Friday, March 30, 2012

open thread about my fight

First of all, thank you all for your support.

It's 2:30am here, been a long, emotional day as you can imagine. Been getting a lot of questions about the fight through Twitter/Facebook/etc. I hope to get around to writing about the fight eventually but I figure this is a good spot to aggregate questions/comments so I can get around to answering them tomorrow. Anonymous comments should be on (please be respectful obv).

Fight embedded below:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the night before

"I knew it! I totally knew he wouldn't make it!"

That's what I said to my cornerman, Diego, as my opponent stepped off the scales and put his shorts back on. I didn't really know he wasn't going to make weight, of course, but I had a pretty good feeling. All the ingredients were there. He's 5'10", quite tall for the weight class, and already quite lean. He's coming down from featherweight and the fight is on two weeks notice. So while when I saw his number on the scale: 61.8, three-tenths of a kilogram over and above the 0.5kg allowance on the 61kg weight class, my eyes may have rolled, but I smiled a bit on the inside. Us little guys fighting at our natural weight get to cherish these moments.

Cameraphone pic of the staredown

My cut was easy. At 1pm on Wednesday afternoon I stopped drinking and eating. At 7pm I allowed myself a tuna steak which I know weighed exactly 330 grams, the only food I had in the interim. For fun, I charted my weight at various intervals during the cut:

1pm yesterday: 63.4
3pm: 62.8
7pm: 62.2
11pm: 62.2 (in the interim is where I ate that tuna)
7am today: 61.4
noon: 61.2
1:45pm, official scale: 60.98, still wearing shorts

All of this was done without any sauna or exercise. So while I had an easy cut and could have even weighed as much as .7kg or so more (when considering my shorts/underwear), he struggled. I enjoyed scarfing down sweet potatoes and sports drinks while he had to put his sauna suit back on and jog in circles hoping to coax out those last drops of sweat.

The quick medical check after the weigh-in wrapped my last real obligation before fight day. I've had a photo shoot, media day, shadowboxed for the cameras, done interviews with both Legend and outside/independent media. I was able to confirm my cornermen yesterday and I have full confidence in them.

Other than that, not much to report. I've been training specific techniques for this opponent but basically haven't had a hard session all week. It actually feels kind of strange to be totally healthy and not training. I almost feel lazy going so many days without a hard workout, but obviously busting ass in the gym 72 hours before a fight is not going to create any positive physiological adaptation in time.

I'm sort of at a loss as to what to write. I feel like I should have a lot of thoughts since this is the night before the biggest night of my life, but my mind is pretty blank. A few days ago I could have told you about all the thoughts and emotions racing through my head, but now there are none. Anything I could write is just a cheesy cliché that you've heard many times before if you've watched any amount of fighting at all.

I feel like normally I'm pretty good with words, but this time there really isn't much to say. I know what I have to do.

I'm going to get in a fight. And I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pro fight in Hong Kong for Legend FC!!

Shit just got really real.

Last Friday, I got a text message out of the blue. Mike Haskamp, co-founder and matchmaker for the Legend Fighting Championships (cool CNN story on him), texted me to ask if I was interested in taking a fight on two weeks notice here in Hong Kong. I said hell yes, I am interested.

Legend is a big deal. They have some of the biggest MMA talents in Asia. They don't book freak show fights like a lot of Asian shows or get over-the-hill "name" fighters to sell tickets. They put on entertaining fights with skilled athletes. They focus on Asia-Pacific based fighters but their focus is on ability more than nationality.

Two weeks' notice is obviously not an ideal situation, but since I'm coming off a fight in which I took no damage, it's perfectly fine. I'm healthy and in shape.

Make no mistake, I am probably the underdog here. This is going to be a tough fight. Doing a quick search, my opponent is a veteran of over 20 ring fights in Muay Thai, boxing and karate. He fought in Legend 4 in January of last year where he lost by first-round rear-naked choke, but nearly KO'd his opponent twice. You can watch that fight here. You will also notice that fight was contested at 66 kg (145 lbs). This fight will be at 61kg/135 lbs (Legend does not have a 125 lb division). Since I woke up this morning at 137 lbs, I will much smaller than my opponent.

So I am fighting someone bigger, stronger, taller (by about 5 inches!), more experienced and who, being HK born-and-bred, will likely be the crowd favourite too. Do I care? Not in the least. I'm full of confidence and being the on-paper underdog is only going to make this win taste sweeter.

I'm fighting under the full professional, Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. In fact, even less restrictive than the UFC. Both elbows and knees are allowed on the ground, unlike the UFC where knees to the head of a grounded opponent are not permitted. This is no joke. We are playing in the big leagues now, kids.

If you are in the Hong Kong area on March 30, please come out and watch! You can buy tickets here.

