Monday, September 19, 2011

Roasted Ribs: Confessions of a debuting MMA fighter

It's hard for me to think about how to begin this blog entry. Normally when I write, it's because I'm inspired to do so. This time, I feel compelled to do so because such a significant event in my life has come and gone, and now I don't know how to start or what to say.

I suppose one way to begin is with confessing a secret that I can finally divulge. I was fighting hurt. On August 24, twenty-three days before the fight, I was in the hospital, and I was badly hurt. I took the body shot from hell from my teammate, Zach, who was also scheduled to fight on the card. I can't express this level of pain in words. I was down on the floor for 40 minutes in the most incredible agony of my life. I've been hit by a car. I've trained martial arts in some form or another since I was 16. Nothing has ever been this bad. It was simply the perfect shot in the perfect spot at the perfect time. I was given a bunch of painkillers but they didn't help. I didn't sleep that night at all and slept poorly for a week.

That's what family is for: capturing pictures of your most horrendously painful moments.

For the next week, every movement was excruciating. I was in my cousin's wedding and managed to tough it out. Breathing hurt. Moving hurt. Sitting down and standing up hurt. Lying down and getting up from horizontal was absolutely horrifying. Bowel movements hurt. Sneezing was out of the question; I did not sneeze until about September 13.

When the calendar turned to September, I was pretty sure I was at best 20-30% likely to fight. But I didn't tell anyone. On August 30, I blogged on my private blog:
"I'm confused, conflicted, ambivalent and tortured this week and likely for the next few days as well until I get pressured to finally make a decision. For now I've been able to forestall things by just saying 'I'm gonna to try fight!' as convincingly as possible, but don't know how much longer I can hold on to that."
My coach Paul gave me until the last possible opportunity, but by the end of the first week of September he wanted to see how I could perform in the gym. I didn't think I was ready to return to any kind of activity, but I understood his demand: he needed an assessment of whether I could fight or not on the 17th. So on September 4th (Labour Day), I went over to my cousin's house so he could hold pads for me. It was painful, but something I could work through. On the 5th, I stepped in the gym for the first time, hitting the bag with tempo and practicing wrestling shots. On the 9th, I did my first real practice. He had me work pads a little and try to do a takedown or two on a partner. It went better than I thought; I was able to take down my partner who was offering just 20-30% resistance. But I was able to do it. I was able to move and scramble a little. I am incredibly grateful to two particular teammates, Oliver and Kirk, who both took an hour out of their training time to basically be little more than my grappling dummy for the few days up until the fight.

I decided -- or we decided together -- that I was good enough to fight. We devised a game plan around the injured left ribs. I would pin my left arm to the body, the hand protecting my face and the elbow protecting my ribs. I would not throw any jabs or lead left hooks. I would continue fighting orthodox, but would lead combinations with my right hand only: straight right-left hook-straight right, right uppercut-left hook-straight right, and so on. And, most importantly, I would not "stand and bang" with my opponent. I would get this fight to the ground as soon as possible, where we felt (from having watched his debut fight) my opponent was likely to be weakest. We practiced takedowns off of his left and right hooks as well as off of his kicks. We practiced takedowns out in the open and up against the wall. It was all about takedowns. Paul and I were both confident that getting the guy to the ground would be the main concern; once I had him there, I would have an overwhelming advantage.

It was a good game plan. Still, I was concerned about the ribs. It would really only take one good shot to the ribs -- which were still only about 40-50% on fight day -- to put me on the mat. Not only that, a lot of heavy lifting motions, so critical in wrestling, were still causing a lot of pain. I did have doubts. What if he cracked me to the body? What if I couldn't get him down? What if I favoured the ribs so much that I left an opening upstairs and he knocked me out? Whenever I was alone with my thoughts, I had doubts. I turned to meditation and visualization. That helped a lot to ease my doubts. When I visualized the fight, I would often go through some adversity early in the first round, but drag him down eventually, dominate on the ground, and win a stoppage in the second round. And when I was in the gym, working on the takedown drills, I felt great. I only got four training sessions in after the injury, but after each one I felt only one thing: this guy is mine.

In truth, I recovered from the injury much faster than I thought I would. Everything on the web -- from medical sites to forums to personal blogs -- said anything from 6-12 weeks, and I had just over three. I shouldn't have been able to recover that quickly. But I have a ton of advantages. Not having a job is a big one. Those first few days, I was able to just laze around at home and recover. As boring as that was, I didn't give myself a chance to re-aggravate the injury. I spent all day researching rehabilitation: supplements, foods, positions, behaviour, everything I should do. I got acupuncture. I continued to do breathing exercises. I gave myself every possible advantage. The nice thing about this is that there was no conflict between getting fight-ready and just getting healthy because they are one and the same. So even if on the 17th I was not ready to fight, I should be doing the same things anyway.

Was it smart to fight last Saturday? Honestly, no. I should have asked for the fight to be pushed back to the November card. It was dumb to fight. So why did I? It's tempting to say that the reason I fought was that I felt pressure with all the friends I had flying in from all parts of the continent, and other friends and family who had already bought tickets. And to be sure I did. But the real reason was that I wanted to do it. It was something that I wanted for myself. The training camp was so hard. There had been so much anticipation. The fight was always the light at the end of my tunnel. Every day when I walked out of the gym, no matter how beat up, there was always the excitement that I had made it through one more day, and that the fight was one day closer. To pull out would feel like throwing all that work away. Perhaps that is not very process-oriented of me, but I couldn't help it. I wanted, needed, and was desperate for this fight. I'd thrown everything aside and sacrificed so much for this fight that it would have been immeasurably painful to give it up, even if it meant the potential for serious damage. And this was something I knew as soon as the injury happened. I tried to tell myself that I was smart enough not to fight if I knew I couldn't. But I also knew that if I could, I would, and fuck the consequences.

But I know it wasn't smart, and I won't do it again (I hope).

So that's the truth about the last few weeks up until training camp. I hope that explains a bit of the silence on weeks leading up to this post. That post doesn't contain any lies, but as you can tell now from this post, it didn't contain the full truth.

In my next entry, I will write some more about the night before the fight and, of course, the fight itself.


  1. Nice post TC. It left me wondering how much of a security blanket this injury gave you. Surely it must cross one's mind that if they don't perform in this spot that they have an "excuse." And by winning ("dominating" was the word used most in the brief trip reports I got) you know you can do soooo much better at 100%. I look forward to your next post.

  2. Holy crap. Congratulations, but...holy crap. Eagerly awaiting future installments...

  3. Any idea what a more specific diagnosis of your rib injury might be? A bruise? Torn cartilage? Fracture?

    I have a few torn rib cartilage stories ...

  4. Torn cartilage. I was surprised to learn that soft tissue injuries take more time to recover than fractures!

  5. great post, great story. thanks for sharing.