Cubicle to the cage Blog #13 Episode 112
The hours, and eventually the minutes leading up to my first professional mixed martial arts fight were quite unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. And it was completely different than I had expected. I had spent countless hours playing these events over and over in my mind, imagining what it would feel like and how I would react. I imagined I’d be extremely nervous and would rely on my corner men to keep me distracted and loose. I thought as the fight approached I would be either paralyzed with fear or completely amped with excitement. As it turned out, neither was true. As the hours passed and the fight neared, I could not understand were all my anxiety had gone. I was almost looking forward to the nervous butterflies invading my stomach. But, completely unexpectedly, the closer the fight got, the calmer and more focused I became. It felt almost as if the world was moving at 70 percent speed and I was still moving at 100. Everything felt easy. Even getting my hands wrapped and warming up in the locker room in the moments before my fight, I had an overwhelming sense that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what I needed to do. There were no distractions, no monkey brain chattering away between my ears, no fears or doubts to distract me.
With my hands wrapped and my warm-up done, I was neither excited nor fearful. And as the commissioner called my name, and Peter and Gavin Tucker lead me down the hallway toward the cage, I was at the same time hyper aware of everything around me, yet completely centred and focused on what I was about to do. Looking back now, I can only assume this is what is meant by ‘being in the zone’. In a word, I felt… powerful. I wish I could have bottled that feeling, because a small part of me is afraid I will never feel it again.
The actual walk to the cage is a bit of a blur. I’m sure Peter was giving me advice, but I don’t remember what it was. I don’t even know if I heard him at the time. As I stepped out into the arena, I heard a huge pop from the audience and I immediately blocked it out. I knew I had to walk past my family and friends who were sitting at the table nearest the door where I would enter the cage. I did not even think to look at them. Watching that footage now, I do not recognize myself. As we reached the cage door, Peter stopped me for a final check and last piece of advice. I know he was talking to me, but I have no idea what he said. I do know I caught a glimpse of my opponent Andrew Quigley in the cage. I looked up and our eyes met for a brief second. My face broke into a huge smile as I turned and ran up the steps into the cage.
As I watched the footage later, I was surprised to discover that I tried walking past the referee toward the centre of the cage. I do not know if I was going to touch gloves or if I was going to start throwing punches. It’s clear to me now that I was no longer in control of my body. I do not fully understand what was happening to me and I don’t have the words to accurately describe it. But, it was as if my body was acting independently of my brain. I was possessed. This altered state is best exemplified by the scream of “LETS GO!!” I make just before the referee gives us the signal to fight. Who the hell is that guy?
I’d had the good fortune to spar with Andrew Quigley several months before the fight. So, I had no doubt in my mind that he was a more accomplished striker. So my game plan was simple. In the first exchange I would throw a hard hook followed by a right hand that would lead to a clinch and a knee to the body. The hope was that one of these strikes would hurt him and put him on the defensive, enabling me to secure a takedown or pin him against the fence. I threw the combination just as I planned, but I didn’t connect with any of the strikes and when I tried to get a clinch he was able to easily fend it off, taking away my opportunity to throw the knee. I did manage to get his back to the cage for a moment but he was able to get away easily. When I tried to clinch again, he tripped me much more easily than I like to admit.
I’m sure Andrew also knew his best chance was in a stand up fight, so he did not follow me to the ground. As I popped back to my feet, I knew I’d blown the element of surprise and this time he would probably be the one on the attack. But, all the training I had done, all the mental preparation, watching Morteza, getting hit hard by Steve in our Muay Thai match, all of these things paid off. As I stalked after him, I had a very simple game plan in mind, keep my hands up, and eat and then catch the first kick he threw.(NOTE: Although it does not appear in the show, he threw a leg kick the moment I came into range. I’d never been kicked 100 percent speed with a bare shin before. Wow! In case you are wondering, it sucks.) BANG! He immediately threw a head kick that I was able to trap. I picked him up and ran at the cage. Using the cage as a trampoline I was able to launch us back towards the centre of the cage for a slam. As we hit the ground, I felt a searing hot pain in my left arm which was pinned under him. It felt kind of a like a bee sting. I was only mildly aware of the odd sensation in my arm as I attempted to posture and start punching. Hindsight being 20/20 I should probably have started working on control and establishing a better position. But, I was in full SMASH mode and all I could think about was punching him in the face. Unfortunately, I was giving him space to scramble and this enabled him to stand up. I managed to get a front headlock position but he was too strong and I was too inexperienced to turn it into a guillotine. As I felt his head pop out, I did have the presence of mind to lower my level and secure a body lock. The moment I locked my hands I had a flash back to the Mauy Thai session with Kru Jamie at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New Work. I thrust my hips forward and was easily able to pick him up and secure a second slam.
I again tried to land some solid ground and pound but Andrew was just too good at defending and the few shots that got through were far too weak to do any damage. As I became frustrated with my inability to land a good shot I paused for a spit second and he secured a tight arm bar. The moment he cranked on it, the ‘bee sting’ I’d felt in my left arm after the first slam turned into a three alarm fire shooting up my arm. I stupidly tried to pull my arm out, rather than stacking him and properly defending the arm bar. I still have no idea why I stood up and lifted him off the ground. But, once I did, I was stuck. I had always learned that the worst thing to do in that situation is to slam your opponent as it just drives your arm in deeper, giving them a tighter arm bar. But the moment I heard Peter shouting for me to slam him, I did. The slam created just enough space for me to free my arm and go back on the attack. As I threw punches and hammer fists, I sacrificed position and control again and Andrew was able to escape and stand up.
I’m not sure if he was a little dazed or just fatigued but I was able to get ahold of him and press him against the fence immediately. While the footage only shows us against the cage for a moment, it felt like an eternity as I held him there trying like hell to remember one of the takedowns off the wall we had drilled. Peter was shouting ‘Pull the leg! Pull the leg!” but I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I did however, manage to hook Andrew’s outside leg and I was just stuck there until I heard Gavin shout, “Turn him!” Then it clicked. I pulled him off the cage and secured the takedown. Alas, I was too fatigued and Andrew was just too good, so he was able to easily stand up.
As I got to my feet and tried to raise my hands, knew I was in trouble. My lungs were on fire and my arms felt like lead. But, no matter how tired I was, I knew I couldn’t let Andrew go on the offensive. What happened next is all a little gray and fuzzy. But, I remember landing a right hand before everything went bright white and the room started to spin. The next thing I knew I was on my knees talking to the doctor.
I don’t know if it was the doctor or the referee or someone else cageside, but as I began to regain my senses and understand what had happened, someone said, “So, do you wish you made a TV show about golf now?” My face split into a huge grin. Prize fighting is performance as much it is sport. It’s as much about the audience as it is about the athletes. So, if you asked me before the fight, I would have thought that being knocked out in front of hundreds of people would have bothered me. But as I shook off the cobwebs and got back to my feet, I was only thinking of one person, Andrew Quigley. He had taken absolutely everything I had to offer that night. And he had persevered with enough poise and composure to cease his moment and secure his victory. He had giving me exactly what I wanted in a professional mixed martial arts fight.
And if you want to get a small glimpse at the professionalism and integrity of Andrew and his team, just go back and look at their reaction to the knockout. Both he and his corner celebrate for all of about 10 seconds before he comes to check on me and thank me for the fight. When, after the decision was read, Andrew raised my hand as a sign of respect, and Peter hugged me and told me it was a great fight, I was as happy as if I had actually won. Well,… almost.
Mixed Martial Artist
PS: My left arm was broken.