The Black Eye: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
He can tell I’m depressed.
We’re out in Stratford, Ontario, in a beautiful house near the water. My wife Erica is working here. We came out yesterday to visit her.
I work as an analyst and color commentator for Mixed Martial Arts and I absolutely adore my job. I love the art of fighting, love how special the athletes are, and love talking and writing about it from every angle. To me, the most special gift on Earth is getting the opportunity to describe a beautiful fight between two special athletes live for the television audience. I love to do that. I work hard at it. I treat the job with the utmost reverence.
I got opportunities to try this job and did my best to make the most of them. I researched and prepared like a demon and used my experience in song and poetry writing and live television improvisation in combination with my passion for and understanding of the sport to do a good enough job to keep getting more opportunities. I tried my best and worked my hardest to get a bit better every time. Now I’ve called over 250 fight cards from around the world. I feel like I’m starting to get pretty good at it. I always always try to do my best. I truly believe I’ve found my calling.
Oh yeah and it helps that I fight too. Unfortunately, I am not quite as confident in my fighting ability as I am in my commentating. It doesn’t come quite as naturally.
I fight at the base level of professional MMA fighting. I have lost more than I’ve won but each experience, each challenge, each success and each failure helps me truly understand the sport that I describe for TV a bit better. The fact that I give it my all, train as hard as humanly possible and learn from the very best and STILL fail a little more than I succeed just makes me revere the fighters who can perform incredibly every night that much more. When I do call fights, I marvel at the greats because I know all too well, first hand, that no matter how hard we train and how much we sacrifice most of us could never be like them.
But I love to fight. I love the pressure. I love the training. I love the deeper and deeper single-mindedness that you go through as the fight approaches. I love the challenge.
I was supposed to be fighting in four days, but I’m not. I’m sitting on a couch in Stratford writing while my wife is at work. I am writing in an effort to learn what I can from the events of the last week.
The number one reason I fight is the selfish reason. I fight for myself. I fight because I love it. I fight for the genuine love of it.
But I am also lucky enough to get to learn lessons from fighting that help me as an analyst and color commentator and help me do a better job when I work. And I am now looking for the lessons in this aborted fight, this canceled opportunity that has left me writing on this couch instead of fighting this weekend, to help me better understand what the athletes I will be talking about on TV go through.
I am looking for a lesson here.
Ok, I gotta start at the beginning. Please bear with me.
Nine weeks ago, I accepted a chance to fight on WRECK MMA on April 20th. It felt almost too good to be true. I would get to face the guy who beat me in my first fight 3 1/2 years later, and I would get to do it in Gatineau, the city it first happened in. Basically, I would get a do-over.
I am infinitely better than I was then, and would win this fight. I am 42 years old, have recovered from some thyroid tumors that weakened my health for a few years, and I have happily settled into my commentary job and would be immensely satisfied with walking away from competing after this win. And I had no doubt I would win.
We began breaking down the game plan immediately, began training twice a day 6 days a week, and quickly had massive confidence in this fight and in victory. With 6 weeks to go, I was already in the best shape of my life and insanely sharp. My skills were so much better than they had ever been. My strength and power and fitness were top shelf. My mental game was great. I was without question the best I’d ever been.
As the fight approaches, you can get more and more hyper vigilant about analysis and the details.
As we analyzed this match-up, we narrowed the biggest threats to failure down to only two. Injury. And opponent bailing on the fight.
I train my conditioning at Bang! Fitness in Toronto, and they were keeping a close eye on my injuries. My coaches made a smart decision to bring in specific training partners that we could trust in for sparring, to minimize the potential for injuries. My main sparring partner became Bojan Kladjnovich, who was basically a much better version of my opponent and a smart skilled awesome guy who would minimize the risk of injury. So the first threat to failure, injury, was addressed.
The second threat, my opponent bailing on the fight, was a much bigger threat. This guy had found a way to bail on at least 4 of the last 5 fights he was booked to fight. In fact, since I fought him, I have fought 7 times and he only once. He bailed on a number of others between booking and fight night, including twice on Ian Dawe. This was a real threat.