If you are nowhere near Hong Kong, you will be able to watch live on YouTube at 7 PM HKT/11AM GMT/7 AM ET (United States).

Monday, March 12, 2012

I'm glad I won, but I'm not impressed by my performance

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling great. I woke up in the morning at 61.3kg, meaning there would be no further weight to cut, as expected. I got a little curveball just before I was to head out to the official 10am weigh-in, when my ad hoc cornerman Daniel told me that due to an unfortunate series of snafus, he would be arriving at 1:56 PM, just minutes before the first fight! Since I was the fourth fight on the docket and I knew it took about 10 minutes to get to the gym, I didn't expect him to make it. I'd be going into this one completely alone.

Weigh-in came and went uneventfully, if a bit chaotically. Official weight was 61.25 kg, and we took some staredown photos. My opponent was about 5'9, quite a bit taller than me, which is not what I was expecting. Usually people aren't that tall at bantamweight. He didn't look me in the eyes at all, and I didn't know if that was a Korean thing or a nerves thing.

After I chugged Gatorade and bananas, David and I went off to lunch at a (what else?) Korean BBQ place. I had to pace myself and make sure I didn't eat too much, since it was already approaching 11am and the fight was scheduled for 2pm. I know I don't fight well when I'm not fully digested so I didn't eat as much as I was tempted to. After lunch I went back to the love motel to relax and mentally prepare.

I went up to the fight location at 1:30pm and did my medical check, which was really just a blood pressure check. During this time I overheard a white guy speaking English with an American accent. His name was AJ, he was a Marine stationed in Korea, and as far as either of us know, he was the only other foreigner fighting in the event. We talked a bit about our respective strategies, I explained my situation of having no cornerman, and he nicely agreed to help out as much as he could. I started to get warmed up on my own.

Around 2:05, just as the first fight was on, Dan arrived at the gym. I gave him the very quick rundown of what to do (give me water, yell out the time) and I did my last strong warmup. I had a pretty good sweat going as I entered the ring, which I was happy for since the temperature this week in Korea has been right about freezing.

The fights before mine fly by. No intros, no walkout music, strictly business. One of the fights ends in a first-round TKO and I'm in the cage all of a sudden with the door shut. Nerves are high, but of course it was nothing like Battlefield in September. I'm very confident and ready to go.

Fight starts and as soon as we touch gloves I notice that not also is he tall, he's also southpaw. I knew southpaws were very common in Japan but wasn't sure about Korea. So this was going to be something to adjust to. I won't play-by-play the whole fight, instead I will just show the video, but in the first 30 seconds I'm cracked by a head kick. Here's the full fight:

The head kick was a big wakeup call for me. I wasn't keeping my hands up and I got clocked in the head. And yet, it didn't feel that powerful, so it actually gave me a lot more confidence. I have been getting cracked hard in sparring a lot the past few weeks including sparring with 4oz gloves with a man who holds multiple Muay Thai titles, so my initial reaction was "is that it? Really?" I don't mean that in a cocky way. It's just that I've just gotten accustomed to being hit so hard that these strikes didn't feel too powerful.

On the takedowns, I was way too hesitant. I was worried that I would burn myself out if I went too aggressively for them. But in the process, I didn't commit to them, which wasted even more energy. It's much better to try 100% on one takedown than attempt a bunch of half-assed 50-60% takedowns over and over again. When I did fully -- and chained them together -- commit to takedowns, I got them easily.

In general, the whole fight was kind of that way. I didn't really pull the trigger enough. I was always going for the safe option. When I had the standing back clinch I could have jumped on the back. At one point when he gives up his back from mount I could have gone for a no hooks RNC. I didn't fully try to submit with the guillotine at the end of round one. I didn't throw enough combinations on the feet and threw too many single strikes.

I could go on, but in short, I didn't fight the way I've been training.

I hate to go on about how poorly I performed because that sounds kind of insulting to the other guy. To be clear, my opponent was a tough dude, rangy and with good balance. He was very difficult to control, never stopped trying to get up, never stopped moving around, and never let me set everything up. I often cringe when guys in the pros would get on the microphone and talked about how they fought like crap after a clearly dominant performance, but now I know how they feel.

All of this stuff can be chalked up to experience, though. I know how to throw combinations, chain takedowns, and be aggressive. I know how to do these things and I do them all in sparring. But in a fight, when the stress levels are high, it's so easy to forget so much of what you know. I feel like I exhibited maybe 30% of what I'm capable of. Thinking back on my fight, I'm super-impressed by a dude like Anthony Pettis who is in there being super creative because he is so comfortable in the cage.

