Thursday, December 12, 2019

Closing the book on 10 years of face-punching

It’s been over a year since I last stepped in a mixed martial arts cage to compete.

Something that I never shared publicly was that it was always my intent for that fight on November 30, 2018 to be my last. I had decided it was in the best interests of me and my family to compete one last time and hang them up; win, lose, or draw.

I’m not sure why I never told anyone this. Maybe I was worried that my team would feel less invested in me. Maybe because I didn’t want that mindset going into the fight. Maybe I was just afraid to admit it. 

I’ve still never once said out loud the words, “I’m retired”. I would only ever say that "I don't have any plans." It was too much finality to admit.

A year ago, I had a great training camp going into my fight, and I lost. I made a single mistake against an excellent fighter and was punished for it.

I am not a gifted athlete, to say the least. I'm neither particularly strong, nor fast, nor flexible, nor coordinated. I don't have great muscle memory or kinesthetic learning. I've been a bookworm and a computer nerd all my life. Never played on a single school team in any sport.

All I have ever been in athletics is tenacious and disciplined. I worked hard. I tried to learn everything that was relevant about strength and conditioning, nutrition, sleep, recovery, striking, wrestling, jiujitsu, and everything in the middle. The only reason I became halfway good at MMA was because I was obsessed. I refused to half-ass anything. I only ate the “right food” at the “right time”. I guarded my sleep with vigilance. I took ice baths in the middle of a Canadian winter. I scoured the internet to learn about mobility, conditioning, supplements, and how to throw better knees in the clinch. I had private sessions with boxing coaches, wrestling coaches, BJJ coaches, MMA coaches, S&C coaches, mobility coaches, hypnotherapists, sports psychologists, physiotherapists, and more.

My athletic inferiority drove me.  

Even though I started late (at age 30), MMA came along at the right time for me. I needed MMA as I was leaving the world of professional poker. Obsessing about optimal 3-bet ranges and river thresholds was replaced by head kicks, knee taps and triangle chokes. I needed to start from new and find inspiration.

Sometimes I had the size advantage; sometimes I didn't.

These days, of course, inspiration comes from my daughter, who turns 2 soon. Being a stay-at-home dad is a totally different grind from being a fighter or a poker player. Watching her little brain develop and discover the world around her is a completely different challenge. It might not offer the adrenaline rush of walking out to a cage fight or being all-in at a WSOP final table, but the reward is, hopefully, a toddler, a girl, a young woman that is proud to call me her dad.

I was never a star in this sport. Never the best in the world or the country. My best rank was #7 in Canada. The sport will not miss me; I was an insignificant footnote. But I can be proud of a lot of things. I fought some tough opponents. My last two opponents are a combined 5-0 since fighting me. I can be proud that I worked to give 11 opponents the best version of me possible on that day. I can be proud that whether I won or lost, I never quit. 

I leave the sport without lasting physical injury. My brain is intact and my joints more or less work the way they’re supposed to. A lot of people in this game aren’t so lucky. I never took performance enhancing drugs. As an aside, I don’t think that makes me better than anyone else, but in a sport where people suggest 50-80% of people are on them, it’s perhaps relevant. 

Like with my poker career, one of the more awesome things about MMA was that I got to train and fight all over the world: Vancouver, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Phuket, Manila, Bali, Brazil, and Korea are among just a few of the places I was lucky enough to be punched (or elbowed) in the face.

In the same way that I can still be found at the WSOP 10 years after my poker-playing prime, I don’t see myself leaving MMA entirely. I still try to go to jiujitsu 2-3 times a week, and I enjoy being around fight camps. I like to think I have a mind for the game, and I would still love to be around the sport in some capacity or another. I’m not sure I was ever a technical enough fighter to be a coach, but I can offer help where I can. I’d enjoy doing content around the sport.  If there’s a promotion out there looking for commentary, I would do that in a heartbeat. 

But I don’t think anything will ever change the fact that I will keep wishing I were the man in the arena instead of the man behind the scenes. I loved fighting. It was fucking awesome, and I miss it.