Cubicle to the cage Blog #12 Episode 111
As Extreme Cage Combat 16 approached, it appeared that only Steve Goodfellow and I would be fighting. While I was trying to focus as much on my own preparation as possible, I couldn’t help thinking about Rick. He had sacrificed more during the program than anyone. And as a result, he had changed the most as well. Rick had transformed himself fundamentally in pursuit of this goal, so, it was devastating to see him get so close to the prize, only to have it remain just beyond his reach. I felt hopeless and helpless as I saw Rick standing on the sidelines as Steve and I did our final preparations and began our weight cut. It felt very much as if we were leaving a fallen comrade behind. But, he was right there with us. He helped us out and trained right to the last moment of the last class. He even at one point said he was going to cut weight with us and arrive at the weigh-ins at his target weight of 145 pounds. However, the disappointment of it all eventually got to him and he disappeared. Rick, like us all, had resigned himself to the fact that his dreams would go unfulfilled.
However, as is so often the case in the MMA game, events were about to take an unexpected turn. With final preparations done and my weight cut well in hand, I was enjoying an evening at home with my family when Peter called with the shocking news. Ryan Conner, a 145 pound fighter out of TJ Grant’s Fit Plus gym had lost his opponent. Under normal circumstances Peter would never be looking to match up a first time fighter with an athlete of Ryan’s caliber. His record stood at 2 – 1 and the only time he had been past the first round was when he lost a decision to Gavin Tucker, one of the top 145 pound fighters in the country. But, with everything Rick had been over the course of the program, Peter felt he had to at least give him the shot… if he wanted it. Rick… in classic Trash Canyon style, didn’t hesitate a second before accepting the fight. So, with less than 48 hours to fight time, Rick Doyle found out he was going to fight. After rushing to the gym, he jumped on the scale only to realize that he weighed 160 pounds. That left him with just under 24 hours to shed 15 pounds. Steve, Nickie Cleroux and I were tasked with guiding Rick through his first ever weight cut. Fortunately, Steve, Nickie and I had done the trial weight cut several months before. And as an added bonus, Nickie is an emergency room nurse. With her support and expertise, both Steve and I felt we could safely (or as safely as possible under the circumstances) push Rick as far as he was willing to go in an effort to help him make the 145 pound target weight. But, we all knew it was going to be tough.
The moment he started on the treadmill, I could tell we were in trouble. Perhaps the stress and strain of the last few weeks had taken its toll. Perhaps he’d spent the evening in a bar drinking away his sorrows. I simply don’t know. Whatever the cause, he had absolutely no energy, and this was a major problem. The trick to cutting water weight is keeping your body temperature high enough that you sweat profusely. Rick was not able to work hard enough to rise his temperature and start sweating. After an hour on the treadmill, he actually collapsed or fell off. For his own safety, we had no choice but to move him to the stationary bike. He didn’t fare much better there. He wasn’t about to quite, but he just didn’t have the strength to push hard and get his temperature up. After three hours, we stripped him down and weighed him. He’d only lost 2 and a half pounds. The first evening of a weight cut is usually when you shed weight the easiest. Often a fighter will lose 5 or 8 pounds quite easily. When we called Peter to tell him Rick had lost only a couple of pounds, he was extremely disappointed.
Another promoter might have said for us to throw Rick in the sauna, cut another couple of pounds, and then let him come in 7 or 8 pounds or so over weight. Rick was fighting a much more experienced fighter after all. But, Peter has far too much respect for the fighters and the sport to consider doing that. He put it to us this way; Rick could only fight if he could actually make the weight. Coming in over weight was not an option. If there was any chance that he was not going to make 145 pounds, Peter would call Ryan Connor and tell him immediately so he would not have to undergo a weight cut unnecessarily. This ultimatum snapped Rick out of his stupor. From that moment on he found the strength to pull himself together and push forward. After 6 hours of cutting, we called it quits for the night. As we poured Rick into Steve’s jeep, he still had 9 pounds to cut. We were all far from confident that he was going to be able to rally enough overnight to cut the remaining weight before 2 PM the next day. But, after spending a year with Rick, we had learned to never underestimate his determination nor his resolve.
