Monday, April 2, 2012

Legend FC 8 fight recap

It wasn't easy getting into the proper mental state for my fight on Friday night. For some reason, this fight felt a little different than either of my previous two. It wasn't that it was pro versus amateur. That difference was fairly minor and somewhat arbitrary. While in many jurisdictions amateur shows have very restrictive rules, the two amateur fights I had participated in were little different than typical pro fights. The only differences were regarding elbows and knees to the head, twisting leglocks, 4-ounce (versus 6-ounce) gloves and 5-minute (versus 3-minute) rounds.

No, what felt different wasn't the ruleset, the level of competition, the size of the stage, or the potential audience. It was all internal. As late as Monday night, I didn't quite feel "right". It's hard to put a finger on any one thing that caused this, as I believe it was a huge number of things coming together. The first was that I knew I'd be facing my most dangerous opponent so far. This was a guy with size and power who very nearly KO'd his last opponent in devastating fashion. What if I wasn't going to be able to drag him to the ground? It seemed possible that if that were the case, I'd be setting myself for an embarrassing and painful beatdown.

Still, that was only a small piece of the puzzle. Strangely, I felt unprepared. This shouldn't be the case, since I just fought in Korea and I had been training regularly up to that fight. But taking the fight on two weeks' notice led to some unforeseen circumstances. I had friends in town staying at my apartment, visiting Hong Kong for the first time, and felt compelled to show them around and take them to my favourite restaurants and tourist spots. I was eating more in restaurants and had very little time to devote to mental preparation. I was happy to have them there for support but it felt very different than in the leadup to my fight in September where I was able to prepare for the fight nearly every waking hour.

I felt like I wasn't physically ready either. My two most regular sparring partners, Irshaad and Rodrigo, both fought in China just six days before me. In the first few days after the fight announcement, they were tapering their training. Both would go on to fight tough 3-round decisions and obviously had to take the week off afterwards. Thankfully, I had teammates at the gym offer to help me get together at the last minute. Diego held pads and put me through a hard training session on Saturday, but that would be in fact the only hard training session I had for this abbreviated training camp. I figured any hard sparring after that day was more likely to result in injury rather than improvement anyway. For the rest of the week I simply practiced takedowns for an hour a day with Pravin, a jiujitsu guy at my gym with a similar build to my opponent.

Negative thoughts continued to invade my head, but I told almost no one about them. What if the restaurant food made me sluggish? What if not getting enough sleep was affecting me? What if I ran out of gas and looked awful? What if I was knocked out in front of not just all my friends in the building, but the many thousands of poker players I knew worldwide who would be watching on YouTube? I think what scared me far more than being knocked out was embarrassing myself by running out of gas. Much of my game is based around raw tenacity and dogged determination, but that kind of style requires a gas tank I wasn't sure I had for this fight.

Those thoughts continued to plague me as late as Monday night. On Tuesday, I resolved to do some meditation, positive thinking, and positive visualization outdoors. It was a warm, sunny day in Hong Kong and it worked better than I could have hoped. Just 30 minutes of deep breathing and positive thinking in the park made me feel tremendously better. For the rest of the week I was in a positive mental space, all the way up until a couple hours before the fight. If you've never done this type of intense visualization before, I strongly recommend it.

Fight Day

I was told to arrive at the venue at 3 PM. I wasn't sure why, really, and I'm still not, because almost all the time between 3-6 PM was spent by all the fighters just lying down backstage listening to music and trying to mentally prepare. I got to spend about 15 minutes feeling out the ring, but for the most part, those three hours were spent with mood alternating between tremendous boredom and increasing anxiety.

There are a number of advantages to fighting at home. Everything is familiar and easy. But there was one disadvantage, and that is that unlike for all the other fighters, my cornermen were not travelling with me. Obviously the guys from Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China and so forth were travelling with their fighters, so there would be no logistical issues. But the fight was on a Friday, and my three cornermen, who all live in Hong Kong, had work obligations in the city (which is a significant train ride from the Asia World Expo). I wasn't really sure when they were going to show up exactly, only that it wasn't likely to be before 6:00. With the fight starting at 7:00 sharp, I would have felt a lot more comfortable if my hands were already wrapped up by 6:00. In retrospect, them getting there at about 6:10 ended up being fine, but the time between 5:00-6:10 felt like an eternity and I was just a big ball of anxiety. I definitely don't want to be by myself for three hours in a room full of unfamiliar guys again just before a fight. Nevertheless I am tremendously grateful to my cornermen that they were available at all on such short notice and when they did show up they were a very calming influence.

