Cubicle to the cage
Blog #2 Episode 101
The first time I walked into a Team TITANS gym, then Palooka’s Gym, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was so nervous I could barely breath. My heart was pounding, my mind was racing, and I couldn’t for the life of me articulate why exactly I was doing it. As a matter of fact, a few months before I’d driven up to the gym, sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes, and then left without ever going inside. I’m not exactly sure what scared me away. But I think I expected the place to be filled with muscle bound, tattooed meatheads pounding each other senseless. And in the spirit of full disclosure, your average MMA gym will have no shortage of those individuals. But, as it happened, there was no training going on when I first entered the gym and met Peter. The team was busy breaking down the cage so they could move it to the venue for an upcoming MMA event being held by Peter’s promotion, Extreme Cage Combat. While there were certainly an abundance of tattoos and no shortage of fit and muscular people around, they seemed like a remarkably easy-going and pleasant group of guys. It made me feel quite silly for being so scared really.
I’m not sure what I expected from Peter, but while certainly a physically intimidating figure, he was extremely approachable, easy to talk to, and surprisingly supportive of my idea. I’m sure he sees tons of wannabe fighters walk through the door and he gives them all the benefit of the doubt. But, whether he was blowing smoke or not, right from that first, short meeting, I had a sense that I was where I needed to be. I happily accepted his invitation to come train with the team for an evening. As I left the gym, I had a great weight lifted from my shoulders. After months of trying to muster the courage to take the first step on this journey , I had actually done it. And… I hadn’t been laughed out of the gym to told my idea was completely crazy and my goal totally unachievable. However, as I left the gym that night, I had a whole other challenge to face, a challenge that was giving me even greater anxiety than the thought of being beaten up by grown men for a year. I had to explain all this to my wife.
At the time, my wife Juanita and I had two small children, a 4 year girl and a 1 year old boy. With us both pursuing busy careers and trying to manage our growing family, she was not overly keen to hear that I wanted to spend much of the next 12 to 18 months risking life and limb trying to become a professional cage fighter. Aside from the obvious concerns for my physical well being, if (and it was a big IF) I took on this challenge, I would be working 8 to 10 hours a day as a project manager and then spend an additional 3 to 4 hours a day at the gym. I would essentially be asking my wife to nearly single handily raise two children for more than a year. (As so often happens, before training began, life had another little curve ball for us. Juanita discovered she was pregnant and we added a third member, another little girl, to my corner.) It goes without saying, this project would be a massive undertaking, and it would be a family affair. It was not a decision that either of us took lightly.
The conversations my wife and I had on the topic will remain between us (for fear she would do me great harm), but, in the end, she agreed that I would at least try. I’m pretty sure she thought I’d take a few classes, get beaten around a little, and quickly realize that 40 year old cubicle workers with no fight training and a beer gut have no business trying to become professional fighters. That was fine by me. The important thing was that I had her blessing to at least try to chase this crazy dream.
Less than a week later I found myself walking into Palooka’s gym, anxious (perhaps scared or terrified would be better words) to get my very first taste of MMA training. The class lasted 3 hours and I’ve mercifully forgotten most everything that happened. I do, however, recall:
- I threw up at least 6 times.
- I cracked a rib in the first hour.
- I was in FAR worse physical condition than I thought.
- I knew absolutely nothing about fighting.
- Burpies suck!
- I got knocked on my ass by a girl who was half my age.
- I got body slammed what felt like a thousand times.
- I punch like a girl… but not like the girl in #6
- I did not quit.
While I was quite proud of myself for just showing up at the gym and walking onto the matt, I am most proud of item number 9 above. I’m not certain that anyone who has never trained mixed martial arts could ever fully appreciate the mental and physical toughness required. To jump into a 3 hour training session as an out-of-shape 40 year old was, in a word, unwise. That one night of training left me with a cracked rib, a sprained ankle, a very stiff jaw (thank you Jenna) and more cuts, scrapes and bruises than I care to mention. I literally needed to be helped to my car and I could barely get up and down the stairs at home for a week. Through the haze of pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication all I could think was, “If I’m in this kind of shape after one evening of training (and not a very hard training at that) how the hell am I supposed to last a full year and then actually fight another man in a cage?” Confidence was not high.
