Jesus In My Corner

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Jesus In My Corner: MMA Fighter Julia Falcone

Story by Jonathan Erdman
Photos courtesy of Julia Falcone

Her early morning alarm went off as she sleepily got out of bed. It was summer, and for most Florida teenagers, that meant sleeping in, endless days at the beach, or family vacations. For Calvary Chapel Crystal River’s Julia Falcone, however, her alarm meant another day of running, training at the gym, and rigorous dieting—all things a 14-year old girl typically doesn’t like to do during the summer. But as she got herself ready, laced up her shoes, and ran another two miles, she had one thing on her mind—the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) World Championships in Bulgaria at the end of July.

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Julia Falcone (left), 14 years old, is a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world champion. She is also a follower of Jesus Christ who attends Calvary Chapel Crystal River, FL.

More Than Just a Gym

In the past, Julia had tried dance, gymnastics, and horseback riding. “I liked them at first,” she admitted, “but they just didn’t last.” When the opportunity arose to attend a kickboxing class after school at the local Combat Sports USA Muay Thai gym, Julia’s mother, Molly, signed her up.

“I thought it would be good for her to learn self-defense, stay active, and socialize with other kids,” Molly explained. She also liked the fact that the owners were Christians and knew it would be a positive environment for Julia. At the studio, they found more than just an extracurricular activity. “It’s a family,” Molly shared. “The owners are like parents to [the students].”

This studio, where Julia has been so active, had been just a gym for years. In January of 2020, however, it became the meeting place of the newly organized Calvary Chapel Crystal River, led by Pastor Stephen Cummins—who also happened to be an MMA fighter from the very same gym. “The gym is a ministry,” Stephen said. “People came to the church because of the gym and its owners.”

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As Julia fights, her coaches, Stefan (right) and Andi (left) Butin Bik, spur her on from behind the cage. Believers in Jesus Christ, they have opened their MMA studio to house CC Crystal River services.

Over the last year, Stephen has gotten to know Julia’s family and has seen her grow not just in her skills as a fighter but also as a follower of Christ. At age 12, she wanted to get baptized, telling the pastor, “I want to tell the world I belong to Jesus.” In late July, she would have another opportunity to do that, and this time, the world would literally be watching.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1

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Julia and her fellow teammates from Team Shindent (the Biks’ studio) pray together before a meal. Her coaches, Stefan and Andi, have helped her physically and spiritually, always urging their students to honor the Lord as they compete.

Discipleship through Discipline

Preparing for the tournament was physically rigorous, but it was also challenging for Julia’s faith. “I was nervous because I didn’t want to let anyone down,” she acknowledged. Several people from their church had donated to help the family pay to attend the tournament in Bulgaria. With so much support, and her own family sacrificing so much for her sport, she didn’t want to disappoint them. “I spoke with my coach about it, and he reminded me to focus on God and put my faith in Him to get me through the match.”

Coach Stefan (pronounced stay-fen) Butin Bik and his wife Audrianna, also known as “Andi,” own the gym and are members of CC Crystal River. Pastor Stephen related that Stefan has discipled many fighters over the years besides Julia. He commented, “People come to the gym because they need to focus and get discipline, and what they get is discipled.” For Julia, what started with a love for Brazilian jujitsu and Muay Thai ultimately led her to a love for Jesus.

“In the gym, we learn the importance of fighting with knowledge and with heart,” Julia declared. “We have to apply what we learn—that’s the knowledge part; and we have to fight with honor and humility—that’s the heart.” She went on to describe how there is no place on her team for showboating after winning a fight, but that there’s also no place for getting angry or upset after a loss. “Coach Stefan would pray over us, and he would say that God is in the gym every day and not just on Sunday,” Julia revealed.

Pastor Stephen helped Julia train each week, reminding her, “Do your best to win, but ultimately it’s about the glory of God and being a witness.”

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 1 Corinthians 9:25

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Julia (center) is wrapped in the U.S. flag with coach Stefan on her right. At the International MMA Federation competition in Bulgaria this July, Julia placed second in her age group, earning a silver medal.

International Competition—Bulgaria

When the time finally came to fight in the tournament, Julia was nervous but felt like all the hard work was over. “Training was the hard part,” she recalled, “and the tournament was pretty easy after all the training.” By the end of the tournament, Julia finished second place in her group—Number Two in the world. She trained hard, fought hard, and gave it her all.

After the tournament, she did what most 14-year-olds want to do—go out for pizza and ice cream. “I started crying because I was happy it was over and that all the training had come to an end,” she related. After all the hard work, all the sacrifice, Julia Falcone achieved quite an accomplishment, and she did it all for the glory of God.

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Earning a well-deserved rest, Julia sleeps in the morning following her win in Bulgaria. When the tournament was over, she went out for pizza and ice cream.

The Fight of Faith

“She’s mind-blowing to me,” admitted Julia’s mom, Molly. “Leading up to the competition she just kept trusting the Lord, and when we got back home, she was able to look back at all the ways He came through.” The road to the competition wasn’t easy for anyone in the home, but through it all, the Lord sustained them every day, Molly reflected.

Julia shared the story behind choosing her custom-made mouth guard before the competition. She and her mother spent time looking at various designs, and the one that stood out to her the most was one without words, only symbols sharing that God is greater than all our highs and lows. “In MMA, there are lots of lows and a lot of highs,” Julia observed. “The highs are those times you win or do exactly what you are trained to do, and the lows are those times when you lose.” In life, as well as in sports, this is a huge lesson for all to learn, and Julia’s fighting is a testimony of this truth.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

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Julia (second from the left) enjoys spending time with supporters. Next to her on the right is her pastor, Stephen Cummins (in dark blue shirt), who has also been an MMA fighter in the Biks’ studio. “Fighting prepared me for ministry,” he remarked. “There are so many spiritual lessons in combat sports.”

“Fighting prepared me for ministry,” Pastor Stephen remarked. “There are so many spiritual lessons in combat sports.” MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, he believes, and is getting more and more global attention. CC Crystal River has taken advantage of this growing sport and is using it as a platform to impact lives for the Gospel, as can be seen in the life of young Julia Falcone.

She boldly reflected, “I know Jesus is in my corner and tells me what to do. God is good. All glory goes to him. He makes everything possible.”

Julia returned to school the day after she returned from Europe as a world MMA champion, as well as a shining ambassador for Christ. She plans to stick with her favorite sport. Although she enjoys pancakes, pizza, and ice cream, she also knows training for the next competition is about to begin.

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Julia stands proudly on the podium after her international win in July. She exclaimed, “I know Jesus is in my corner and tells me what to do. God is good. All glory goes to him. He makes everything possible.”

                  

Click to learn more about:
Calvary Chapel Crystal River
Coach Stefan Butin Bik

                  

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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