Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fight recap: My "thrilla" in Manila

That was a crazy trip to Manila! This was my second time travelling away from home to fight -- the other time was to Suncheon, South Korea -- but I expected it to be a lot smoother than that trip. On this trip, I would be travelling with a teammate, coach, and girlfriend, and figured logistics would go a lot smoother.

And for the most part -- everything but the fight event, really -- they did. My weight cut went well. There was some issue with a local blog saying that I weighed in at 129.6, when I actually weighed in at 125.6. I freaked out about this and even threatened (legitimately) not to fight if this wasn't rectified, because possibly the worst thing that you can do for your reputation as a prize fighter is miss the contracted weight.

But thankfully that got sorted out, and we arrived to the venue around 4 PM for a scheduled 7 PM start time. First thing we noticed: outdoor amphitheatre, in Manila. 29 Celsius at 90% humidity. It was going to be a hot and humid one, which for fighting means two things: 1) it would be tough on the endurance, 2) it would make the grappling game much more slippery.

One exciting thing about this fight was that this would be UGB's first event under the banner of World Series of Fighting Global. WSOF (really hard for me to type that acronym without typing "WSOP") is considered either the #2 or #3 MMA promotion after the UFC. WSOF's VP of Operations, Jason Lilly (who coincidentally, has 5 WSOP cashes) was in attendance all the way from Vegas. So there was definitely reason to be excited about the show.

The first sign that this might not run too smoothly as the fighter rules meeting, where at least one referee seemed very confused, telling us the fights would be conducted under the Unified Rules of MMA but then telling us we wouldn't be allowed to strike with the point of the elbow, use neck crank can openers, or throw oblique kicks (all are perfectly legal under Unified Rules). After all of the experienced fighters and managers raised hell, they went outside, consulted, then said that this was all allowed now.

Most MMA events I have attended either as a spectator, cornerman, or fighter have started late. An MMA event is a hard thing to put together, and to do it as smoothly as the UFC does it is difficult for most promoters. That being said, I never would have guessed we would start over two hours late, with the first fight going through the gate well after 9 PM. This was a bit of a concern for me as I typically go to bed at 9-10 PM, and wake up at 6-7 AM. By far the most farcical part of the show was they called up all the fighters and had us enter the ring as our names were called, and then they played the national anthems. Of every nation represented. Eight different national anthems. I'm going to try to keep that in mind the next time I'm bitching about bracelet ceremonies at the WSOP.

But adrenaline is a heck of a drug. I listened backstage to Elliot Roe's MMA hypnotherapy MP3 which got me pretty pumped. But I knew my emotions would definitely hinge strongly on the performance of my teammate Nosh, who fought immediately before me. Happily, Nosh dominated his fight, stopping his opponent with strikes from mount in Round 2. I was disappointed to not be able to be in his corner, but I was focused on getting warmed up backstage.

Both mentally and physically, I don't think I've ever felt this good. Despite the late start, I was the perfect level of warmed up; not doing so much that I felt tired, but doing enough to feel loose and explosive. Not having Nosh or my coach Rodrigo back stage immediately before actually turned out to be a benefit because I was just able to focus my own headspace. 

"Okay Terrence, when you go out, stand on the platform for 10 seconds before you come down." (Exact quote.)

I came out ready to kill, and yet much less nervous than I ever have been for a fight. I've heard guys with 50 professional fights say that they still get nervous before fights, that the other guy just seems so scary. I'll admit that watching the other guy warm up is always a bit intimidating. You're watching someone shadowbox, punching and kicking the air, and you think, "wow, what if he lands one of those on me?" But you've got to put that thought out of your head. You've got to look across the ring at the other guy and instead think about how you're ready to beat that guy up.

I don't remember a whole lot about the fight. I do remember that we both came out pretty fast. I wanted to walk him down but not rush. I wanted to use my boxing to put him in the corner, where I would be able to use the clinch and my size advantage to wear him down. Here's the full fight video:

I didn't really plan on taking the fight to the ground in the first round, but when my short counter left hook caught him off-balance and put him down, I was more than happy to engage on the ground.

