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She Slays: The grit and grace of Fil-Am muay thai fighter Jackie Buntan

By Bim Santos Published Mar 31, 2021 11:57 pm Updated Apr 01, 2021 12:16 am

Fil-Am muay thai fighter Jackie Buntan told herself in the mirror what she wanted to happen before stepping on the ring for her Feb. 26 debut. Then what she wanted to happen, actually happened.

The 23-year-old  was largely seen as the underdog then, who has yet to prove herself, against her much-fancied opponent Wondergirl Fairtex of Thailand, a two-time muay thai champion.

Knowing the challenge, Buntan loaded up on her training through the help of kickboxing champion Janet Todd in California and her coach Bryan Popejoy, one of the muay thai pioneers in the US.

“We only get one chance in making a strong impression, especially on a big stage like One Championship,” Buntan told PhilSTAR L!fe in a Zoom interview.

Just after one round, the amount of clinical preparation she invested in the match paid off. 

She sent Fairtex to the canvass with a three-punch combination that was capped by a blinding left at the tail-end of the first round. Though Fairtex beat the count, Buntan remained in control throughout the match. After the match, Fairtex would tell in an Instagram post that she saw double vision after she was knocked down and eventually sustained two broken face bones.

“Everything we worked came out that night and worked out perfectly. My game plan and strategy was there, 110%,” Buntan said.

The three judges all awarded the fight to Buntan after a convincing three-round domination of Fairtex.

Buntan tipped her hat to her beaten opponent Fairtex in a comment on the latter's post about the match

Aside from doing a lot of fight visualization, where she imagined every possible scenario that could play out in the fight, Buntan said she also did “manifestation techniques.”

“I never really do this but I tried to use manifestation techniques where you straight up say what you want to manifest and say it out loud to yourself in the mirror and I was doing that, and everything I worked out really happened. It was just the power of the mind,” said Buntan.

Buntan was born in the United States after her family from Quezon City migrated during the late ‘90s. As a little girl, she was drawn to hobbies such as skateboarding and biking.

“Growing up as a little girl definitely I was a tomboy,” said Buntan.

Even as a kid, her grit in carving her own path was already showing through. In fact, her foray into the sport was all her own as no one in her family had the slightest background in martial arts.

My dad is a little bit more old school, more conservative type of Filipino, he was not for it, he didn’t want to see his youngest daughter get hit in the face.

“This was all me a hundred percent,” said Buntan.

Buntan started learning muay thai when she was 11 years old after her brother-in-law tried the sport to be fit.

“He just introduced me to it and I was just completely hooked,” said Buntan. “It was such a dangerous sport, but these fighters make it look beautiful while they were doing it and I think that’s what just really interested me.”

She sought out gyms in the area and landed with Popejoy, who has been her coach up to now.

“There was no looking back since then,” said Buntan.

“Starting out, my mom was usually my number one fan, always rooting for me. My dad is a little bit more old school, more conservative type of Filipino, he was not for it, he didn’t want to see his youngest daughter get hit in the face, it took him a while to kinda get used to it,” said Buntan.

“But after my debut, they were ecstatic they were so proud of me and they just can't stop telling me that,” Buntan added.

As a female athlete, Buntan acknowledged there still exists inequalities in many areas. 

“I think the odds are stacked against women in all aspects really and it is unfortunate especially in combat sports. I can't speak for everyone but it's been a known factor that female athletes get paid less,” said Buntan.

Though women’s rights in sports in general is an ongoing battle, Buntan said she is lucky that such struggles are not something she has had to grapple with personally.

“But talking about my personal situation, I never really struggled with that as I've been extremely lucky and grateful to have great people in my life,” she added.

After her highly successful debut, Buntan said that she has ultimately one goal in mind that she wants to happen.

“My number one goal is to be world champion in one champsionships for both disciplines of muay thai and kickboxing,” Buntan said, to me and to herself.

(Banner photo from One Championship)