Some people are seemingly destined for life as a professional fighter, but that was not always the case for Lara Fernandez.
The 26-year-old Spaniard – who will debut against Janet Todd in a ONE interim atomweight muay Thai world title showdown at ONE 159 on July 22 – didn't have a deep-rooted desire to join the world of combat or a clear talent for the striking arts.
In the end, though, none of that mattered.
Fernandez eventually fell in love with muay Thai, and her passion fueled a steady road to success.
Now, the rising star is preparing for a life-changing opportunity at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, where she will compete for the greatest prize in the sport.
Ahead of her first appearance in the ONE Championship circle, find out how Fernandez went from a content youngster in central Spain to a world champion striker who's hungry to conquer the world's largest martial arts organization.
Dancing, farming in the Spanish countryside
Fernandez was born and raised in Cebolla, Spain, where she lived with her parents, older sister, and younger brother.
Her father was a farmer, and this provided a comfortable living for the family. In fact, the muay Thai competitor has fond memories of helping out in the fields as a youngster.
"The truth is that I had a very normal childhood," Fernandez said. "My father is a farmer. I used to work with them in the orchard when I was a child. It's a good job. My family and I always had everything we needed," Fernandez says.
Fernandez's main passions were team sports and dancing, and she'd take any opportunity to practice them.
She even dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, and although that's now in the rear-view mirror, it remains one of her favorite pastimes.
"I have always liked to play sports," the Spaniard recalled. "Since I was little I used to go out to the street to play soccer and volleyball, and I also loved to dance.
"I used to dance 'funky,' but I loved any type of dance style. Actually, I still do! I used to enjoy dancing in different places."
Finding muay Thai
At 15, Fernandez came across a new sport that piqued her interest and allowed her to apply the fancy footwork she'd honed as a dancer.
"I discovered muay Thai for the first time at an event that took place in my town. It caught my attention so much that I wanted to try it," she says.
"If I'm honest, I don't even know what made me fall in love with it. I just wanted to try it, I started training, and since then, I haven't stopped."
The teenager's mother and father were understandably concerned when their daughter first moved from dancing to fighting, but they saw that she was committed and backed her choice.
Still, Fernandez wasn't a prodigy right away, but her dedication to "the art of eight limbs" led to consistent improvements.
"(My parents) didn't like it at the beginning because it's a dangerous sport, but even so, they supported me in my journey," she says.
"I wasn't very good at the beginning, but I think that nobody is born knowing [what to do]. I've enjoyed my evolution and continue to do so."
Big risks create big rewards
Just a year later at the age of 16, Fernandez was beginning to take muay Thai more seriously. She also knew that taking the next step would require taking her training to the next level.
With that in mind, the young striker made a big decision to move away from her family and join Lone Wolf Fight Team in a different part of Spain.
It was certainly a risk, but once again, her parents were willing to let their daughter find her own way – even if it was difficult.
"I moved to Coria del Rio to train and met my current coach there. I loved the atmosphere that you can feel in this school. Since I got to this academy, I wanted to train here," Fernandez says.
"My parents' reaction was the same one they had when I started competing. They always let me learn from my mistakes, and I really appreciate that. I believe there is no better way to learn."
Success did not come immediately, as Fernandez dealt with mixed results in her early professional career.
However, her sacrifices and persistence eventually led to silverware.
In 2019, the Spaniard won the ISKA kickboxing world title. Then in 2020, she earned the WBC muay Thai world title, cementing her position among the top female strikers in the world – and showing that her tough choices were worthwhile.
"It was incredible (to win my first world title)," she said. "This was not in my natural division of 59 kilograms. I got there 3 kilos underweight, so I went on a diet to gain weight and I got the victory. I decided to take the challenge, and it was worth it.
"I really believe I made the right choice because I love and enjoy my sport. Getting those titles makes me feel so proud. I feel like all my work is paying off now."
Ready to battle the best in ONE Championship
With nine wins in her last 10 bouts – only losing a controversial split decision – Fernandez's journey has now carried her all the way to the global stage of ONE Championship.
The Spaniard believes this is the perfect time for a giant step forward in her career, and she feels well-equipped to fight even the toughest opponents.
"Signing with ONE Championship is like reaching the top of the sport. I am super happy, super excited," she says.
"My biggest dream was to be amongst the top fighters and, now that I am here, it's a great motivation to keep going and someday beat them all. I work hard every day. I really believe I am at the same level now."
In her debut, Fernandez will have a massive opportunity to compete for the ONE interim atomweight muay Thai world title against one of the promotion's most revered competitors in Janet Todd.
Although it won't be easy to defeat the reigning atomweight kickboxing queen, the 26-year-old is not fazed and plans to win over ONE Championship viewers around the world.
"The fans barely know me, but I will put on a show," Fernandez said. "Then I will become their favorite fighter."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.