Rising ONE Championship atomweight star Denice “The Menace Fairtex” Zamboanga has never been one to shy away from taking a risk or two in life. In fact, well-calculated risks have helped her discover who she is today, not only as an athlete, but as a human being.
On the advice of career guidance counsellors, the Filipina drifted towards a role in Information Technology, after completing her studies at the Polytechnic University of The Philippines.
Zamboanga then eventually moved into a post at a government office shortly thereafter to put her learnings to the test. But deep down, she knew her heart wasn’t completely in it. Zamboanga knew she was cut from a different cloth and that a ‘normal’ nine-to-five existence just wasn’t for her.
She believed she was destined for greater things.
The ambitious youngster harbored dreams of becoming a police officer, an honest job where she could put her passion for the physical and mental sides of life to good use.
Little did Zamboanga realise that those inclinations would soon find their perfect home when she decided to tag along with her brother – former karate world champion Drex Zamboanga – to training one day.
Already fairly well-versed in the art of karate, the added diversity of mixed martial arts had Zamboanga instantly hooked.
“I do like the idea of being a strong woman,” said Zamboanga.
“I feel like I’m physically and mentally strong. It’s challenging. You have to be disciplined, and you will learn a lot in this sport. It’s helped me to be disciplined and patient. You cannot just be a good fighter without experiencing hardship, it is also like that in life. Before you succeed, you have to do your part.”
Armed with those lessons and brimming with ambition, Zamboanga knew she had to give herself the best chance possible to succeed in her newfound passion, even if it meant abandoning the career path she’d studied so hard for.
“It was a very hard time for me, that moment I had to decide between mixed martial arts and my ‘work’ work,” she recalled.
“It was really tough and it was the biggest decision I made in my life.”
Fortunately, the reaction from friends and family was unanimously positive. They could see the exceptional talent brewing and the genuine passion she had for martial arts. They encouraged Zamboanga to wholeheartedly follow the same path her brother had chosen.
“I had a good job back then, but thank God my parents supported me when I chose martial arts over my work,” says Zamboanga.
“My friends and family are very supportive when it comes to my career. So when they knew that I chose martial arts as my career, they respected my decision and they really supported me.”
Zamboanga proceeded to take another chance and packed her bags to jet off and join her brother at the world-renowned Fairtex Training Camp in Pattaya, Thailand, where she has since evolved into a much more diverse and well-rounded athlete.
Looking back now, they were both risks that were clearly worth taking.
Fast-forward three years, and “The Menace Fairtex” has established herself as one of the most promising young talents in ONE’s atomweight division.
She made her promotional debut with ONE Championship in June 2019 with a shock unanimous decision victory over fellow up-and-comer Jihin Radzuan at ONE: MARK OF GREATNESS in Kuala Lumpur.
Zamboanga backed that up with a comprehensive upset win over hardened veteran and perennial title contender Mei Yamaguchi at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE in Singapore last February.
They were statement performances that sent clear messages to the rest of the division that she’s not simply here to take part, she’s here to take over.
ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong agreed, offering a tearful Zamboanga the next title shot against reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee before she’d even left the Circle.
It was an emotional moment that justified all of the sacrifices she’d made in her young career to date.
“I’m super grateful and overwhelmed. I can’t express how happy I am,” she said.
“I always trained hard. I went to Thailand to train, far away from my family. After all of the big challenges and hardships, I got the win.”
Zamboanga has made a habit of shocking fans, and she plans to do the same when she eventually gets her chance to take on “Unstoppable”, one of the promotion’s most decorated athletes and somebody she’s always looked to as a source of inspiration.
“This is the biggest challenge I will face and I will train so hard for this. She is one of the people I’ve always watched in MMA, and now I have to compete against her for the world title. It will definitely be a hard one. Everything I will show inside the Circle will be a surprise. I want to surprise everyone on fight night,” Zamboanga said.
While the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sporting world will mean that Zamboanga will have to be patient, she knows her time is coming, and she’s determined to be as ready as possible to make both her family and her nation proud when that time comes.
“Beating a star like Angela Lee and winning a world title means so much to me. It’s like a dream come true – a win over my idol and a win for the Philippines,” Zamboanga said.
“I represent my country not just locally but internationally. I’m so proud to be a Filipino. Even if I fight internationally, I can feel the support of the Filipino fans, even through their messages and cheers for me.”
Still just 23 years of age and boasting a clean professional record, Zamboanga has yet to taste defeat, and she’s confident that trend will continue when she gets the chance to share the biggest stage of her fledgling career to date against the ever-dangerous Singaporean.