I take a lot of pride in being cool and collected and intelligent as a fighter. I need to be these things because obviously I'm not a naturally gifted athlete or physical specimen. Being able to translate what I do in the gym and put it in the cage should be my advantage. And I feel like I kind of blew that yesterday. I feel like I could have and should have finished the guy, and that is why I am, in GSP's words, not impressed by my performance. This fight showed me that I need a lot more experience in the cage to really maximize my potential as a fighter.

But, a win is a win. As much as being process-oriented is good, results count too and I did enough to pull it out.

Much thanks to Daniel for his support and corner work, to HeroPoker CEO David Jung for his invaluable work translating, arranging travel plans and filming, and to my new friend AJ for helping out a total stranger. And, of course, to my teams on two continents: Universal MMA in Vancouver, BC; and Team Grips in Hong Kong.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fighting in Korea tomorrow!

Small-town Korean love motels are a lot nicer than you would think. While the hallways are so impossibly dark that you can barely find your room, once you do find it, you'll find your $40 US has afforded you a decent-sized and well-appointed room with a big flat-screen TV, water cooler, heated wooden floors, and even some personal hygiene products for your use. And even a personal computer, which I'm using to write you on (after figuring out that I need to copy/paste URLs from Word to get them to show up in English in Internet Explorer).

Makeup stand with shaving cream, lotions, hair product, perfumes and colognes, so you can get back to your significant other without leaving a trace of evidence!

The only downside is that there are no windows to the outside world, but that's because you wouldn't want any, if you are patronizing this hotel for its intended use. But all things considered, I would definitely take this $40/night room over a lot of similarly priced hotels and extended stays in Las Vegas. By a landslide.

Why do I know so much about Korean love motels, you might ask? Sorry, I'm not here to provide any details on a sordid affair with a mistress or an orgy with scores of prostitutes. My purpose is no less animalistic, though. I'm here to get in a fight.

Taking a step back a bit: As I wrote before, I came to Korea to play in the APPT Seoul. I knew we were going to play 8 levels and had to get rid of at least half the field. If I was part of that half, I was going to participate in the Road FC Southern League qualifying event. I have to admit it was very tough to play my A-game after all. I certainly wasn't too spewy, but I definitely got it in a few spots where I suspected my opponents were probably a little stronger than they normally would be in that spot. Overall my money mostly went in when I was behind. But I certainly didn't punt and I'm at least happy for that.

Having said that, I'm pretty thrilled to be fighting in what is now about 18 hours' time. But it wasn't all giddy excitement. Up until yesterday, I was still feeling pretty stressed and apprehensive about it. Having a fight is a stressful situation under any circumstances. You're cutting weight, which is miserable. And you're trying to stay in a good mental state, wanting to stay cool, relaxed and focused, and thinking about the game plan. But after busting out of the tournament and having to face the reality I would be fighting for sure, I was presented with a new set of issues. How was I going to get to this small town of Suncheon, all the way at the opposite end of Korea? Where would I stay once I got there? How would I find the gym? Was there a sauna where I could cut off the last few pounds, and would it be open early enough in the morning to be useful for the 10am weigh-in? I don't speak the language and I don't understand the organization of the event, when I would be fighting or any of the things that would be going on. I would be totally out of my element and that creates a tremendous amount of stress when a fight is involved. I like to know everything that is going on and this simply wasn't going to happen this time out.

All of that was alleviated when David Jung told me he was going with me though, which is awesome of him -- I didn't even ask because I didn't think it would be possible; he simply volunteered himself. My friend Daniel, the guy who actually first got me interested in BJJ, will be coming up from Seoul on Sunday morning to be my cornerman. So still, I'm fighting in a foreign country where I don't speak the language against an unknown opponent with a BJJ blue belt with zero standup as my cornerman! Contrast this with my first ever fight back in September with supportive teammates, experienced coaches, tons of friends and family in attendance, and oh yeah, was held 6 blocks from my apartment,

It got better once I arrived. David and I were greeted by the owner of the gym where the event is being held, and even though he struggles with English, he is clearly a nice, friendly, hospitable guy. He took me up to the gym where the fight will be, allowed me to check my weight on the official scales, try on the gloves, and feel out the cage where the fights will be held.

Where the magic will happen

I checked myself on the scale and I came in at a svelte 62.55 kg (137.6 lbs). Since I actually get a 0.99kg allowance on the official 61kg limit, that means I will likely be on weight simply by going to bed and waking up in the morning. It will be fantastic to do this without sauna time, although in fairness I have had just 300 mL of water all day and won't have any more until tomorrow morning. My dinner tonight will consist of two protein bars, which each just weigh 85 grams but densely pack a solid 296 calories. My mouth is dry, I have a bit of a headache and some light cramps and I'm just generally quite thirsty and hungry. But all in all, this is what the pros would consider "an easy cut". This should give an idea of why weight-cutting is by far the most miserable aspect of fighting.

