“We were students fighting for a better country, for our dreams, for a better future for us, and for the people behind us, because the country was going downhill” – Roybert Echeverria
Whilst forging an unblemished 7-0 professional record at Floridian MMA promotion Titan Fighting Championship, Roybert Echeverria was seldom seen unadorned by the stars and tricolours of the Venezuelan flag.
Indeed, on any stage, Echeverria is certain to be draped with the flag of his beloved Venezuela.
Make no mistake, this synonymity is far more than pride of nationality.
Rather, it is the representation of the many voices silenced by oppression; for “The Unbroken”, this is a means to ensure those voices are heard.
This is the incredible story of Roybert Echeverria.
A Country in Crisis
The UN Refugee Agency reports Venezuela has witnessed an exodus of over 6-million refugees and migrants. Indeed, years of ongoing socio-economic and political turmoil have brought about what the UNHCR organisation defines as the worlds second-most “external displacement crisis”.
For Roybert Echeverria, growing up in both a poor neighbourhood, and a poor country, was tough.
Yet, albeit initially, there was never an intention to leave Venezuela.
“I didn’t have plans at the beginning to leave my country, just because I was having a kinda good life” Echeverria confesses.
“I was focussed on university” he adds. “I’m a dentist – so I was a student, and I’m training at the same time”.
However, the pursuance of a career in dentistry, partnered to a commitment to compete athletically, began to manifest the complexities of living in socio-economic crisis.
“My future started getting darker inside the country” Echeverria admits. “You can’t leave the country whenever you want… the inflation was getting so crazy that you couldn’t buy a ticket to fly out. To compete was getting [more] expensive than before, to get [equipment] to train was getting harder”.
“I started realising that even my my own career was getting harder because… just trying to be an athlete was hard; imagine also being a professional [dentist], in an area in which everything is expensive” Echeverria says. “Just getting instruments to work as a dentist; it was ridiculous to get it. I was like ‘This future right now, as a professional, is not gonna work’”.
The Student Advocating Change
Despite the overwhelming challenges, it was ultimately Venezuela’s political issues that left Echeverria with little option but to leave his cherished homeland.
“When the problems started in 2014, I got really deep into the protests” Echeverria reveals. “Nothing political; just more like activism. I was really, really fighting for a better country”.
“We were students fighting for a better country, for our dreams, for a better future for us, and for the people behind us, because the country was going downhill” Echeverria expresses.
Tragically for Echeverria, his own success was used against him. Not only was Echeverria a student; Echeverria was a representative of the Venezuelan national team, one who held popularity as a jiu-jitsu athlete.
Such popularity rendered Echeverria a public face for the Venezuelan government to target.
“I went to jail for like two weeks the first time, and then in 2017, I went for almost two weeks” Echeverria reveals. “They were trying to get me a case just to keep me locked [up]. Luckily, we have really good connections and [I] could get out”.
Echeverria and his family recognised that the second arrest was too close for comfort; they had no choice but to leave Venezuela.
“We have a family meeting; we say ‘Alright, we have to leave the country, [Roybert is] under fire right now. Roy, you are in the firing line, you are on the radar, so we have to make a decision. Where [do] we wanna go?’” Echeverria explains. “We [had] to sell everything; we [had] to sell the house, company, cars – everything – and leave”.
It was in that moment that Echeverria made a defining commitment; to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.
“The only other thing that I know – and I love – is MMA” Echeverria says. “So I don’t try and go to a different country or different place to be a dentist again. That’s not my goal. I’m gonna [give] my 100% to this, which is what I really want, and I feel that the best place to go is the United States”.
“It’s where the UFC is” Echeverria continues. “My main goal since I started with the sport is to be in the UFC. So I say ‘Why would I want to go to a different Latin American country or Europe or Asia, when what I want is in [the] United States?’. 80% of the shows in the UFC are here in the United States. The chances increase if I’m here already”.
“For example, I have friends that haven’t gotten to the UFC because of Visa problems; they get the opportunity, but they don’t have [a] Visa” Echeverria explains. “So I say ‘I don’t wanna deal with that, so I’m gonna go straight to the United States, and make my way up over there’”.
Echeverria’s family supported the proposal wholly. Whilst the United States was mainly for Roybert, his family recognised that the destination also offered a better future for Echeverria’s sisters.
