I’ve had some pretty bad nightmares in my time, we all have. Sometimes there is a monster, others we are falling. The one with the plane crash always scares me because I fly so much. But there is one that has haunted me so many night since march. It’s the one where I go into the cage after a perfect training camp, I feel great. Then suddenly after a little bouncing on my feet, my leg pops. I’ve torn my hamstring, but I’m there, I fight anyway. Two minutes later the agony of my leg is unbearable. They carry me out of the cage in a stretcher. I wake up, I feel the pain in my leg, I toss and turn a bit, it’s real, it happened. A deep sorrow and depression threaten to overcome me.
Weeks went by before I could walk normal again. It’s been months and I still can’t run. I sat on my couch for three weeks before I got up and did anything. I began to understand why samurais commit seppuku upon defeat, the shame of defeat is too much. No amount of sessions with my mental coach Scott Stevenson were going to pull me from this. Xbox and subsistence eating were all I did, I wanted to escape. Bad.
I received an email one day. Do you want to fight the Egyptian again in may? YES. I went to Bjj class with Prof Olavo that day, I’m terrible with a gi but it’s the only thing my leg could handle. I went everyday for weeks. It was all I could do between upper body workouts with Mark Mariani and woody at TFW(training for warriors). Anger and self loathing drive me where my body couldn’t, I didn’t want to be the person that had just lost. I couldn’t live a full life, I was a shell of my former self, no superman at all.
By the time the fight rolled around I was as ready as I could be. Sparring had gone well, with rob lesita and the leone bros, and giom and Olavo overseeing everything, giving advice where they could. My leg isnt healed, not even close. I couldn’t kick, explosive movements hurt. I’m sick with a chest cold, breathing is difficult. Doesn’t matter, either live in shame or die on your shield. The shield it was.
The day of the fight I was a nervous wreck. For those who have never fought professionally, it’s not the fight that scares us, it’s the unknown. We don’t mind getting hit, it’s in the back of our minds. Anxiety is powerful, the waiting saps our energy. Even the best fighters like GSP have pre fight jitters, it’s part of the sport, it’s what separates us from bar room fighters (that and a bit of training). The internal demons are strong, they attack all of your weaknesses at once. Doubt creeps in easily.
The warm up is good, I had veteran Ray Elbe (recently moved to Kuwait to teach Bjj at Kuwait Combat Athletics) in my corner. I’m glad he was there, his experience helped a ton. Blake Grice was the referee, an experienced ref from the states. This made me feel a lot better, the last fight saw me get soccer kicked on the ground with barely a warning for my opponent.
My opponent is confident now, having beat both Ray and me (both of us took the fights injured, hubris). He has a right to be. He doesn’t respect jiu jitsu.
The fight starts, gloves touch, I shoot right out of the gate, taking the fight to the cage. My nerves were running wild, I’m sure I look calm but inside I’m churning. I secure the takedown after various punches and a knee, landing in side control. After a few transitions I take my opponents back with ease, a testament to my months in the gi that I had previously neglected for Nogi training. I secured the gable grip choke (variation of the rear naked) and my opponent taps, I hold until Blake stops me, a habit picked up from opponents tapping and protesting/acting like they didn’t. Fight until the bell rings or the ref stops you is a good rule of thumb.
I do the normal pre fight interview except with the Kuwaiti flag draped over my shoulders (they make me feel more at home than the US, we aren’t a loyal people anymore ). Fights over, I’m the welterweight champion with a pretty new belt. My soul is cleansed, I don’t have a dark shadow that will haunt me for the rest of my days. My heart can be happy again. I can lift my head up. I owe my daughter lost time. I’ve neglected her these past few months, anger and shame drove me insane. It’s time to go to the beach and build her castles to destroy again. Good days are ahead. The sun is back, it’s time to smile again.
Thanks to all that put up with me and believed in me, I appreciate you all,will see you soon. Shukran.
“Guys, make sure when you hip escape you go all the way down the mat. There is no halfway in life, you go all the way to the end just as you started.” Wow, not three minutes into Mestre Olavo Abreu’s BJJ class and I’m blown away by philosophy. It’s interesting, I’ve been taught moves in all ranges of martial arts from Muay Thai to sambo, I’ve kept some and lost more, but the professors philosophy’s always seem to resonate, etched into the mind. I might not use a single move from the gi in my MMA career, but Prof. Olavos philosophy’s on life will carry me through this journey. Abrigado Mestre. Oss.
I’m returning home after a long weekend at the fights. Every fighter/coach/trainer knows what I’m talking about. Nothing is quite so draining as going to an mma event on the road. From the plane ride to the shady promoters(not all, but most, this weekend at ultimate beatdown was good ), it takes it’s toll on you. I hate to say it, but I think I’m done cornering, but I has nothing to do with what I just said.
A few weeks ago I had the honor to help OneFC star Adam Kayoom prepare for his fight against Gregor Gracie. It was a great, focused camp where we drilled smart and formulated a game plan that in the end worked to perfection and he won the fight. The game plan went so well that during camp he caught me with a knee that split my lip wife open. This is the part of MMA that I love, the preparation. The hardest part for a coach are the fifteen minutes watching and being able to do nothing as your friend/training partner/student tests his abilities against another. I compare it to a roller coaster, you know that it’s going to be a Thrill, but you’re never quite ready for the twists and flips that come with it. One second they are getting beat, the next they are coming from behind to steal the victory. I feel so drained after this, the victory is great, you lift the guy on your shoulders, but the cost on your nerves is ridiculous! I’ll gladly fight any day, but cornering, save that for the stronger hearted.
But I haven’t told you the part that sucks the most. A week ago a fighter asked me to corner him. This is a guy who hasn’t had the best of luck throughout his life, it’s not my story to tell, but from a fountain pen exploding on him at the airport to customs strip searching him in an office, things aren’t getting much better. I didn’t get a whole lot of time to work with him, a few training sessions, but knowing him well enough and seeing his opponent fight before, I had a pretty good game plan. Fight started off well, everything we had drilled in the locker room/ gogo dancer changing room ( yes they continued to change while we were in there without a though ) went well, we won the first round. Second and third didnt go so well, the almighty fate/poor cardio kicked in and that was that. A feeling of dejection and a very bruised face are all thats left to show from it. I hate this part. I hate seeing people lose.It’s not always like the movies, the good guy doesn’t finish first every time. So instead of having a roller coaster ride that ended with high fives, I got the roller coaster ride where someone smacks their face on the rail. Sucks! Not being able to do anything but try to say words of encouragement, terrible. Nothing you can say is going to change things, the time machine hasn’t been invented, it wasn’t a dream.
I can’t say I will never corner again, but this weekend put me awfully close. I’m much better suited to be a training partner/gym coach than a cornerman, I’m too weak for that, Its meant for stronger men. But on aug31st in Manila, you can bet your life that I’ll be in captain Americas corner as he battles a for victory against the legendary Gracie family. Carry on.