IN CONVERSATION WITH JACKIE BUNTAN
Interview by Jana Letonja
Jackie Buntan is a Filipino-American muay thai kickboxer, currently competing in the strawweight division of ONE Championship. She holds 5 National Muay Thai titles and was the breakout star of women’s striking in 2021, scoring three straight wins in the One Championship Circle, which earned her worldwide recognition asone of the best female fighters in the world. Jackie will be facing Diandra Martin today at ONE Fight Night 10, which will mark the promotion’s first event hosted in the United States.
Jackie, what made you interested in fighting?
As a young girl, I was definitely a tomboy. You could find me outside all the time, skating, playing soccer, riding my bike. It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that martial arts sparked my interest. I remember watching movies such as ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and I thought how cool these women were. Beautiful and strong, yet kicking butt at the same time. I think that influenced my interest in martial arts without me even knowing it at the time.
Your mom envisioned a different career for you while growing up. How did she and your whole family accept your decision to become a fighter?
I am the first generation American in my family. My parents and three older sisters left the Philippines for a better life here in America, so when I told them about my decision of not continuing college and pursuing this path they were not happy or confident in my decision. They want the best for me, so it was understandable. I was supposed to go the traditional route of completing all my education and pursuing a career in medical or business field, but I never saw those cards in my future. To be honest, I didn’t see fighting professionally in my future either. As I got older and more in love with Muay Thai, I had a huge gut feeling that this was the correct decision, so I went in 100 %. It took my family a couple years to accept and believe in my choice to pursue fighting. My consistency to my craft, despite the highs and lows, swayed their decision. Of course winning a lot of fights again and again also helped. They finally realized this is what I love in life and it’s a passion that keeps the fire going for me.
You had your first amateur fight at 13. How would you describe your path and your career from that moment to today?
My first amateur fight was at 13 years old, just a couple years after I first started training. My path from then till now has been a long crazy journey filled with so many lessons, highs and lows, but most importantly so much growth, mentally and physically. It all happened organically, which I’m so grateful for. Through that, I feel I keep evolving to who and what I want to be.
Currently, you’re competing in the strawweight division of ONE Championship, where you are a one-time Women’s Muay Thai Strawweight World Championship totle challenger. What does this title represent to you personally?
I’m a strawweight Muay Thai top contender in ONE Championship. I was able to compete for the world title last April and came short on the decision. My heart was broken. Way before going into that fight, I had always told myself I will be a world champion by 25 and that didn’t happen. My perspective completely changed after that. I realized it’s not important when I achieve that goal, it will happen and it will happen when the cards are right for me. All I can continue to do is keep evolving, keep being disciplined and in love with my craft and things will align for me. I know that losses don’t define me. It’s about how I can keep myself going after those bumps occur in my journey.
Since starting your professional career, which fight holds the most special place in your career and why?
Since starting my professional career in February 2021, the most significant fight that holds a lot of meaning to me was my debut fight in ONE championship. Prior to Covid happening, I was already out of competition for 1 year due to lack of opportunities. Then Covid hits and I’m out of competition for 2 years. On top of that, I’m making my professional debut on martial arts biggest stage, ONE championship, against their front runner girl at the time. It was a very tall order for me to fulfill. By the time I got in the cage, I experienced a flow state that I have never felt before. My mind was clear, time slowed down and I was able to pick my opponent apart. Being able to put on a performance like that with the large order I was given made me feel like I did all the correct steps in pursuing this path and solidified I’m right where I’m supposed to be in life.
How would you describe yourself as a warrior?
I always thought of myself as resilient since I was a young girl. I think that comes with the lows I dealt with as a child growing up. It taught me to have tough skin and a tougher mindset. Starting Muay Thai at a young age also molded my mindset even harder. I’m not afraid of challenges. If life comes at me hard, I come back harder. I embrace the uncertainty of outcomes. I think that’s what gives me the warrior mentality.
Today, you’ll be facing Diandra Martin at ONE Fight Night 10. How were you preparing for this fight? What are you most excited about this fight?
As a Filipino- American, I’m extremely excited at the fact it’s the first ever US show for ONE Championship. As for training, Diandra is taller than me, but I’m always the shorter girl so it’s nothing new. I’ve been training with specific partners who are her same height, so I can practice my range. This fight will also be in Denver, Colorado, so I’ve been doing a whole lot of hypoxia training to stimulate altitude and getting my lungs ready for the decrease of oxygen come fight night.
rings BRITT BOLTON JEWELRY, THE GREAT FROG & SUBLIMA
This will be the first time the event will be hosted in the US. Does this make it any more special or any more nerve wracking?
Being on the first ever US show for ONE Championship is so surreal. Being born and raised in Los Angeles and getting to show US fans what I’m about makes this so special for me. It adds a bit of pressure and nerves, but I call it positive pressure. There’s always pressure and nerves going into any fight, but it comes from a place of wanting to do my absolute best. I’m going to put on a show and make people want to watch me again and watch Muay Thai again.
Your family is Filipino. What role does your heritage play in your life?
Coming from a Filipino family, I always believed my grit was there from the start. Filipinos roll with the punches and don’t let it stop them. That has shaped my outlook in life and especially in this path.
Jackie, tell us, what are your biggest career goals for the future?
My biggest career goal for the future is to of course become a world champion, but in the grand scheme of things, I want to be remembered as one of the greats. I want to leave the next generation inspired to pursue their dreams regardless of the doubt, going against stereotypes or approval of others.
talent JACKIE BUNTAN @jackiebuntan
photographer JACK WATERLOT @jackwaterlotstudio
stylist JEAN CHUNG @jeanalina
make-up JENNY SAUCE @thejennysauce
hair JENNI WIMMERSTEDT @ivainsane
nails MAMIE ONISHI @nailsbymamie
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA @timiletonja
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen