Gustavo Balart was proud to represent Cuba as a wrestler on the international stage. He was following in the footsteps of his father who had got him started in the sport at a very young age,

“I have been wrestling practically since I was little kid, thanks to my father. He was part of the Cuban national team. It’s in my blood, and it has been a part of my life since I was born. I wrestled from the age of 9 until I was 25 years old.”

He must have surpassed his father’s expectations by winning gold as the Pan American Games three times,

“The truth is that it ran through my veins. I was a natural. I was afraid of disappointing my dad. I was proud to get on the mat and fight. I wanted him to be proud of me, and I did it, thank God.”

Gustavo Balart protests after discovering Tatsumitsu Wada has beaten him by decision at ONE: 'Roots of Honor' in Manila

Dreams and ambitions

He represented Cuba at the 2012 Olympics in London but by this stage he had started to outgrow his homeland and harboured dreams and ambitions that went well beyond the real of wrestling,

“Many people dream of it (the Olympics) but only few can achieve it. But when the London Olympic Games came around in 2012, I saw Demetrious Johnson get crowned and I said, ‘This is my time.’ So I started training all the disciplines of MMA and trying to get to the United States.”

Johnson, who is now on the ONE Championship roster too, would hold the UFC flyweight title from 2012 until 2018. But before Balart could embark on his own MMA journey he had to take a journey of a very different and much more dangerous kind.

Tatsumitsu Wada hits Gustavo Balart with a right hand at ONE: 'Roots of Honor' in Manila

Difficult journey

The wrestler needed to get out of Cuba and make his way to the US but it wasn’t easy,

“It was very difficult. When I left Cuba, I left behind a 5-year-old daughter, my other 3-year-old little girl, and my wife, who was three months pregnant. It was very difficult for me to make that decision, but it was very necessary, because today I am here and I can support them and give them things that I couldn’t when I was in Cuba. ”

He still remembers the exact date he left Cuba,

“I left Cuba to go to the United States on November 28, 2015. I flew to Colombia, and a few months later I arrived in the United States on March 8, 2016. Coming from all that way is very dangerous. There are many criminals. They know that we Cubans are going to the United States and they know that we bring money, but we were very lucky that nothing happened.”

Gustavo Balart punches Tatsumitsu Wada at ONE: 'Roots of Honor' in Manila

Bonus dream

Balart will be facing Yosuke Saruta at ONE: ‘Reloaded’ this Friday. He would love nothing more than to earn a $50,000 USD performance bonus because the money would be enough to get his whole family to the US,

“I am very happy and eager to fight. I want to finish my opponent as fast as I can. Let’s see if I earn that bonus. I need to win and make some money to bring my family to the United States.”