I started martial arts the day after Thanksgiving in 1999. At the time I was barely tall enough to ride Space Mountain and couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag. I had a big mouth, but I was all bark and no bite. I had my martial arts epiphany after my sister’s boyfriend ended up on the wrong end of a disagreement which left him in the hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung. He was 20 years old, stood about 6 ft 2 and was close to 200 pounds, in my estimation a Goliath. Despite his considerable frame he was helpless to defend himself. I could only imagine what would have happen to me. I decided I would do everything in my power to make sure I wouldn’t share a similar fate. I discovered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after buying UFC 1 at a local block buster. Watching a skinny Royce Gracie slay giants inside a chain linked fence had a profound effect on me, I had made up my mind – I joined a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school and never looked back.
Fast forward to 2005, I decided I wanted to have a professional fight. The ironic part of all this was I joined martial arts to protect me from a fight and in the end it drove me to sign up for one. I had been training for a little over 4 years and I started to feel confident in my ability to defend myself, but I couldn’t silence doubts in the back of my head. What if someone really wanted to hurt me? Could I use my skills against someone who was trying to knock my head off my shoulders? Can my knowledge stand up to a real world test? I had to know, for certain, for real what I would do in a serious fight. I wasn’t looking to fight in the UFC or have my name up in lights; I was on a quest for personal discovery.
I finally made my leap and was added to the card for Sportfighting 3 in April of 2006 – an event being run by Grappler’s Quest promoter Brian Cimins. My opponent was Khristian Geraci from team Real Combat. I remember feverously searching for information on him. All I was able to gather was that he had won some amateur boxing matches and was facing trial for stealing laptops.
I was obsessed with the fight. I was concerned I wouldn’t be used to grappling with gloves so for about 4 days I did everything (aside from using the bathroom) with MMA gloves on. I got more than a few curious looks at gas stations and deli counters. I did 2 practice weight cuts to make sure I would be on point. I would listen to my entrance music everyday on my way to training. Looking back it’s all pretty comical, but at the time I was serious as a heart attack.
Finally fight night arrived. I remember on my way to the arena my friend and I were looking for somewhere to eat when a disturbed homeless man ran after us screaming that we “stole his job”. I thought to myself as we ran frantically away from him “this will be a good warm up”.
At the arena my heart was about to explode from my chest as I watched other fighters get submitted or knocked out. When it was time to get wrapped I could barely keep my hands from trembling. I went to the bathroom and stared myself in the mirror and wondered why the Hell I signed up for this.
At one point my coach Rob saw that I was nervous and looked at me said “Hey Kid stop that shit, you’re going to kill this chump and in fact I’ve got a lot of reality TV to watch tonight so if you wouldn’t mind let’s make this quick”.
Finally it was my turn to fight. Walking towards the ring I kept thinking, “I’m sure I can figure a way out of this, I’m not in the ring yet”. Once I realized there was no going back I simply convinced myself this was nothing more than a jiu-jitsu tournament with gloves on. Somehow that thought was comforting, bringing familiarity to the chaos of the moment. Once the bell rang it was Gracie Jiu-Jitsu 101. Clinch, trip, guard pass, take the back, choke – it took all of 23 seconds. Walking back to my corner my coach looked at me and said “That’s what you were worried about?”
As it turns out my training was there for me when I needed it. What I learned in the last 6 years was worthwhile after all. I was no longer a scared 15 year old – for that day I felt 10 feet tall.
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