-- "North Shore" Mike McManus, my friend of 12 years, over dinner last Tuesday night.
This is a common question from many of my friends. Especially, of course, the ones who don't fight. The opposite feeling is best summarized by a conversation between two of my cousins, Calvin and Derek, back in September 2011. The conversation occurred a couple weeks before my first fight:
Derek: "So do you think this will be Terrence's only fight?"
Calvin: "No way. If he wins, he'll be addicted to it. If he loses, he'll want to redeem himself."
And so here I am, fifteen months and four fights later. I still haven't tasted defeat in an MMA cage or ring. And it is still an amazing feeling to be able to step into a cage after what seems like endless weeks of preparation, and emerge victorious.
As I wrote in my last post, I could not have felt more ready to fight on this past November 24. I had absolutely zero doubt in my mind that even as I approach my 32nd birthday I am a better fighter now than I have ever been. The fight would be at flyweight, meaning for the first time I would be the larger combatant.
The cut to 125 was difficult, but not exceptionally so. My subsequent rehydrate and refuel went great and I was back to about 138 by fight time. I was in a great mood all day. I'm all smiles when I get to fight. I only do this because I love it, and I'll quit when I stop loving it. The preparation is the horrible part. It's where all the true pain lies. If you can survive the training camp – if you don't get injured, if you don't break down mentally – the fight is the easy part. So there's no reason not to be all smiles on fight day.
For those who haven't seen it yet, the video is below; my apologies for the lack of sound. The fight begins about 4:00 into the video.
Without giving short shrift to my opponent, you can see that this was pretty decisive. I was better in the standup and better on the ground. I launched a steady volley of knees in the clinch, but my trip takedown was countered and that's how I ended up on my back. I certainly didn't anticipate being on my back in this fight and I didn't anticipate winning by submission off my back. But being the smallest fighter in the gym usually means you learn to be aggressive off your back.
A lot of people asked whether I wished it had gone longer, whether I wish I'd gotten more out of it considering how much I'd gone through to get to that point. And I admit the thought has crossed my mind at times. I went through a hard second half of 2012 getting ready for this fight. I got beat up every single day. And going into the fight, I wanted a tough fight. I wanted to be pushed, simply because I knew that I had never been as ready for a fight as I was on that day. And I didn't really get it.
But at the risk of stating the perfectly obvious, fighting is dangerous. It may take weeks or months to prepare for a fight, but it only takes seconds to lose one. Any time feet and fists are flying, there is the potential to lose a fight in a split second. I've been submitted in grappling competition in matches that I should have won. That's why when you get an opening to finish a fight, you don't fuck around. I didn't intend to throw up that armbar. I really just wanted to sweep (reverse positions) or get my opponent off of me. But as I rotated perpendicular to him, I noticed I still had his arm trapped. With his arm trapped, I was in a great position for the armbar. And once I had that armbar locked in, I cranked it. I had it in deep, and I ripped it. Anyone who trains with me can tell you I am not an aggressive person in the gym. I don't “get mean”. On the continuum of sparring too hard and not sparring hard enough, if anything I am on the side of the latter. I've let up on more submissions and pulled more punches than I can count. But this time, when I knew I had it, I yanked on that arm like I was trying to take it home and frame it on my wall.
I confess to a certain level of satisfaction with one aspect of this particular win. As I said, I wasn't trying for the armbar. I was trying for something else, and the armbar was there. There was no conscious thought on my part. It's nice to know that I've put in enough repetitions now that under a scenario of extreme stress, my body will just do what it has done so many times in practice. When I scored an armbar victory in Legend FC earlier this year, the last thing I heard in the fight was “switch to the armbar!” Taking it on pure faith that my corner saw something there – as you simply have to do during a fight – I switched to the armbar, and it worked. But this time there was no command from either an outside voice or my own. This time, the armbar simply happened.
So I am happy for the win. Seventy seconds or otherwise, difficult opponent or otherwise. After all, I have always maintained that I fight to become a better fighter. Perhaps that borders on an iterative tautology which might not make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to me.
But I also admit that part of me searches for that war. It seeks that challenge, the one that pushes me to the edge, where I am forced to empty the reserves and dig deep to a place inside me that I didn't know existed. A fight where I feel deep down that I am 100% prepared and where I need every last ounce of that preparation to emerge victorious.
I want to break someone, although I don't mean in a a sadistic or necessarily even violent way. A knockout or a submission is great, don't get me wrong. Finishing the fight should always be the goal. But there is something I haven't experienced in a fight yet, and that is the feeling of overwhelming someone. To overwhelm that person to the point he quits. Fighters like to say that they will never quit, that they will never stop. But everyone has a breaking point. People have varying levels of toughness, but everyone will break. It's just a matter of at what point. In my first fight, I beat the daylights out of the guy for two rounds, but he never quit; the referee had to jump in to stop him from taking further punishment. Since that fight I've made two opponents submit, but I've never made anyone quit. There's a big difference. I wanted this to be the first fight where I made someone quit. But I'm still searching.
But now I have to cut this train of thought short. I am encroaching the borders of hubris and arrogance. I am still a no one and a nothing in the MMA world. I am a babe in the woods. I am not in a position to decide whom to fight; that is the responsibility of my coaches. Keep winning, and you get tougher opponents. That's how it works. My job is simple: train hard, shut up, and keep winning.
And so, it's on to the next one. Sorry, Mike.