James "The Colossus" Thompson Takes on the Banks, the Bookies, and Alistair Overeem
[Ed. note: Over his 10-year career, English MMA Legend James "The Colossus" Thompson has seen it all. We asked him to put some of his favorite stories down in writing.]
Overdrawn, Overwhelmed, Overmatched, Overeemed - Part 1
When I look back at this story I'm about to tell I feel a mixture of emotions--mostly bad. But, like any good fable or story from old, there’s an underlying message to the story, a lesson learned so the pain of defeat doesn't completely devour my soul.
So let me take you back to the wreckage of despair that was my life back then and see if a few life lessons can't be salvaged. I was living in London and training at London Shoot fighters. Well, I say “training”; it was more like the idea of training that would quickly dissipate into nothingness at the sight of the bookies (gambling establishment) and that's were you'd find me surrounded by other hopeless souls--human-ish males all queuing up to feed what little money they have into the never-ending abyss that separates you from much more than the money you feed in, in hope it spits more money (aka “hope”) back out at you. It wasn't the best of times for me, to say the least, and the phone call I received next wouldn't be improving said situation
It was from my ex (my fiancée now) Graz Merlino, aka the Merlean. I was in the bookies and winning, so at the time I was in a good mood, so I took the call (small note: Fellas, if you’re in a good mood, the chances of talking to your ex and that mood improving or even maintaining are slim to none). The Merlean started to explain to me that the bank had sent her papers saying they had mistakenly paid me too much money (which I’d gambled away), and since her name was on my account (part of a failed attempt to make it harder for me to gamble), they were now in the process of taking one of her assets, i.e., her house.
I don't want to go into this too much as there’s no need, and it gets complicated, but the crux of the matter was the Merlean had tried to help me and now might lose her house because if it. We'd split up due to my gambling and I'd really put her though it—and when I say “it,” think about a shitter version of hell. Even after we'd split up it seemed I was still able to fuck her life up. I tried to calm her down, while secretly freaking out. I promised I'd get her the money. I apologized and told her I'd be in touch real soon. I put the phone down and racked my brain about how to get a large amount of money quickly. Actually, that's not quite true: I went back in the bookies, lost around a grand, then I racked my brain about how to get a large amount of money quickly.
That phone call had really taken me aback. I only had a small amount of money left. I wasn't sure what I was going to do; I only known I couldn't let the Merlean lose her house due to my shortcomings as a human.
That night I was woken up by a phone call at the unsociable time of three in the morning. It was my agent, Ken Pavia, aka the Pav. He was calling from some remote part of the world where the time difference was, well, very different. The Pav has never been great with time differences, something I pointed out to him using as many four-letter words as I could, all of which didn't affect him at all. The Pav was already five espressos into his day and firing on all cylinders.
I managed to make out that a couple of Alistair Overeem’s opponents had pulled out of the Dream 12 main event in Japan, and that the promoters were asking if I would fight him? The money was good, Pav said, because the offer was last minute. "What's ‘last minute'?" I asked. "This Sunday" was the reply. This convo was talking place on Tuesday, and our flight would be Thursday and I'd fight Sunday "I'm in,” I said. “Do that thing you do and let me retreat to the glorious embrace of sleep." (More likely I slurred, "I'm in, now fuck off.” Me and the Pav are past the nicety stage.) I drifted back to sleep. Which surprisingly didn't consist of nightmares of my internal organs being made into a fine liquid paste by Overeem and his über knees
The lateness of the hour and my exhaustion and stress were probably why upon waking and making myself some breakfast (protein shake) the night’s/morning’s events escaped me and I completely forgot about that conversation with Pav. My mind got back to figuring out how to make some quick cash to make the Merlean problem (which was really my problem that had infected her) go away.
I'd have to get fit and get a fight. I admonished myself because that's what I should have been doing anyway; this had just given me a well-needed kick up the ass. While I was going though my daily facebooking ritual--catching up on photos of random people's food and hearing the latest about people I don't have any interest in: all the usual day-to-day pressing needs--I read a message from the Pav saying he needed the names of my cornermen urgently for my main event match in Dream … against Alistair Overeem.
Now, I don't know how many people will be able to relate to what I felt at that moment. Let’s have a quick recap. The previous day I’d had the news the bank were coming for my long-suffering ex’s house due to my gambling debts. Fast forward to the late-night/early-morning conversation I had barely any recollection of telling me that I was due to fight Alistair Overeem, one of the best heavyweights in the world, in a couple of days. And I was in the worst shape ever. I felt an amalgamation of emotions. The first was relief that I could now save the Merlean house. This was closely followed by abject terror.
At the time I wasn't even thinking about fighting anyone, never mind the most dangerous MMA striker on the planet. That day was Wednesday; we'd fly out Friday, which meant I had time to get a good session of cardio in. Oh, and tell my corner team we were flying to Japan tomorrow.
Before I set off to London Shoot to do a three-month training camp in an afternoon I though I'd put the Merlean’s mind at rest and tell her I'd got it sorted. That was a pleasant convo: I told her as soon as I got paid she would have the money and all would be right with the world once again. When she asked how fit I was I made a couple of lies up, said I felt great, and quickly changed subject.
Now to the gym. I did the familiar journey, passing by the bookies that littered my every turn. I greeted my trainers Alexia and Paul Ivan; made an excuse about being unwell, which no one believed but was true in a sense; then dropped the bomb about my upcoming fight. No one thought it was a good idea (mainly because it wasn't) but I explained I had no choice and it was down to personal shit and I was either making the trip alone or with them. Paul and Alexia got on board and knew not to ask anything more. It was decided I'd do one hard cardio circuit (walking up the gym stairs didn't count) and then we'd come up with a game plan. That's about as much as we could do, but at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt better that I wasn't alone.
Alexia gave me a horrible circuit to do. I pushed as hard as I could and then a bit harder. I got my wind out and a massive sweat on and that was that.
When I got back home that night I couldn't sleep for worry. What had I done? What was going to happen to me? Whatever it was, I was treating my life like a joke and now I had to face becoming the inevitable punchline, which I was guessing wasn't going to be too funny. I wasn't too worried about being hurt. I’m not trying to sound tough here but it's true. I was just sad that it had come to this. I'd always fought because I loved the sport and being part of it in whichever way I could. But in this instant there was no hiding the truth: I had taken this fight strictly for the money, and it made me feel hollow.
Check out part 2 here.
Also, check out these related stories:
UFC Origins: Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.