Not wanting to leave him alone overnight, Steve took Rick to his place so he could crash in his guest room. Confident he wasn’t in any sort of physical distress, Steve gave him a small drink of water, wrapped him in warm blankets and left him to hopefully shed another pound or two as he slept. The moment Steve woke up, he called with the news that Rick was surprisingly alert and seemed ready to head back to the gym. Upon arriving at the gym, we were pleasantly surprised to learn he had lost nearly 3 pounds overnight. While he was a great deal more alert and energetic than the night before, Rick was still showing the signs of fatigue and dehydration. We did manage to get one hour of cardio in before his energy began to lag and his temperature started to drop. So, as a last resort, we switched exclusively to sitting in the sauna.
It was easy to tell that he was hurting. As he approached the limit of how much water he could lose before going into distress, he became extremely lethargic. He was still sweating a little and every time we asked him if he wanted to continue, he said yes. Not wanting to let him cool down, we agreed that we would not strip him down and weigh him until he felt he absolutely could not take any more time in the sauna. I did play an old Peter Martell trick on him a few times, telling him only a minute or two had passed when he’d actually been in there for 10 or 15 minutes. I’m not sure if he believed me or not, but he was in no state to argue. At one point, he lay on the floor of the sauna, completely motionless for several minutes. Then, to my surprise, he rolled over and said, “That’s it! I’m sorry Boyd… I’m done. I can’t do it anymore.”
I patted him on the back and replied, “No, Rick you’re not done. And you know how I know you are not done? … Because you are too fucking weak to fight me, and I’m not letting you out of here until you make weight.”
He snorted out a half-laugh / half-whimper and smiled.
We were just about to take him out of the sauna for a final check on the scale before heading to the weigh-ins when Rick’s son, Zack, arrived. He joined Rick in the sauna and they chatted and hung out for over half an hour, giving Rick a chance to sweat out a final ounce or two. When he stepped on the scale and the number 144.6 appeared, we went crazy. Even Rick managed a smile and a half hearted, “You fuckers! Get me the out of here.” Knowing him as I do, I never should have doubted him. But, that being said, he had accomplished something I think very few 40 year olds could have done in their very first weight cut. I was proud of him and I was immensely glad that he would be getting his fight. But, now it was time for me to focus on myself.
Having attended weigh-ins in the past, I knew what to expect. And things proceeded without incident. All the mental preparation we’d done was actually paying off. Even when I squared off with my opponent, Andrew Quigley, after the weigh-ins, I was completely comfortable. I held no ill will towards Andrew. As a matter of fact, the more I learned about him and his team, the more I liked him. He was a guy approaching MMA the way it should be done. He was a dedicated martial artist and athlete who was slowly acquiring the skills, both physical and psychological, you require to excel in combat sports. At 21 years of age, he was exactly half my age. As we stood toe-to-toe, fists clenched, staring each other down, I was filled with respect and admiration for how calm and composed he appeared. After the obligatory face-off photos, we hugged and I blurted out the only thing that seemed appropriate, “Have fun and be safe tomorrow night.” As I walked away I chuckled to myself. I may have felt ready to fight, but I still wasn’t sounding like a ‘killer’.
Being at the venue, seeing the scale on the stage, and the cage set up in the middle of the arena was surreal. My brothers Brian and Gerry, as well as several cousins and family friends, had come to town for the event. Several of them asked if I was getting nervous. It was almost as if they wanted me to validate their anxiety by admitting that I was nervous as well. But the truth of the matter was, I was not nervous. I was focused, and I thought constantly about the fight, but I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach or doubt-filled thoughts rushing through my mind. I was filled at the same time with excitement and tranquility.
