Dec. 13, 2013
I'm sitting here in my hotel room the night before UFC on Fox 9. I've been working with Mac Danzig, helping him out during training camp, and I'll be cornering him tomorrow night when he fights Joe Lauzon. It's been over a year since my last fight--the longest stretch without a scrap since I was 8 years old! I don't want it to seem like I'm unloading on you in my first blog post, but being on the other side of the fence (physically and metaphorically) is turning out to be quite stressful.
It's difficult to be so invested in a fight that I will have no control of once the first round starts. My influence will be minor. Even between rounds the whole thing will be such a blur that maybe one or two of my nuggets of wisdom will stick in Mac’s subconscious before we’re ushered out of the Octagon for the beginning of the next round. Then it will be back to my little red UFC stool to watch the fight play out moment by moment.
It's been a pretty crazy year and as it’s drawing to a close I can't help but look back and appreciate all of the lessons learned and the changes my life has undergone. Since my medical tests in March of last year, for my planned bout with Matt Brown that April, I've been somewhat without a purpose. The ECG highlighted an irregularity that turned out to be a second heartbeat. Not as uncommon as you may think but still a real inconvenience for a fighter, for liability reasons. I've been tested and inspected by cardiologists and a return to the cage is no closer thus far, but I am working on it! So in the meantime I've been living life for a while, without the constant threat of being punched in the face. I'm not going to bore you with the fascinating details but I will say that the place I was in at this point last year was entirely different. Everything but the house I live in has changed. I feel like I've been waiting in line for a roller coaster and finally I got to climb aboard.
So when Fightland asked me to start sending a few words their way, I figured that the only logical way to do it would be to write about what’s happening as it happens. It occurred to me a few months ago that I have kind of a crazy life. The extremities of that craziness may be left untouched for the time being, at least until I know I can trust you enough to keep quiet. For now, though, I will get back to where I am and what’s happening in this moment.
It's 12:03am on fight day. The hotel room is dark, apart from one bedside lamp on the other side of the room. I have Chopin's piano concertos playing quietly as I watch muted fights in a small window on my laptop screen. The battery is at 84%, which is good because I don't have the energy to move to plug it in, though I don't think my mind will slow down enough to sleep just yet. This happens from time to time.
We drove up here to Sacramento from L.A. yesterday afternoon after spending the last week of training camp with Mac and stopping off at a couple of yoga studios for some sweaty stretching sessions along the way. We did a short but productive workout last night, touched some pads, and worked some ground basics. Mac looks in awesome shape and the weight cut was a breeze, which is a relief. Still, it's now 26 minutes into fight day and I'm wishing it were me fighting tomorrow.
I miss the rush. The fight week vibe in the hotel. Everyone is in fight shape, ready to go. Weight cutting, dehydrated and hungry… seeing the same faces, some gaunt and ready to step on the scales, others swollen from the relaxed diet between fights. The corner teams and training partners laugh and talk amongst themselves, some fighters joining in, thankful for the distraction. Others sit quietly, lost in that space between now and then, where all you can do is sit and wait.
It was always easy for me to find peace during fight week. The single-mindedness of it made focusing on the job at hand much easier--nothing else to think about but the fight, the combat, the martial arts. Later on in my career I really managed to master the calm before the storm--staying relaxed and calm but ready to fight to the death at any minute. The opportunity to give everything of myself, to be tested and judged, to see what it all amounts to and if it’s enough: I always got a kick out of that.
For most people I'm sure it would be the other way around. If they were fighting tomorrow live on TV, they would probably be up all night. Me, on the other hand … If I were fighting I would be sound asleep right now, unconcerned. In my opinion you can never give your all in a fight unless you have made peace with death.
A common misunderstanding about the martial arts journey is that it’s about winning and being some kind of badass. Really it’s just a way of encouraging our own evolution. Much like the dedication to yoga or meditation, it’s about mastering the Self, so you aren't standing in the way of your own potential. It’s about doing away with old habits and programming. The crazy ones among us just decide to have old habits and programing beaten out of us. It's really not about the fame or the world titles. We only have them so an order can be established, so that if someone needs a tougher test they know exactly where to look. There is just as much pressure with winning as there is with losing. It gets harder no matter what.
That’s what makes us fighters, though: We demand more of ourselves and this arena gives us an opportunity to have a good look at who we really are. It forces us to be present and see through any illusions we may have about ourselves. The outcome of the fight ultimately is irrelevant; it’s just another turn in the story.
Sleep is a must. Tomorrow will require my entire focus and attention.
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