HE is only in his early 20s, yet Ernesto Montilla Jr. feels lucky to have lived this long after those wild teenage days as a self-confessed drunkard.
The 22-year-old Filipino mixed martial artist insisted those days are behind him as he pursues a prize fighting career. He takes on compatriot Alvin Cacdac for the vacant Pacific X-Treme Combat flyweight belt on Saturday in PXC 46 at the Ynares Arena in Pasig.
Born in Surigao del Norte, Montilla moved to San Pedro, Laguna when he was 16 in search for greener pastures. He admitted he had to doctor his age to become legal to apply for jobs and got one as a machine operator for a plastic company.
His life was starting to go the right direction, Montilla would still make wrong turns with his drinking habits.
That all changed when his vice left him at the receiving end of a severe beating.
“Lasinggero ako dati, tapos napaaway at nabugbog kami,” he said. “At napag-isip-isip ko na gusto ko na magbago mula sa pagiging lasenggo na gala dito, gala ‘dun.”
Introduced to boxing by a neighbor, Montilla nurtured a short amateur career, before shifting to the world’s fastest-growing sport two years ago. He also earns on the side as an MMA trainer.
And Montilla vowed there’s no turning back for him now.
“Ayaw ko nang balikan. Pag naiiisip ko ‘yun (past), lalo ko pang ginagalingan mag-training eh kasi ayaw ko na bumalik sa buhay ko dati. And hirap,” he said, his voice cracking. “Dito sa Pilipinas minsan, walang makain. Kaya ang Pinoy kailangan lumaban at magsumikap.”
Now, Montilla has earned a shot at a title in one of Asia-Pacific’s top MMA promotions and is offering his latest bout to his daughter, Riana, who turns two in February.
“Maagang pamasko o pa-birthday ko sa kanya,” he said. “Nagpapakahirap ako para sa kanya, parang iniisip ko, pag hindi ko nakuha ‘to, san mapupunta yung buhay niya?”
Despite coming off a sensational submission victory over former champion Ale Cali, Montilla feels he is the underdog against the Filipino-American Cacdac, who has emerged victorious in his last two fights.
But he feels his status will work in his favor.
“Mas maganda pag mas malakas pa sayo (ang kalaban) para isipin mo na mag-ensayo talaga ng todo,” said Monilla, who trained for the fight for six months.
“Nung sinabi sa akin na magkakaroon na ako ng title fight, hindi ako tumigil (mag-train).”
No surprise for a guy who knows that everything in this life has to be earned.