But that anxiety started to bring up my other fears from earlier in the week. I got wrapped up by Jordan and started pummeling and hitting pads to get warm. I noticed that instead of getting warm and breaking a sweat, I was starting to breathe hard through my mouth, and that got me all nervous about my gas tank again. It was in my head again: what if I'm just not physically ready for this? I shoved that thought aside.

About 15 minutes before the fight, Douglas got me doing some dynamic stretching, which made me feel better. Diego sat me down for a talk. It wasn't a pep talk; he simply looked me in the eyes and reminded me that I'm ready for this, that I have a game plan, and that the three of them will be there with me. It was definitely what I needed to hear and while I can't say it totally quieted the nerves, it soothed them some. Just as he finished, the stage manager called me out to the waiting area.

Lights, cameras...action?

I was told I would enter through one entrance, and my three cornermen down another. I was told to watch the hype video and be right to go out "as soon as the lights turned on". I flashed back to being backstage at Battlefield 12 in Vancouver, where three of my Universal MMA teammates fought on the card. Coach Paulie had stressed to my teammates fighting on that night, "you go out when you are ready"; in other words, don't let them rush you down the entrance. But here at Legend, as soon as the light turned on the stage manager frantically screamed, "go! go!"

I paused, preferring to take a moment to collect myself. She screamed at me again, so I started walking out slowly. "Go faster!" she shrieked, and I was getting annoyed at her. Once I passed the curtain I couldn't hear her any more.

"You're The Best" was, of course, playing. I have so many positive associations with this song. Any time I feel like I don't want to go to the gym, I can put it on. If I'm near the end of a hard cardio session, I can put it on. It always puts the skip in my step, and it started with that first fight back in Battlefield. The song just makes me happy.

But then something terrifying happened. I didn't feel it. The song didn't rush through my body and get me jumping. I had to tell myself to get happy, to have fun, to get loose. If you look carefully at the ring entrance, I am pumping my fists and moving my body around as if I'm having fun, but there's no smile on my face. Back in September, I was grinning ear to ear and ready to go. This time out, the strongest emotion was not fun, but nervousness.

Upon entering the ring though, I heard the cheers and knew my friends were there. I instinctively sprinted towards the turnbuckle, intending to jump up onto it, but I gathered so much momentum I lost control and sprang off of it. When my feet landed back on the canvas, I located my friends in the front row -- right behind my corner, in fact -- and immediately I felt better. Now I was loose. Now it was fun again.

Diego called me in for a few last words. He reminded me not to rush anything, that I can stand with this guy, and not to hurry into takedowns.

Now it was Alex's turn to walk out. He got in the ring and nodded at me, and I nodded back. He side-straddle circled the ring, and came just a couple feet from my corner, facing me, in an attempt to intimidate, or at least see if I was intimidated. I wasn't intimidated, but I did notice he looked extremely confident. I knew I'd be in for a fight.

As the fight began, I reminded myself to smile. But then something happened; my forced smile turned into a real smile. It was a smile of relief. I knew that all the doubts didn't matter now. For the next 15 minutes or less, all I have to do is fight.

Let's get it on!

If you're reading this far, I assume you've seen the fight, so I'll try to keep the play-by-play to a minimum. We spent the first 20 seconds of the round on the feet. I honestly had no plans to take him down that quickly. Despite his experience advantage, I was plenty confident in my hands and I planned to heed Diego's words. I wanted to make sure that I didn't shoot from way outside and that when I did shoot for takedowns that it would be set up with my strikes. But the takedown I scored 20 seconds into the fight wasn't planned at all. It really just happened. And I feel great about that, because instead of it being a scripted thing, it just came naturally as soon as my mind's eye saw the opening. This is what it feels like to be truly trained in something. I didn't think, I simply did. That opening takedown was perhaps the single best thing I did in the entire fight. The opening was there for an instant, and I took it.

The rest of the round is pretty straightforward. I was clearly the better grappler and I positionally dominated him. He does land some hard strikes but I'm pretty much allowing most of them to happen because I know I'm going to be able to turn his aggression against him. Two good examples of this: at 2:25 when it is obvious I'm looking for an armbar, and about 1:20 after my missed guillotine. In both cases he continues to try to throw hard strikes at me instead of defending my attack. I believe in my chin and have no problem trading a few hard shots for an improved position.

Round 1 ends and I'm tired, but feeling pretty good. I make sure I am first to get up to go to my corner. Only one cornerman is allowed in the ring and that's Jordan who gives me some water and wipes me down. Diego tells me I'm doing well and to keep doing what I'm doing. The second I hear "seconds out" I spring to my feet, hoping to get the psychological advantage.

