How to win and still look like a loser

Opening up a can of dumbass on the crowd

Opening up a can of dumbass in the closing moments of my fight

The good news: I won my debut MMA fight at Untamed 27 in Westport, Massachusetts.

The bad news: I had a bit of a “Hello Japan” moment and ended up looking like a jackass.

I ended up tapping my opponent about halfway through the second round. In the final moments of the fight, I was mounted on him and had thrown about ten unanswered punches. Inexplicably, I stopped and took a couple of seconds to raise my arms and look out at the crowd. Thus satisfied in my supreme douchebaggery, I returned to the pummeling.

Some people might think this is a pretty fine thing. But those who read my blog know I take a spiritual approach to fighting. I got into this as a way to hone my mind and my body. I’m not doing this to win, I’m doing it to become a better person. It would have been better to lose honorably than to look like a shithead winning. If you disagree, look at the picture above. I look like a real butthead! There are a lot of better photos from the fight, photos where I actually look good, and you can see  good technique in action. Unfortunately, this is the photo that’s going to exemplify what I take away from the experience.

Everyone at my school is congratulating me for my win, and I’d rather not talk about it. I just finished posting the following on my school’s message board:

Hey all,

I’m not sure if/when video is going to go up of last weekend’s fights. But when you see my fight, you’re going to see me prematurely celebrating before the fight is over. This was a big mistake on my part. When you compete and fight for the Academy you represent all of us. I let myself and the school down, and you all have my sincere apologies for this.

Yeah, it was my debut fight, and it was a momentary lapse. But it’s a serious matter because the Academy places a high value on honor and sportsmanship. I’ve always thought of myself as being in alignment with these values, too. I don’t know what came over me.

Anyway, like I said, my actions didn’t represent the Academy’s values. Please keep this in mind when you see the video. In retrospect, I would prefer to have lost the fight honorably than to win this way.


It’s true, too: I really haven’t tracked down exactly what it is that caused me to behave this way. It’s very much out of character for me. I do know I spent a lot of energy before the fight preparing to look tough and full of fight, no matter how bad it got in the cage. I hadn’t paid much thought to what would happen if I ended up winning decisively. I found myself in a situation I hadn’t  prepared for. Of course, this doesn’t excuse me in any way.

In the end, I did end up finding something out about myself, and that is this: As much shit as I talk about being an enlightened warrior (or at least a dude who is using this cliché as a guiding star in his training), I’m just as capable of behaving like a cocky jackass as anyone else. No matter how far you go with martial arts, and with MMA especially, it seems you’re always going to get sat down and shown just how much you have to learn about yourself.

To come: More pictures and video of the fight, and more about what I went through before and after. Despite my “Hello Japan” moment, I think I did a good job with being mentally prepared. I didn’t feel as nervous, or as weak from the adrenaline dump as I was worried I was going to.


Just Me and the Nerves

The real struggle begins weeks before Fight Night. Suddenly, with a jolt of icy electricity, your hands are shaking and your hair is bristling. I have a fight this very month. A person somewhere out there is training to hurt me. It’s impossible to know when the nerves will strike. Maybe in the grocery store while comparing brands of oatmeal. Or you’re pulling your clothes out of the washing machine.  This psychological boondoggle will  break you down if you don’t deal with it. The real struggle doesn’t happen in the ring. It comes to you no matter where you go. At work. In your bedroom. On the phone with your mom.

For this reason and many more, sport fighting  is so much more than a fistfight. If you can’t get your head straight, you will defeat yourself. I mean this literally: A guy who fancies himself a badass will fake an injury and back out of his fight. The nerves beat him before his opponent even laid eyes on him.

That’s an extreme case. Usually what happens is your weaknesses surface and your training suffers.

Nerves manifest themselves in different ways, and strike at different times during the training. One guy will feel it as soon as the promoter confirms his fight. Someone else will be fine all month and suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, eyeballs throbbing with adrenaline.

Everyone responds to the nerves differently according to his or her psychology, and must be coached accordingly. Three other people at my school are fighting on the same night I do. One of them, a girl who’s in better shape than anyone I know, slows down and locks up during sparring despite her fitness, paralyzed by self-doubt. Another one of our guys feeds himself with anger, stops listening to his coaches, and abandons his game plan. Each of us breaks down in his or her own way, and one of the many great things about our instructor is he understands how to coach each of us.

As for me, the nerves finally struck last week during sparring. I was clinched against the wall with one of the best guys at our gym, and it suddenly occured to me how difficult things will be with adrenaline coursing through my body. With about a thousand people watching. My mouth went dry, butterflies exploded in my stomach. Oh, there you are, I thought, as my partner broke the clinch and started gamely driving knees into my stomach. Hello, nerves. That’s how it starts. This is the real motherfucker. Three weeks, me and  my nerves in an anything-goes deathmatch.  What you see on Fight Night is just the fallout of a long struggle each fighter has had with himself, between his own ears and inside his soul.