UFC Octagon girl Red Dela Cruz is, by all intents and purposes, living the dream as a five-week stint on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi comes to a close.
But the 28-year-old Filipino has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, much like the rest of the world.
Not that she would use that as an excuse to feel down about herself or ask for sympathy.
The last time SCMP MMA caught up with her, Dela Cruz was picking up the 2018 Asia MMA Awards Ring Girl of the Year trinket at PMQ in Hong Kong’s Soho district. But fast forward two years and she has lost her day job at an IT firm in Sydney, Australia.
I’m no longer working there any more, I lost the job when the Covid pandemic happened,” Dela Cruz told SCMP MMA from Fight Island. “It’s all good – I’m not alone. Everybody’s going through the same thing now.
“I’m just focusing on the UFC and then my career modelling. If there’s some work that’s gonna come, I’ll grab it. I’ll do modelling on the side, but I’ll see because right now in Australia it’s really hard.
“There’s so much competition when you look for a job, so you don’t get it instantly, because a lot of people have lost their jobs.
“It was tough for me for a couple months, definitely, but it is what it is. You’ve just got to find something else, another job. I’m living the dream being a UFC Octagon girl.
“I’m happy to be here in Fight Island for the second time. I’m very lucky, very blessed, very privileged. I want to thank the UFC for giving me this opportunity.”
Another heartbreaking effect of the pandemic for most who live abroad is the inability to travel back home and see family. Dela Cruz’s are never too far from her mind, and they will be watching Saturday night’s blockbuster UFC 254 event, headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje, from Manila in the Philippines.
“My family are all good, they’re all safe thankfully, that’s all that matters to me,” she said. “But I heard the numbers [of Covid-19 infections] are edging up every day.
“I’m actually planning to go back to the Philippines after Abu Dhabi, but I’m thinking I don’t want to get stuck there while the Covid is every day numbers going up, so I have to think about it.
“Where I am in Sydney, we’re pretty good, they handle it pretty well. We’re able to go to the gym, to go shopping. We’re pretty much open for everything now.
“But I do really miss my family. I haven’t seen them for a year now. I speak to them almost every day. They’re very excited every time I’m on the show, they’re all yelling and calling my name.”
For now, Dela Cruz continues to relish her role as the first Asian representative among the UFC Octagon girls (while she’s not too busy soaking up the sun on the Fight Island beach).
“Abu Dhabi’s great, the people are nice, the service is really, really good,” she said. “Most of the day I go to the pool, sometimes the beach, then I go to the gym, visit some friends.
“Yeah, that’s it. Then go to the fights. Before we used to have the weigh-ins as well, now that’s changed so we only have the fight night.
“But I was at the beach while they’re having the press conference, just enjoying with my colleague Camila [Oliveira], one of the UFC Octagon girls also. That’s pretty much it, just chilling at the beach, some chatting, having some coconuts. It’s very fun.
“Definitely this has opened a lot of doors for me, I get more work with the modelling and social media influencing. So I’m very happy and very thankful with the opportunities that the UFC has given me, it definitely changed my life.”