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.


  1. It's impressive that you've learned to chain takedown sequences.

  2. Good job man. Way to scrap. And in Korea too! Those koreans are tough! Powered by kim chi. I started personal training a young pro poker player. Need to have him follow your foot steps and get him into that MMA! He can't play poker forever.