Several years ago I met an amazing woman who was fighting cancer. She described the emotions she felt this way. Imagine standing on a beach during a hurricane. The wind is blowing and the rain and sand is whipping your skin. The air is filled with debris, and all around you is chaos and violence. But now imagine you are not on the beach. Imagine you are in the same hurricane, but you are several meters below the surface of the ocean. The storm is still raging up above and you are affected by it as the sea heaves and swells, but from beneath the water, things are calmer and more peaceful. She said that she sometimes felt she was on the beach, and other times she was beneath the waves. But, the longer she lived with her cancer, the more she realized she could exist in both of those realities at the same time. Her body may be ravaged by external physical forces, but her mind could be calm and at peace.
I’m sure the stress I was going through was nothing compared to the emotions she faced. But, I totally understand where she was coming from. The violent potential of what I was about to do was very apparent to me. But while I was excited and anxious about putting my body in harm’s way, I was at the same time completely at peace with my decision to do so.
As I left the weigh-ins I was absolutely full of energy. Perhaps that’s because I was eating and drinking for the first time in a 24 hours. But, I think there was more to it than that. With the weigh-ins behind us and the contracts signed, I had done absolutely everything I had set out to do on this journey. Everything that is, except step in the cage. As I sat at home on my couch with my wife and kids I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I had trained, dieted, passed my medicals and cut weight. I had prepared my body and my mind in every way possible for the challenge that lay ahead. It’s funny, but, I had always assumed that even with all the preparation I’d done, the fight would be the hardest part. But as I sat watching my kids play on the living room floor, it dawned on me that the hard part was over. The fight wasn’t the final challenge at all, the fight was the reward. A win would be the cherry on top, but the fight itself was the ultimate goal I had been pursuing these many months. The transformation was complete. I was ready to fight.
I remember almost nothing of Steve’s preparations in the locker room on fight night. I was in my own little world. I have a vague memory of hearing the result after the fight, but even that didn’t seem to have any great impact on me. I was, as they say, in the zone. But more on that next week.
When I got to see Steve’s fight a few days after the event I was completely filled with pride and admiration. He not only got into the cage, he was the aggressor. It was easy to see that Josh Walker was a more experienced fighter with much more technical ability, but Steve was pushing the action for sure. He pushed forward, forcing Josh to counter rather than mount an offensive attack of his own. In the clinch he held his own. And, when Josh attempted a standing guillotine choke, Steve threw his arm over Josh’s shoulder and calmly defended as we’d been taught. Every time Peter shouted an instruction, Steve responded with the proper technique. Watching it on tape, it reminded me quite a bit of the late Shawn Tompkins shouting instructions to Mark Hominick or Sam Stout.
And when Josh found his range and started hitting Steve, he didn’t wilt or cower or even take a single step backwards. It was clear to anybody watching that he was going for the win or was going to go out on his shield. Even when hit with a grazing head kick and again with a flush knee to the chin he stayed calm and moved forward. Once the fight went to the ground he took some very hard shots. If he had full access to all his faculties, I like to think they would have had a competitive match on the ground. But it wasn’t meant to be. Josh, to his credit, made a slick move, reaching across Steve’s body to trap his left hand before throwing a big right hand over the top. It landed on the button and Steve was out cold. With the adrenaline pumping, Josh landed one more unnecessary shot while Steve was out, but that’s common and easily understood in the heat of battle. He had fought bravely and well. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.
Looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t have an opportunity to watch the fight before making my walk to the cage. Seeing Steve unconscious on the mat must have been terrifying for his family… and for mine. As Steve exited the cage to receive medical attention I could hear a cheer from the audience. Someone popped quickly into the locker room to say Steve was fine. I made an almost emotionless mental note of the message and went back to my warm up. As the minutes ticked away and my turn to fight drew nearer, I felt as if there was an irresistible force drawing me toward the cage. In that moment, there was nothing I wanted more in the entire world than to make that walk, and fight.