Given his success in the white-collar world of commercial real estate, as well as his prowess in the combat sports of mixed martial arts and boxing, it’s hard to tell if Sam Oropeza is a broker moonlighting as a fighter, or if it’s the other way around.
One thing is certain, though: The 32-year-old who grew up the youngest of six kids to a widowed mother in Briarcliffe had no choice but to fight. Literally and figuratively.
“I had three older brothers who showed me no mercy,” Oropeza said. “But I really learned how to fight from my mother. She didn’t show me how to throw a punch, but she had a fighting spirit that rubbed off on me.”
When Oropeza was 10, his father died from liver and kidney failure. His mother, who started her family at an early age and had not furthered her education beyond high school, went back to school to become a nurse’s assistant.
“Seeing how hard she worked, studying late at night while providing for our family, inspired me and taught me what it meant to be a fighter,” said Oropeza.
He wrestled in high school at Monsignor Bonner, then attended Williamson College of the Trades, where he learned the value of discipline and respect.
But it was an experience just months after his father died that he kept reflecting on as a young adult.
“I remember the first time I went to the Upper Darby Boxing Gym,” said Oropeza. “After my father died, people said I should go there to blow off some steam. I’ll never forget the feeling of ascending the steps to the (second-floor) gym, the humidity, and the smell of sweat and leather. There were two fighters sparring in the ring. A few people were hitting the bags.
“To me, it was the Promised Land.”
The itch to fight he initially discovered as a child had not gone away as an adult. He soon began to study Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“Brazilian jiu-jitsu does something to your brain,” Oropeza said. “Learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions – it makes you think better, feel better.”
Oropeza’s first fight in the octagon came in June 2009. Six years and 15 fights later, he had amassed a 13-3 record as a professional, including a 4-1 mark on the Bellator circuit, the second-largest MMA promotion in the world behind UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). He defeated his opponents by mastering moves that go by the name of guillotine choke, rear-naked choke, triangle choke, scarf-hold armlock, and armbar.
Oropeza even tried his hands at boxing, as he won both of his bouts early last year.
Along the way, Oropeza learned that some of the skills he acquired as a fighter translate well to the real world.
“No matter what you do, you’re going to have to face adversity, and obstacles will be in your way,” he said. “You have to figure out a way to tear down your walls.
He found that his hands-on experience in construction – coupled with his ability to communicate and market (after all, most of his fights were sellouts) – aligned with the skills necessary to succeed in commercial real estate, where he’s been an associate at Rittenhouse Realty Advisors in Philadelphia for almost two years now.
“I didn’t come equipped with a big network, but I’ve learned how to delay instant gratification, and that’s paid big dividends for me in this industry,” said Oropeza, who lives in Clifton Heights and is planning his upcoming wedding. “You could say I learned how to get beat up.”
Oropeza will ditch the suit and tie for an evening, when he returns to the cage, ending a three-year hiatus from MMA, on May 18 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. There, he is scheduled to fight in the main event of Art of War 7.
“Beyond that, I’m not sure how long I’ll continue to fight,” said Oropeza. “As a child, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle, and I grew up watching Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee movies.
“I’ve achieved my dream of being a professional athlete, and I’m looking forward to getting married. But I’ll never say never.”