Riquo Abadilla takes a measured approach when he speaks about the things that mean most to him, not only winning at the Toughman Hawaii tournament, but also retracing the steps of a rugged past life.
In a championship bout for the Toughman 130-pound junior lightweight belt today at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, Abadilla will take on Chad Pavao, currently of Waianae, Oahu, but formerly of Hilo, who holds a 3-inch height advantage and a reputation for dishing out punishment in the ring.
“I know he’s a tough dude,” said the 5-foot-6 Abadilla, who’s riding a seven-fight winning streak. “He’s a good kickboxer. He’s tall and he’s strong.
“I have to close the gap against him and pressure him. I know he can’t fight going backward. He’ll either have to go forward or sideways, not backward.”
Abadilla’s life has only moved in a positive direction after overcoming a tough childhood that Toughman promoter Wally Carvalho Jr. helped change with his at-risk program a decade ago.
“He helped troubled kids, and I was one of them. I was locked up and in foster care homes,” Abadilla said. “He really took care of the kids. We trained there (at Prince Kuhio Plaza). From my experience, he did plenty for me, along with his family and his sons, Ronnie and Aaron.
“My mom was addicted to drugs, and at one point in my life we lived in a car, me, my mom, my brother and sister, for almost a year. It was a learning and humbling experience. The toughest thing was being the man of the family. My dad has been in prison 20 years now. He went away for manslaughter when I was 3 years old.
“We’ve all lived a hard life, but it’s all about recovering,” Abadilla said. “They’re all good now. If God can reach me, I want to do what I can to encourage others. Fighting has humbled me. I’ve learned discipline, getting lickings in the gym. It’s about trying your hardest because when failure comes you learn not to let it pull you down.”
Abadilla, 23, is now a married father of two boys, Riquezen, 4, and Rysaiah, 3. His wife, Jaydina, came up with the unique names. He’s been a maintenance worker for the past three years at New Hope Hilo, where he also attends church.
In the ring, he has a 6-1 record in kickboxing, including 4-0 in Toughman. He’s 7-2 in mixed martial arts, and in his last fight he defeated Tyler Leopoldino at the Triple Threats card in June.
The turning point in his life — after being homeless as a sixth grader and locked up for four months as a 17-year-old — was the birth of his first son. A father at 19, Abadilla found inspiration in Riquezen’s fight for his life.
“He was born premature, and he fought more wars than any fight I saw in my life,” Abadilla said. “I came out being more humble. It encouraged me to want to have a better life for my family, and not only that but also myself, and what I wanted to do in life, what was best for my family.
“Being at the church, it surrounds me with positive people and makes me want to better my life for my family. My mom, Alice Kahaleua, is clean and sober, and her program in Pahoa was how I got hooked up with New Hope.”
There is no fire in his tone, the common spark that energizes fighters, even when Abadilla talks about his battle against Pavao.
“I have balance in everything, in my emotions, how I walk around and carry myself,” he said. “I try to maintain myself to be meek and humble, so opportunities will come. You never know what opportunities will come.”
That applies to Abadilla’s transformed life as well.
“I’m thankful for everything I get and every situation I’m in,” he said. “Who knows where I would have been if I were not saved? It was the birth of my first son and God. It’s super uplifting.
“I hope to encourage others to do what they believe in and follow their dreams. Everybody grows. It’s about living life the best that you can.”