How Elio Tarrago changed lives through martial arts

Across the country, people work day and night to fulfill the American dream. Rarely do they succeed. But Miami native Elio Tarrago is one of those rare success stories.

Tarrago is the product of Cuban parents who came to Miami in the 1960s for a better life. Their son ended up being a hometown hero who takes pride in cultivating and improving his community through the discipline of combat sports. 

In the history of martial arts in Miami, 59-years-old Elio Henry Tarrago, CEO and founder of 305 Fights, has played a critical role. He is not only owner of a promotion company, but a leader, motivator, and black-belt martial artist.

Tarrago’s story started in the 1960s. The Cuban Revolution was at its peak after Fidel Castro took command of Cuba, causing many of the nation’s citizens to emigrate to the United States. Among those who left were Elio and Juana Tarrago, parents of twin brothers who would later become martial arts masters. 

Elio Jr’s childhood was unlike that of many children at the time. His parents enrolled him and his brother, Steven, at the Allapattah YMCA to ensure that their sons could defend themselves.

Elio Jr. started in self-defense and mixed martial arts at age nine with his first teachers, Benny and Moses Colon, and at 16 years old, he achieved black-belt status.

Steven Tarrago believes those humble beginnings are what instilled perseverance in the two young boys. Milestones were hard to come by and never taken for granted, leaving them with an urge to help the community and give back using the skills they gained through martial arts.

At age 26, Elio Jr. and Steven began teaching martial arts to locals, including children and adults. People from age 3 to 100 would learn from them. Elio’s passion for teaching and his energy made him a highly reliable teacher in South Florida.

“We first began as competitors, we started together and built a school together called Total Defense and Martial Arts,” Steven said. “Being in MMA for so long, Elio [and I] built a reputation for being very sincere and responsible.”

During that time, Elio met his right hand, support, and life partner, Eugenia, who helped him conduct tutoring at 305fights, which he opened in 2012 in Miami, and built mixed martial arts schools. They employed a system called Natural Motion that incorporates martial arts, strength training and flexibility for all ages. 

Elio and Steven built their programs on the principle that in order to be successful inside the cage, success outside of the cage is non-negotiable.

For the past 12 years, Elio has overseen approximately 100 employees, and attracted over 20 fighters per event to his promotion company in Miami. Among these individuals, are the champions across different weight divisions:

  • Pedro Lay Jr, the 205 lbs MMA Champion
  • Emmanuel Marte, the Heavyweight MMA Champion
  • Austin Yalowits, the 135 lbs Interim Champion
  • Juan Paz, the 135 lbs Champion

Professional fighter Jacob Diaz began his MMA career at 305 Fights, where he secured a victory in his first pro fight on September 26, 2020 at 305 Fights 9 event. This opportunity helped him have a base for his MMA career.

“305 Fights was definitely a great experience,” Diaz said. “It was the first and definitely the most unique promotion I have ever fought for. They do a great job at capturing that South Florida energy.”

305 Fights gives opportunities to fighters who do not have access to well-known gyms or coaches. 

 “I learned the smarter one is the one who wins in life,” Elio said. “Wisdom is gained through years by not making the mistakes others made to become successful in this sport and life.”

Fifty years of martial arts experience and over 30 years of teaching are the core of Elio Tarrago’s journey. For him, the essence of 305 fights can be summarized in three words, where champions rise.

“It’s not just a slogan used to describe fighters, but for those who, even without achieving the American dream, stay away from drugs and the streets,” he said.

As he looks back on his journey, he sees it not just as a path of personal achievement but also as a tribute to his parents’ sacrifices.

“My parents’ sacrifices have shaped me, extending their positive impact to my loved ones. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am truly happy with my life,” Elio said.

Luis Pascal is a senior majoring in Digital Communication and Media with a focus on digital journalism. After his studies, he wishes to be a news writer and pursue a master's degree on Spanish-language journalism.

Aaliyah Whitney is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism on a pre-law track. After her studies, she will pursue a career as the official broadcaster for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.