it all with a trademark goofy grin all over his face. When I started producing “Where I Don’t Belong,” I knew I would have to include him as the focus of an episode; his work ethic, positive attitude and dynamic personality made him the perfect candidate. His um…appealing physique…didn’t hurt either. When I heard he was going to start training for his first professional title fight, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to document it. Lucky for me, Ariel was excited about the idea too.
As I started delving in to the details of Ariel’s background and those of his coaches, I was humbled and moved to learn that many of them overcame monumental obstacles to become the good men that they are today. They were incredibly candid about their pasts, whether they grew up in the suburbs of Long Island or in the projects of the South Bronx. Many of them had ample opportunity to choose a different path, but instead they used what meager tools they had to carve out a better life. These men moved beyond the labels that they were born with and proved that truly anything is possible. They give me hope, both as a female and as a human in general, that we are headed in the right direction. It’s gonna be okay, folks. These guys are the proof.
Watch the documentary about Ariel and his team below:
By Kiwi Callahan
Kiwi Callahan is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker. She lives in New York City with her husband. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.