As 10-year-old Israel Galvan trotted across the stage for his fifth-grade graduation at Hubbard Elementary in Sylmar, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Astronaut, doctor and firefighter were some of the common responses.
Galvan, now a senior at Valencia, went another direction.
“I want to be a UFC champion,” he said.
Keep in mind, back in 2010, when he professed his aspirations to become a professional mixed martial arts fighter, the likes of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey had yet to break into UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). It wasn’t necessarily the most glamorous profession.
“I hadn’t even trained in combat sports or anything at that time,” Galvan said. “Everything’s been falling according to plan ever since.”
Galvan’s father, Josue, grew up boxing and has been a fan for most of his life. That had an adverse effect on the hopes for his son.
“I didn’t want him to get into combat sports,” Josue said. “I’ve followed boxing for a long time. You see what it does to people.”
To keep him away from combat sports, Josue and Israel’s mother, Maribel, urged him to diversify his athletic profile, placing him on soccer and football teams.
But when soccer season ended as a 12-year-old, and his older brother was enrolled in a Muay Thai class, Israel asked if he could join as well. Josue obliged, and the rest is history.
“That’s where it all started,” Israel said. “I got great feedback from coaches and it kind of just went from there.”
Shortly after, Israel picked up no-gi jiu jitsu, which he immediately excelled in.
His first jiu-jitsu tournament, which he took part in at 15 years old, he took home third place — losing out to a 29-year-old at least twice his size. At 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, Israel is usually one of the smaller entries at combat sport tournaments.
That’s never really fazed him, though.
Josue tells a story of a 16-year-old Israel, who entered a United States Fight League pankration championship fight at 123 pounds in October 2016. Israel’s opponent dropped out with an injury, though. He could either go home, or take another title fight against a 132-pound contender.
While Israel was looking down playing a game on his phone, Josue told him about the situation.
“(Israel) didn’t even lift up his head and said, ‘They’re all the same.’”
Israel won that fight.
After two years at West Ranch, and hopping from gym-to-gym, Josue and Israel came across Brian Peterson, who runs Peterson’s Grapplers in Valencia and is the Valencia’s wrestling coach.
“We asked Brian what we needed to do to get him to that next level,” Josue said.
Following a layout of Israel’s future plans, a transfer to Valencia was put into motion, so he could join its wrestling team — the only prep team in the Santa Clarita Valley. Wrestling would be a critical component of his hopeful MMA career.
“You need to cover all the bases,” Israel said.
It was more than just that for Peterson.
“He wasn’t getting challenged in jiu jitsu,” Peterson said. “I wanted to test his heart and see how tough he was, and we used the wrestling tournaments to build that.”
Israel dominated in his first year of organized wrestling, earning a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Masters at the 113-pound weight class.
He’s currently ranked 13th in the state for the 113-pound weight class, per California Wrestler, with matchups against the No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers at the Tournament of Champions next week at Cerritos College.
“He’s one of those guys who absorbs info at a very high level,” Peterson said. “ … It was like a teaching a 6-year-old to play chess and they’re already at the level of a 15-year-old. You don’t know how high he’s going to climb the mountain, but you know he’s going to get high.”
Once wrestling season concludes, it’ll be back to full-time MMA training at Peterson’s Grapplers. After graduation, Israel will immediately undergo the four amateur MMA fights it takes to go pro.
“I can honestly say it already, he’s the best athlete I’ve ever worked with when it comes to mixed martial arts,” said Peterson, who has over 20 years of experience in the field and was once a Kage Kombat featherweight champion.
Israel hopes to continue training with Peterson as long as possible, with Josue serving as his manager. The plan is to get Israel out of MMA competition by 27 years old.
“We want him to get in, make some noise and get out,’ Josue said.
Whether that noise will be made within UFC fights or the ONE Championship in Japan, will be dependent on the payout.
By pursuing his pro MMA career right out of high school, Israel is passing on a potential scholarship to wrestle in college. Peterson said several schools have inquired about him.
Why stop the dream now, though?
“If I sensed that there was a hint that he wouldn’t be able to make his goal, I would tell him to go to college,” Peterson said. “I think his main goal is attainable.
“Everyone talks about backup plans. Sometimes, backup plans and safety nets are the reason why you fall in the first place.”