While I survived the workout and gave Peter the knowledge that I wasn’t going to run for the door the first time I got punched in the face, the rib injury prevented me from training for a few weeks. As far as the Cubicle to the Cage program goes, this turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. The more people I told about what I was doing, the more people said they wished they could join me. I got such a positive reaction from such a large number of people I went back to the gym to discuss it with Peter. Before I even had a chance to share it with him Peter said, “Boyd, everyone I’ve talked to loves what you are trying to do here. I bet there are tons of guys who would want to do this.”
“Well, why don’t we hold tryouts and you can pick a few people and give them a year of free training,” I suggested.
And just like that, Cubicle to the Cage was created.
We went into the day of the tryouts not knowing if a single person was going to show up. We’d booked the gym for the whole day and asked a dozen or so volunteers to help out. I was secretly terrified that we would open the doors and there would be absolutely nobody there wanting to join the program. I need not have been concerned. When we arrived at the gym at 8 AM there was already a line of people outside on the sidewalk. I was completely floored. By the time we began the tryouts an hour or two later the lineup went down the street and around the building. In total over 200 people of every size, weight, background, and skill level had been through a grueling 15 minute physical tryout and one-on-one interview.
The atmosphere inside the gym is difficult to explain. I don’t know if it was the fact that they were full of nervous energy, grateful for the opportunity, or if everyone was just thrilled to be part of an experience with a group of people who shared their passion for adventure. The positive energy in the room was palpable. I will never forget the moment when Jeff…., a tall thin guy sporting 3 foot long braid and multiple facial piercings, completely exhausted and ready to quit, was rallied back by the entire gym full of people who should have been rooting for him to fail. The more he tried to leave the mats, the more the crowd chanted his name and shouted words of encouragement. Peter shouted “TIME” to signal the end of the session, Jeff collapsed into the arms of his training partner and the entire gym erupted in applause and shouts of congratulations. Amazing.
Some folks quite and walked out less than 3 minutes into the tryout. Others collapsed and had to be dragged from the mats for medical attention. Others (present company included) hit their personal limits, threw up or collapsed and then dragged themselves to their feet and soldiered on. There wasn’t a lot of skill or athlete-calibre conditioning to be seen. But, Peter later confided in me that he was immediately impressed with the heart and determination that many had shown. One of those ‘spirited’ individuals was Rick (Trash Canyon) Doyle. A former pro wrestler, I was familiar with Rick because he was a friend of a friend of mine. I was not impressed. He seemed to be a sour, uninspired and disinterested whiner. While others were celebrating their little victories and enjoying the experience, Rick stood outside the gym, chain smoking and complaining to anyone who would listen that he hated MMA and had no idea why he was even there. He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of guy I wanted to spend the next twelve months training with for three plus hours a day. But, you know what they say about first impressions and book covers and all that. But that’s a story for later.
Months after the tryouts, I was still receiving emails from guys who had tried out but not made the cut. Some said it was one of the most positive, inspiring experiences of their lives. Several said it was the first wake-up call of their adult lives. For the first time in years many of these folks took a good, long, hard look at themselves and questioned whether they were living their lives the way they truly wanted. One gentleman, well over 250 pounds and in very poor health said it took every ounce of mental fortitude he had not to quit. He threw up all the way home and spent the next two days at home, unable to go to work. He took this as a sign that he needed to make some substantial changes in his life. The last I heard, he was cigarette free for the first time in his adult life and had lost nearly 80 pounds. As I received these emails and Facebook posts, all I could think was, “If the tryouts had that kind of an effect on someone who did not make the program, what kind of a change could we expect for those of us who did?” The little idea I had to fight a professional mixed martial arts fight had taken on a life of its own. By the end of the first round of tryouts it was clear that we were all part of something much bigger than we realized. Cubicle to the Cage had taken on a life of its own.
And so, for many of us, the journey began. And if we thought this round of tryouts was tough. We had a surprise coming at round two. Tune in next Thursday for Episode 2.
To learn more, visit us at www.cubicletothecage.com or http://radx.ca/index.php?