It's a silly thing, but seeing the gym where the fight will be held is a big thing, psychologically. It just removes so much uncertainty and doubt that isn't rational. Now to me this thing is real, it will happen, and it is something that is familiar to me. Everything is the way it should be.

After leaving the gym, I checked into the love motel. The love motel experience is certainly an awesome thing. The reception desk is basically a window that is almost entirely shaded off, so that you can't see the desk clerk and he can't see you. He gives you the room keys and you give him the money. That's it. The dark hallways I mentioned are that way so that in the event you were to run into someone you know, you wouldn't be able to make out his or her face in the darkness. For obvious reasons, I don't have any pictures to show you.

The tournament organizer -- he asked me to call him "Master PCK", as "PCK" is the name of the gym -- then showed us around for a few blocks of Suncheon. Master PCK took David out to dinner and I politely excused myself (at least, I hope it was polite -- I don't know anything about Korean culture, after all) since I obviously can't eat. I wandered around a bit more but the walking was starting to make my cramping worse, so I decided to head back to the hotel and blog a bit for you all. Hope my dehydrated ramblings still make sense when I read this again tomorrow.

Well, that is all. 3 rounds of 3 minutes. No elbows or knees to the head and no heel hooks. Pretty much exactly Battlefield rules. Same shit, new venue...and that's a good thing!

(And now if you'll excuse me, I think I have to go wash my hands after using this computer.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

A conflict of interests in Seoul

Things were so much easier when I just played poker.

I'm heading out to Seoul on Wednesday afternoon. The original purpose was the APPT Seoul which has a ~US$2700 main and ~US$5400 high-roller event. I'll be playing Day 1A on Thursday, and a big part of me is hoping I don't make it through the day.

The reason is that on Sunday, the day of the APPT final table, there are amateur tryouts (link in Korean) for Road Fighting Championships. I don't quite understand it fully, but from what I gather through a combination of Google Translate and my Korean friends, the winners will get to compete on the "Young Guns" portion of a future Road FC card. Unfortunately, it's in a small city called Suncheon, 4.5 hours by bus (or an hour by plane) away from Seoul. So if I make Day 2, which is played on Saturday, I'm not going to be able to compete in it. Even if I were to bust out early on Saturday it would probably be too much of a scramble and stress to make it there, I think.

I've been training quite hard and I'm in fight shape. I'm planning to compete at 61 kg (134.2 lb) because there is only four hours between the weigh-ins and the fights; there's no way I can get all the way down to 57 kg (125.4 lb) and compete well under those circumstances. I'm a small guy, but I don't lose weight very easily. I've been very strict on the diet for the last month, cooking my meals almost every day, but in truth I am really always quite strict and rarely fall off the wagon (WSOP excluded). Thus my walk-around weight is generally not far from my healthy weight. I'm currently about 64 kg in the morning so it will be an easy cut, even with the potential difficulties of being in a foreign land, trying to find the right food, saunas, and so forth. I might be a bit smaller than my opponent but I'm just fine with that.

Obviously, I've put a lot more thought into the potential fight than the poker. But a part of me wants to do well in the poker, too. It's been six weeks since I played a tournament (the Aussie Millions) and it'll be just my second tournament series of the year and third tournament overall (excluding the Chinese Poker). 2011 sucked poker-wise and I'd like to get off the schneid for 2012. I'll also be representing Hero Poker for the first time in a new market so it would be nice to make a run and get some publicity. Nevertheless, I am totally antsy I am to scrap, and I really won't be particularly upset if someone manages to find set-over-set on me in the first level.

But once I sit down at the table, I have to be a pro. Otherwise it's not worth showing up at all. If I enter a poker tournament, I'm there to win it, or at least maximize my expectation. And I've done this long enough that I know that once the cards are in the air, I'll be a pro and do what I have to do. The way I see it, there are a lot of people out there with straight jobs who would love to skip out of the office to play golf. Well, MMA is my golf and while there's nothing wrong with dedicating yourself to your avocations, you gotta take care of business first.

Lost in all of this is how excited I am to go to Korea! I've never been, and always wanted to go. I missed Season 1's APPT Korea and due to various legal wrangling, they haven't been back until now. Of course, there's so much on my plate for this short trip I don't really know if I'll be able to see or do much of anything at all. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that because I'm in the midst of a weight cut, I won't be able to enjoy much of the food, which is usually my favourite part of seeing any new country.

That is of course, unless I make it through Day 1A and the competition is off. Then I'm going to smash Korean BBQ like there's no tomorrow.

Wish me luck! Good or bad; either way is fine by me. :)