Why do guys book fights and not see them through? I don’t know the answer to that. Well, I think I do, but I don’t want to talk negatively. But there are a variety of reasons.
The truth is no one can be, or should be, forced to do this, and fighting is a high pressure thing, especially as it gets closer to fight day. You break your body down and it plays tricks on your mind. You reduce the amount of calories that you take in and increase the amount you burn. You become mentally exhausted. You need a break, but none is coming until after you complete more and more training and a mentally taxing weight cut. Shit starts to get very real very fast. And guys look for a way out.
Well, knowing that my opponent has a history of fights being canceled I wanted to minimize that happening. One common reason fights get canceled in the weeks before is due to medical requirements not being met. If that was going to happen, I wanted to know two weeks out or more, so we could find a suitable replacement and I would have time to game plan for them. I have never taken a last minute opponent before and, to be honest, I’m not the type of fighter who’s cut out for it since preparation is such a big part of my process. I stayed on the promoters to ensure my opponent’s requirements were met.
They wouldn’t tell me specifics of his medical stuff, but I know the sport and the requirements well and you have every right to ask about the status of your opponent, within reason. So I did. Often.
The fighter’s job is to get your Ontario license, which has a bunch of medical requirements. I got mine months ago in preparation for this. He still needed his.
A promoter can not tell you about your opponent’s medical conditions, but they can tell you about where they are in the process.
As the fight approached it came to my attention that my opponent had to, if he wanted to get approved for his license, go and pick up one of his tests and take it on a two hour ride to get looked at by a different professional to get it cleared.
This is not abnormal as probably half of fighters have to do a last minute test clarification or have something looked at or re-done. Its a common part of the process.
The problem is, my opponent refused to go do it. With five days till the fight.
If he won’t go, he will not be approved.
And he won’t go.
The promoter canceled the fight.
He said this guy won’t go do his final meds and its obvious he wants out of this fight. Even if he got this med test done, there’s no way to be sure that he wouldn’t find some other way out.
Opponent will not get cleared.
And that’s final.
I was so mad.
I was mad because I had just spent four hours a day working harder on this than I had ever worked on anything. I was mad because I hadn’t worked at anything for a month and was broke. I was mad because I never got to go visit my beautiful wife out in Stratford because I was training. I was mad because I had already paid for a plane ticket for Marc-Andre Drolet, my corner, to fly out and corner me. I was mad because Billy Martin and Marc-Andre and Sergio Cunha and Michael Lapalme and Geoff Gervitz and Bojan had worked so hard to prepare me and I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to win for them because this bum wants to say ‘yes’ to fights but look for a way out with 5 days to go, a way out where he can say ‘It’s not my fault, my meds didn’t get accepted’.
In retrospect tho, I think I was just mad because I wasn’t getting my way. I think I was being a child.
I think I wanted so bad to write the end to the story of my own fight journey and I wanted that end to be perfect.
But we don’t get to write our own stories. We have to accept the story that gets written for us.
I wanted so bad to step in the ring and defeat the man who beat me in my first fight, to have a big party in Ottawa as an extended family of WRECK and the big Ottawa gym that’s home to many of my friends, OAMA, to thank all my coaches and my friends and all the people who helped me, and to take my commentary chair going forward on a great high note with a meaningful win.
I wanted what I wanted. And I wanted it how I wanted it and when I wanted it.
But, as I said, we don’t get to write our own stories.
I was being selfish.
And I was so mad, so bitter, that I kind of freaked out. There was talk of a replacement fight, but I said no. I’m a preparation junkie, and not the kind of guy who’s really cut out for confidently taking a tough one on short notice, but maybe I should have done it. Maybe I did the right thing turning it down, the guy was above my level in some ways, but maybe I did the wrong thing.
The promoter had pulled the fight, canceled the match-up entirely, because my opponent wouldn’t do what he needed to do to complete his meds, but there could be this other option. A speedy 20 year old kid who is a wizard in Muay Thai but green everywhere else needed an opponent for his MMA debut on the same card.