Within the first ten seconds, I knew that I was safe inside his guard. It is usually easy to tell right away when someone has a dangerous, tricky guard, and this wasn't it. I knew at best he would have a good defensive guard, one where it would be perhaps to be difficult to pass or do damage. I also immediately felt my size and strength advantage. When you're bigger and not worried about being reversed or submitted, you can just continue using pressure, continue putting weight, and eventually the guard will fall apart. So the plan was to smash and grind. Nothing fancy, no big movements, nothing that would allow an escape. And that's pretty much exactly how it happened.

At first his defensive posture was decent, but as I started to soften him up with punches, knees, and elbows (the latter of which the opposite corner complained about because they were even more confused about the rules than the ref), his hands started to get out of position and I was able to control his wrist.

Once I got control of his wrist, the strength advantage was even more apparent. In the gym, when I get wrist control on someone, it takes all of my force and bodyweight to control it. This time, when I got to the wrist control kimura grip pictured here, I knew I would be able to easily break his defensive grip and take his shoulder off.

My first attempt was actually unsuccessful, which shocked me. I had his arm bent backwards badly, yet he didn't tap. I didn't have enough control over his body and his entire body ended up rotating as I torqued the shoulder. It is a bit like using a wrench to remove a stubborn bolt from a machine; if the part attached to the bolt is capable of free movement, you end up spinning the whole thing instead of removing the bolt itself.

Part of me in the moment also hesitated -- albeit briefly -- to really rip this guy's arm apart. It almost felt too easy, almost unfair in a way to destroy this arm that was so much smaller than my own. In practice, I know when you have someone in a compromised position, and so I can give them the opportunity to tap out. But in a fight, we are here to break least in theory.

Once I re-established the grip, there was no such hesitation. I said to myself, "this might be one of those freakishly flexible dudes. If you try not to crank it in fear of hurting him, he might come back to knock you out or submit you." So I got the grip, and I wrenched hard, as hard as I've ever pulled on anything in my life. I committed to yanking on that thing until the ref pulled me off. Finally, the ref did pull me off, and my opponent grabbed his shoulder in pain. 

A few different looks at the kimura (aka "ude-garami" in judo, or "hammer lock" in catch wrestling) finish.

To be honest, in the precise moment, it is a bit of a gross feeling bending someone's shoulder behind their head in the direction that you know nature did not intend. As happy I was to finish the fight, I did feel badly for him.

But my empathy was short-lived. My coach euphorically jumped into the cage to hoist me up in celebration. I went back one last time to check on Joco, only to have his coach intercept me and complain vehemently about the "illegal" elbows. In the end, Joco's shoulder was fine and a short while later he came backstage to congratulate me.

Jab MMA head coach Rodrigo Caporal

Joco Mabute, dangerous fighter, great sport, and man of very flexible shoulder joints.

The rest of the card dragged on through the evening. I don't know what time I actually fought, but looking at text message timestamps, it was some time between 10-11pm, and there were five more fights after me (including a clusterfuck of a main event where the referee inexplicably allowed a four-minute break between rounds for one fighter). We left the venue around 2am for our celebration meal. We called an Uber and asked the driver to take us anywhere with good food, before crashing back at the hotel.

And that's it! After that it was back to normalcy. How do I feel about the fight? I guess it's hard to be anything but happy, when you finish a fight early taking precisely zero damage. Perhaps there was a time where I might have thought, "oh, all this preparation and just 2 minutes of fighting; I wish it would have gone longer." 

Those days are long past. I'm now at six fights (four amateur, two professional), and I am thrilled to win without any damage. I do look forward to that one fight which will push me to the edge of breaking, where I have to find out what I am made of and break through, where my body is screaming that it wants to quit. It feels like the worst of clich├ęs; like a Hollywood-manufactured struggle. Yet I would be lying to myself if I didn't say it was there.

But it is foolish to make an easy fight difficult, just for the sake of this Hollywood ending. If I keep winning, I will end up in the big leagues. If I end up in the big leagues, that super-tough fight will surely happen at some point. Wins like last Saturday's will be what get me to that fight safely and efficiently.

Much thanks go out to coaches, teammates, training partners, and opponents worldwide. Everyone I have ever stepped on a mat with shares a part in my victories. But the greatest thanks is reserved for my wonderful girlfriend Robyn, for being everything a fighter and a person could ask for.