Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pushed to the limit: Lessons from my most important pro win

On Saturday July 21, I fought the toughest match of my MMA career vs Bojan Kladnjaković. It was a 15-minute war that left both of us pretty exhausted:



Exhaustion: Who wore it best?

The fight was without a doubt the most satisfying victory of my career because it was by far the hardest. I was pushed to my limits and had to dig deep to come out with the win.

Earlier in my career, I fantasized about this type of fight. Many of my early wins came easily against guys who were simply far less skilled than I was. I was rarely in trouble. So even as the wins mounted, a strange part of me yearned for a fight that would take me to my limits. This is probably a silly way to think, for what it's worth. Training for a fight is hard enough, and actual MMA fights are dangerous enough that one should always be happy with a quick, dominant victory. But in any case, this was one of those fights I used to fantasize about.


I won the fight by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) but I felt was the very clear winner. The commentators on the fight were very surprised it was a split decision. And yet there's no doubt my opponent had his opportunities to win. Even putting aside his submission attempts and good strikes in the clinch, he was just difficult to deal with and made me work constantly. 

There's no doubt that I needed to be the best version of me on Saturday night to pull out the win, and I was. I trained through two tough training camps in 2018 without ever getting booked for a fight. I went to the WSOP without having a fight confirmed, but I continued training and keeping my diet healthy while in Vegas. I skipped the $3000 6-Handed Limit Hold'em, and I never made it to In-N-Out. I spent more money training for the fight than my purse netted me.

And I'm lucky I did all that. My opponent was good enough that I had been in a little less good shape, if I had done just a couple fewer reps in the gym, if I had been slightly less mentally focused, if my weight cut had gone just a little bit worse, I could be writing about my second pro defeat instead of my fourth pro win.

While I'm proud of my work ethic, I'm very unimpressed with myself after having watched the video. I look (to my own eyes) stiff and tense. There are opportunities in the standup and grappling that I simply don't take advantage of. I was hit by strikes that I should have avoided. My goal was to be calm, but active. I was active, but not at all calm. I felt like my technique was largely poor and inefficient. Those are all areas to improve for next time.

On the plus side, while I was not as calm and technical as the high-level guys I admire, I was mentally very tough. I was exhausted at many points during the fight, but I did not let myself rest in the critical junctures. This was the difference between this fight and my loss in 2017. In that fight, I fought with insufficient urgency at the critical points, and that allowed my opponent to chip away to the point where I simply got too far behind in the fight to come back. Last Saturday, there were multiple times where the thought of taking a short break entered my mind, but another part of me just pushed me to throw one more combination, score one more takedown, or advance one position. The self-talk went, "one more explosion, TChan, then we take a break." Like a marathon runner who only worries about the next 100 metres, I broke the tasks down into manageable chunks and put the fatigue out of my mind. I pushed a pace that Bojan wasn't prepared to keep up with. And when the final horn went, I felt like I had left 100% of myself out there.

Overall, I'm happy and satisfied. Glad that I was able to put myself through training camps while still trying to be a good dad to my now-7-month-old. Glad that I stuck through injury and the frustration of not getting booked, and just keeping my nose to the grindstone. Grateful to have the support of everyone around me encouraging me, even if at times they worry about me.

I had a lot of fear and anxiety going into this fight. I've always suffered from a bit of impostor syndrome. In business, poker, and MMA, I've always struggled with feeling that my accomplishments were legitimate. I'd only had one win against someone I felt was a really strong, skilled opponent (Ali Wasuk) and that win was now over three years old. Maybe I had some wins against some guys who weren't very good, but the fear always lingered that I wasn't a real fighter. When my teammates at Toshido MMA started off the night 4-0, I was worried that I would be the first to put up a loss. Worst, I was worried that I would embarrass myself and show the world that I was a phony. I don't know why I had these feelings, but they were there.

To some extent, my performance in this fight has alleviated these feelings. I am a real fighter, and I should tell it to myself more often. This fight brought out the best of me. I fought a skilled full-time mixed martial artist with real experience and I came out on top. That's something I needed in my soul.



2 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed this. Love the analytical mindset applied to fighting.

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  2. Me, too. But, just so you know, that toughness showed from the beginning. That commitment showed from the beginning. You've always had that. You are a true warrior. You are NOT a natural. You will never be a natural. You are a general, not a soldier. Elevate your game!

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