Here I was in great shape and so excited to fight. But right away I didn’t like this fight. I talked tough but all I was seeing was reasons to say ‘no’. Maybe I was letting my selfishness think for me, or maybe I was doing the right thing, tough to say.
I didn’t like it because I had no time to prepare and preparation is immense for me. I didn’t like it because he was a lot better than me in one big area, and I had no footage on him in the other areas. I didn’t like it because I wasn’t focused on a mobile leg kicker, I was focused on a right hand lead fighter who likes head kicks. I didn’t like it because he was literally less than half my age. I didn’t like it because it would be a very different game plan, and I’m a game plan guy who analyzes everything and has to have a plan for everywhere.
Even more selfishly, I didn’t like it because I selfishly wanted my last fight to be about me, about my fight, my win. This kid was starting his journey, with hundreds of his family and friends fans from his big Thai wins cheering for him. And he was from the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts so, instead of being extended family to my friends from OAMA, I would be there trying my best to start one of their own’s career with a loss. This fight would be about him. I would be some 42 year old guy with a losing record who everyone was hoping the home town guy would beat so they could celebrate. This was not the final fight I was looking for.
I was selfish. I wanted what I wanted.
I said ‘no’.
I woke up this morning, after three or four good meals and 18 hours sleep, and realized the lesson in this path may have had nothing to do with my opponent not doing what he had to do and getting the fight pulled.
Maybe the opportunity was not lost when my opponent flaked out and that fight was pulled, but maybe the real opportunity just arose at that moment.
What if the real opportunity was to fight Jeff, the young Thai specialist?
What if my bitterness and selfishness and anger at the situation tainted my vision? What if I couldn’t see what was in front of me?
Maybe the opportunity to step in and face this young guy was not the wrong last fight for me, perhaps it could have been a beautiful last fight.
I could have stepped in and given a legit young prospect a great battle in his first fight. I could have helped the show make one good fight out of two failed fights.
Clouded by anger, I imagined that my friends at OAMA would have seen me as an enemy, but they would not have. They would have seen me as a friend stepping in to give a great young kid a chance at a tough fight. They would have been happy and thankful, not angry and resentful.
And I could have celebrated a great run doing the thing that I loved and doing it for the right reasons. I could have celebrated my stint as a fighter being one of these fighters I admire so much, the ones who take last minute tough fights.
Maybe that was the real opportunity here.
I guess I’ll never know.
Now I’m sitting on a couch here in Stratford writing instead of fighting.
There is definitely a lesson here. Maybe a few. I dunno.
Maybe there’s a lesson here about tests, maybe a lesson about selfishness, maybe a lesson about not always getting what you want, who knows?
Ultimately, I realize that the way I feel here, all sad and disappointed, is just in my head. Getting to celebrate my last fight by beating the man who I lost the first one to means something very special to me, but doesn’t mean anything to the rest of the world. Really, to anyone but me, it was a bottom rung fight between two older guys with losing records.
But to me, this meant everything. It was to be a defining moment in my life. Now its gone.
For now, that’s what I will take away from this shitty week.
This week I am reminded that some fighters can feel very intense emotions, and some things that don’t seem that big or important can be very deep, very meaningful, and very painful to fighters.
In the future, when I see fighters in the days leading up to the fight, I will understand that they could be going though some stuff that’s pretty heavy to them that the rest of us don’t understand.
I feel pretty shitty working so hard and ending up with nothing, but maybe that’s the experience I’m meant to learn from. I dunno. Maybe somehow that’s supposed to make me a better person.
I’m gonna hang out with my wife for a few days and relax and plug back into life. I’m disappointed I’m not fighting, but I’ll be calling fights soon enough and I love that and that’s what I’m best at anyways.
Maybe there will be a great last fight out there for me, a night I can compete and enjoy, and maybe there won’t.
I love this game, I love this sport, I love this job, and I love the people in it.
I’ll keep learning stuff and keep trying my best to contribute.