Alex comes way out to the centre of the ring well before the ref restarts the round. I'm not sure if this is gamesmanship or if he really thought the fight was on already, but it was clear he was demonstrating that he was pissed off at how the first round went and that he is going to try to kick my ass now. The ref sends him back to his corner and we begin.

My lungs and my legs feel fine, but for some reason my arms are very tense and feel gorged with blood. They're also obviously very slow, as I get tagged twice, hard. The last left hand sparks a flash of light in my head and you can see me stagger a bit. This time the quick takedown is planned, as the thought, "shit, let's not take too many more of those" is firmly implanted in my mind. The takedown comes much easier than I thought. On replay I can see that is because he was throwing a kick at the same time as my shot; I would wake up on Saturday morning with quite the sore shoulder as the result of that kick.

Shooting a takedown right into his kick. Good thing I had my head up!

Once again, passing his guard and improving to a dominant position is almost too easy, although I am once again bridged from mount. Not long after he bridges me into my guard, you can hear on the video his corner yelling at him in Cantonese to get out of my guard. For whatever reason, Alex chooses to ignore this advice. I had a contingency for him fleeing my guard, but still, he probably should have tried. You can argue that this is the reason he lost (although I would dispute this, as I'm confident I would have gotten him down again soon enough). By the way, if you're curious about what his hardest strike of the fight was, it's not the one on the feet early in Round 2, it's the one with 3:44 left in the round (pictured below). That one was nasty. But you can see at 3:32 I learn quickly from my mistake and never allow him to get posture like that again.

What not to do from open guard in an MMA fight. Take note, kids.

The end comes shortly after. I was able to catch the triangle off of a setup from butterfly that I've been experimenting quite a bit with in sparring sessions, and I'm very happy that I was able to hit it so smoothly in a real fight.

I'm almost certain I could have finished with the triangle if I stuck with it. I think he was just a couple seconds from either tapping or going to sleep. But when you're in a fight, it's so much easier to simply do exactly what the corner says, so I heard Diego yell, "take the armbar", I just did it. That's the value of a strong corner. I can see on the replay that the angle is perfect to transition to the armbar.

By the time I got over to the corner and hugged Jordan, I was about ready to collapse. I was watching Bellator last night where Nate Quarry was a guest commentator, and told a story where he said to his cornerman, "pretend like you're still hugging me because otherwise I'm going to fall over". I felt like that. I felt far more exhausted in that moment than at any moment during the fight. I feel like I would have had no problem going the full 15 minutes, but it was as if the second Alex tapped and the ref pulled me off, every bit of energy my body had stored just rushed out of me.


I got back to the dressing room, and didn't hang out there long. What I wanted the most in that moment after thanking my corner was to get out to all the people who had bought tickets to support me, and nothing mattered more than that. I did a quick interview with a crew that is doing a documentary about Legend, got my wraps and tape cut off, and head outside to enjoy the rest of the show. Most of the rest of the night is a blur. It was wonderful being congratulated both in the audience and by hundreds of people on Twitter and Facebook watching from all over the world, even the parts of the world where the fight began at 4 AM. I didn't even end up eating dinner or going to the afterparty. Carrying around a 30lb bag of gear all over central Hong Kong was a complete non-starter, so I simply headed home and savoured the win.


Once again, my thanks goes out to my coaches, teammates and training partners, where ever on the globe they might be. In particular, I want to thank Diego, Jordan and Douglas for their help. But I truly believe that every person I have ever sparred, rolled, or drilled with, everyone I have ever competed against, and everyone who has ever offered a kind word or a pat on the back is a part of whatever modest success I might have, and I am grateful to each and every one of those people for their contribution.


  1. Really motivating to read about your fight. Made me feel like I was there the whole time. Great job Terrence!

  2. Great to read candid, insightful thoughts like these.

  3. I have watched a bit of the cage stuff but really couldn't buy a clue. Your description really gave me the feel and idea. WP Sir.

  4. If you were nervous when you entered the ring, that's not what I saw... To me, you looked intense and pumped. You were far and away the better fighter in that ring that night. Congrats!

  5. Terrance, it is awe inspiring to see how you transitioned into MMA and have been making success happen. That was a great fight, and it was enhanced by your writing. I literally watched the video and read this post at the same time, pausing the video to come back and read what you had to say as the fight when on. Very cool!

  6. Such a great entry. You are a true grinder, Terrence. I can think of no higher praise.

  7. I just randomly checked your blog, and this stuff is inspiring as balls. I had no idea about the result of the fight, so your recap was a nailbiter and I pretty much expected you to lose with the lead in.

    Anyway congrats on doing so well in so completely disparate fields.

  8. I should add that I've been following you on and off since the rgp days.

  9. That was awesome to watch. Catching up on your blog after a few years. Great to see you progressing!