It was an opportunity for the whole family to start their lives again, with better prospects.
The Harrowed Journey
Echeverria, accompanied by his father, would travel to the United States ahead of his mother and sisters, to establish a set foundation for the family.
To their dismay, however, events quickly took a dramatic turn.
“Things didn’t go as we planned in the beginning” Echeverria admits.
“My mum couldn’t get the Visa; my sisters either” Echeverria reveals. “It was a big mess”.
“We tried then to make them come to the borders” Echeverria continues. “My mum and my sister luckily get in – they have their asylum, their protection – but my other sister got deported”.
“That was a tough year, because it was a year of my sister being in jail here [the United States], for no reason” Echeverria explains. “Just for trying to meet with us here; she was just 16-years-old”.
“All the family was like ‘Ahh, we f****d up now, we have one of our members in jail’” Echeverria continues. “That’s not how it was planned you know; the idea was everybody was here”.
Neither Echeverria nor the rest of the family that made it to the United States have seen Echeverria’s sister since.
“She’s in Spain now; Madrid” Echeverria says. “She’s making her life there”.
“The last time that we saw her was in court, when the judge said she was gonna get deported” Echeverria says. “That was the last time that we saw her in person”.
“We talk to her everyday on FaceTime, stuff like that” Echeverria continues. “She’s with cousins over there, so she’s dealing with it pretty well; she has a boyfriend and stuff”.
“It’s God’s plan you know” Echeverria affirms. “We look at it that way – and if it was meant for her to be here, she would be here”.
The Cusp of an Indefatigable Pursuit
After a brief stay in Oklahoma at his uncle’s, Echeverria moved on to Miami.
The destination wasn’t random; his girlfriend, who also came from Venezuela, had settled there with her family.
“I actually came first for a tournament – a jiu-jitsu tournament – and I just stayed” Echeverria explains.
“Two days after landing in Miami I was competing” Echeverria says. “I didn’t know anybody except my girlfriend. So I just started meeting people in the jiu-jitsu community, and some of the guys did MMA also; we related, and then [I] said ‘Alright, this is the place’”.
After initially training with those from the tournament at Blackhouse MMA, Echeverria eventually moved to The Goat Shed.
Perseverance and self-belief preceded an astounding 7-0 professional record built entirely with Titan Fighting Championship, a form which garnered recognition and an opportunity to achieve that which brought him to the United States.
Despite all of the obstacles, Echeverria is potentially just one bout away from realising his dream.
September 20th 2022, the Venezuelan competes on Dana White’s Contender Series, in a matchup with Jafel Filho, for a UFC contract.
A Voice for Venezuela’s Oppressed
As Contender Series introduces Echeverria to a newfound audience, his story has never been more important.
After all, his journey was always more than reaching the UFC; his journey was also about sharing the messages and voices of those he lost, and those still in Venezuela.
“People have to know, and [I] remind [them] always what those guys were doing; if anything, those were heroes that were trying to change their future” Echeverria says. “Like I did for [a] certain period”.
“I’m just going to do it in a different way” Echeverria continues. “So that’s also one of my main goals, and my reason behind fighting. I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m not just fighting for my dreams, I’m not just fighting for my family. Of course I’m fighting for all those things, but I also have to do it for the people that I fought with in the streets, and that are not fighting for their dreams right now”.
“I fought on the streets, and I fought for my dreams” Echeverria says. “Meanwhile, people were dying on my side, trying to do the same. So I say ‘That person could have been me’. I have a really close friend that got shot, and unfortunately he’s not fighting for his dream, because he died. I wish that wouldn’t have happened, but that could have been me, and now I wouldn’t be in the position that I am”.
“I realised I am in the position that I am right now because [of] God’s plan” Echeverria affirms. “That’s how things went, and I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to talk about it, to keep growing with the country I’m in – the United States – to keep developing my career. [But] I can’t just be grateful, because like I said, that could’ve been me, and I wouldn’t be in the position that I am right now”.
“I’m gonna make it; I’m going to, and I’m excited to. I’m the champion and I need to do it, and nothing’s gonna stop me”.
The author extends his utmost gratitude to Roybert Echeverria for making this article possible.
Photo sourced from theunbrokenroy.com