Scotts Valley native Jacob Horton competed in his first MMA match on Oct. 16 in Los Banos during an event sponsored by Blackout Fight Gear. Horton defeated Joseph Palacios by unanimous decision. (Juan Reyes/Press Banner)

Scotts Valley native Jacob Horton made his mixed martial arts debut nearly two months ago with his first amateur fight at the O’Banion Auditorium in Los Banos. 

With little to no experience in the octagon, the 19-year-old made the Main Card in the event hosted by Black Out Fight Gear on Oct. 16.

“It was, I would say, a little nerve racking but it wasn’t that bad,” Horton said. “The whole process of waiting backstage forever and there was no wall up so I could see the guys about to be fighting, warming up like 20 feet away from me … But then once I got in there, it felt pretty good.”

And it was Horton’s calm demeanor and confidence that helped him beat Joseph Palacios, 33, in a unanimous decision by the judges. 

The win and his ability to walk away uninjured also reassured his mom, Sherri, that everything was A-OK. 

“As soon as I got out of there I had to go right up to her and go, ‘Look, I’m fine. I promise I’m fine. That punch looked like it hurt but I swear it didn’t,’” he said.

Horton started karate when he was 10 at Rod Sanford’s Karate in Soquel. He reached the rank of brown belt before moving to Jiu-Jitsu at Kaijin Martial Arts in Scotts Valley in 2017.

“I just wanted to try something more competitive and hands-on,” he said. “I was just crazy about it.”

Horton, who was part of Scotts Valley High’s Covid-19 graduating class of 2020, also became interested in wrestling. He joined the Falcons’ varsity team for a short time in his last semester as a senior. 

Horton went to qualify for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Championships and brought home a gold medal for the school. 

“A lot of well recognized MMA athletes wrestled in high school so I was like might as well. It’s free training,” he said.

Horton currently holds a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He medaled gold and silver in many tournaments around the Bay Area over the past couple of years.

Horton’s dad, Cal, said in an email that his son worked or trained for hours almost every day for the past couple of years. Horton did it either at his home gym or at Kaijin when he was allowed during the pandemic.

Horton and his girlfriend went on a vacation to Iceland where he sought out facilities to train while he was there.

Cal said that his son set out to achieve his goal of winning his first fight some time ago.

“[Jacob] is entirely self-motivated and the drive comes from deep inside,” Cal said. “He is a very caring and thoughtful young man, a solid student and works two jobs—even during the pandemic.”

One of his two jobs is as an instructor at Kaijin for their youth programs. He has also filled in as an adult instructor.

Kaijin Martial Arts sent out a letter to the parents of students enrolled at the facility. The letter mentions a discussion they had about overcoming fear and pushing forward—not just in the martial arts, but in all walks of life. 

“Mr. Horton’s artistry and amazing skill displayed everything we would want out of our young ‘budoka’ (martial artist). He was the underdog 6 to 1, and not only did he overcome the odds against him leading up to the fight, but came out victorious. Jacob is honorable on and off the mat—and is a great role model.”

Horton’s opponent was 1-0 going into the fight and was an 80% favorite to beat him. Horton said he thought Palacios was going to be more of a Muay Thai kickboxer fighter, but instead he turned out to be more of a traditional boxer.

Yet, the game plan for Horton was still the same: take Palacios down and make it a Jiu-Jitsu match.

“I didn’t end up getting the submission but we did end up making it a grappling match and that’s where I’m most comfortable,” Horton said.

Horton said one thing he wasn’t expecting was Palacio’s intensity and how fast he came out in the opening round. Horton added that he also didn’t expect his opponent to be so strong. 

“I definitely think that he has a little bit more ‘man strength’ than I did,” Horton said. “I don’t know what the difference between a 19-year-old and a 30-year-old would be, but it seemed like he was definitely pretty strong.”  

Horton, who is currently a full-time sophomore at Cabrillo College, said he wants to fight again, but he’s going to wait through the holiday season. He added that there’s no rush to get back to his fighting diet, especially with all the delicious food surrounding him.

However, his ultimate goal is to continue competing in the sport of MMA and get back into the ring sometime in the near future. 

“I would like to continue to see where it goes and see how high I can reach if I just keep training,” he said. “Definitely stick with it for a while.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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