Mark “Tyson” Abelardo has already made an impact in ONE Warrior Series.
The 26-year-old New Zealander defeated Iranian striker Ali Motamed in the OWS 2 Mid-Season Finale in July.
And now he’s looking to build on his solid start in a bid to earn a spot on the main ONE Championship roster.
Abelardo’s early inspiration was his father, who took part in full-contact karate events in the Philippines before his son was born.
But after moving to New Zealand to start a family, Abelardo senior decided to open up his own academy, and Mark took a keen interest from an early age.
“I grew up watching and being into martial arts because my dad coached at his school when I was younger,” he explains to ONE Championship.
“I was too young to train at the time, but I was always watching and always with the students. It was not until I was 10 years old that he started training me. I grew up with martial arts.”
After watching mixed martial arts events on television with his father, Abelardo made the career-changing decision to switch from karate to mixed martial arts. Thankfully, his father gave him his full backing.
“My dad was all for it,” Abelardo says.
“He just loves the sport. He loves martial arts. Having me make the transition and trying that too, he was all for it. He is one of my biggest supporters.”
Abelardo threw himself into his training as he looked to build up his skills across the various disciplines, and dipped his toe in competitive waters with a pair of amateur bouts.
Then, in 2010, he went pro, kick-starting his career with a split-decision victory, and set about developing his skills on the regional scene while studying in college and holding down a part-time job working in IT support.
“I was doing IT support, and I scraped through the year. I passed, but I was fighting, too,” he explains.
“At the end of that year, I was like, ’It is hard to juggle both,’ so I had to choose one. My passion for mixed martial arts was huge, so I chose that, and I stuck with it.”
Abelardo still needed an income, so he landed a job in an optometry warehouse to help fund his relentless training. Then he spotted a golden opportunity on social media.
“I saw on Facebook that there was an application for fighters to be sponsored at Team Quest Thailand over in Chiang Mai, but the deadline for the request was the day before I read it,” Abelardo recalls.
“I decided to just try it anyway – I had nothing to lose. I sent that in, and a week later, I got an email from the manager. He said, ‘We like what we see, could we schedule a Skype interview?’
“When they talked to me, they were straight up with me. They told me what was being offered, and they asked me if I was ready to move. At the time, I was not, but I just decided, ‘Yep, I am ready.’
“I resigned from my job and I sold my car – I sold everything. Then, I went [to Thailand] two months after that.”
The move to Thailand put the rocket boosters on Abelardo’s career. He saw his skills develop and he became a mainstay in the PXC organisation.
But after three successful years in Thailand, the call of home became too strong to ignore, and he moved back to New Zealand for a fresh start, where he took up a regular job.
“It was definitely nothing I wanted to keep doing,” he says.
“I used it as motivation to get back to the end goal.”
He wasn’t in the job for long. He received an opportunity to join a former teammate and train full-time in Denver, Colorado for three months. Then he moved back to Thailand to be a part of the world-famous Team Fairtex collective in Pattaya.
It saw Abelardo return to competition for the first time in 14 months as he represented the team in an event in China.
“I was fighting a weight class above, and I had a lot of pressure to represent my team, but I was fired up because I wanted to make a comeback,” he says.
He made a big impact, winning by first-round knockout, then followed up with a unanimous decision win in another China-based tournament a month later.
Now competing in ONE Warrior Series, Abelardo is looking to stand out in the crop of talented bantamweights all looking to earn a spot in ONE Championship.
He’s already caught the eye with his early performance in OWN Season 2. Another similarly-impressive performance could be the one that sees him earn his spot.
“I am still pushing for it,” he says.
“I am just training hard, and gunning for another win.”
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