Open Mouth Insert Foot
It’s been nearly ten months since my MMA fi ght quest began. And in that time, I’ve come to learn quite a bit, both about this incredible sport and myself. But of all the newfound knowledge I’ve amassed, the one factoid that bears the most weight is simply this: I am absolutely, positively, 100% certain that I am NOT cage fi ghter material.
Does that mean I’m abandoning my plans to climb into the Octagon to fi ght? Hell freakin’ no! Once I agreed to take on this challenge, that was it – the radar was locked on and there is no self-destruct button. And please understand, I’m in this to win it, not simply to make an appearance, take my ass-kicking with a smile, and then slink back to my desk to write this series’ fi nal installment just as soon as I’ve been released from the hospital. Granted, I have no illusions about what the likely outcome will be – c’mon people, I’m not a complete idiot – but I’m also not going into this adventure with a defeatist attitude. Confi dence plays a huge role in any sport or competition, especially fi ghting, and I am wholeheartedly confi dent in my skills and abilities. At the very least, I’ve got a puncher’s chance. Now, will that translate into a victory inside the cage? That remains to be seen. But my mindset is that I will not only survive the encounter, I will obliterate whoever or whatever is standing across from me!
However, positive mental attitude and bravado aside, I am reasonably intelligent enough to understand and appreciate my limitations and overall place in this sport. I’m a fan, fi rst and foremost. And my relationship with this publication has given me an opportunity to delve into the MMA world to glean a perspective a scant few people will ever get the chance to explore. Because of that opportunity, I am unfl inchingly clear of my own pecking order within the sport’s hierarchy. So I say again, I am defi nitely not a fi ghter.
First, there’s the “whatever happens, happens” side of the equation. Simply put, I don’t enjoy hurting people. I’m not suggesting others in the sport take pleasure in the process of beating the living shit out of their fellow man but, with any contact sport, especially pugilism, participants must be fully accepting of the outcome. When two people climb into a ring or cage to exchange blows, there is a very real possibility that one of them – if not both – will become seriously injured. Personally, I have no desire to put myself in that position on a routine basis. Were one of my strikes to lead to a degraded quality of existence for another person, even someone I didn’t really know or care about, that occurrence would haunt me for the rest of my days. That professional fi ghters can permanently shelve such a moral dilemma, or at least look past it long enough to concentrate on their task at hand, is a rare trait, one that I most certainly do not possess.
On the fl ipside of the injury equation, I don’t want to get hurt, either – a legit possibility that will defi nitely be in my mind when I eventually climb into the cage. While I have done some truly crazy things in the past in the pursuit of stories – out-of-cage diving with great white sharks, base-jumping, motorcycle ice-racing, purposeful incarceration in a Mexican prison, among others – I don’t have a death wish and, as I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve elected to shy away from many of the “out there” storylines I covered in my youth. Now, whenever an editor calls with a, “Have I got a gig for you!” pitch, I look before I leap.
And then there’s the aggression factor. Anyone who really knows me is fully cognizant that I am a true Atype to the core. Not sure if it’s my New York roots, my screwed-up genetics, or my desire to accomplish all the goals I set for myself early on. But forced aggression in the fi ght game is a horse of another color. Sure, if someone were to threaten my family, or attempt to infl ict bodily harm on an innocent person or animal in my presence, I would defi nitely respond accordingly. Or if I was forced to defend myself and physical confl ict was the only viable solution, no problemo. Win or lose, I’m not about to back down from any of the aforementioned situations. But that doesn’t mean I’d like it. After all, I don’t go out looking for confrontations. However, I understand the vagaries of life and I’m well aware that we don’t live in a protective bubble. Shit happens and sometimes you need to fi ght fi re with fi re, become a monster to stop a monster, that sort of thing. But therein lies the difference. Repeatedly climbing into a ring or a cage to do battle with a welltrained adversary requires a certain amount of intestinal fortitude. To do it once, for a story, just to see how I’ll react to the experience is one thing. To do it regularly, to earn a living, no friggin’ way! The same can be said for the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who put on their uniforms day after day after day to provide the blanket of freedom we cherish yet so often take for granted. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their efforts and their sacrifi ces. Words alone don’t do it justice. I know I sure as hell couldn’t do it.
Dedication is next – physical and mental. At age 38, my body doesn’t respond the way it used to. Funny, I’m actually in the best shape of my life now – even better than when I was in high school or college – yet I’m still far, far away from being in the same physicality stratosphere as a professional athlete. The toll continuous MMA training takes on the body is like an exacta box of soft-core and hard-core torture with a willing victim. Heck, I got injured (sprained MCL, torn meniscus) during a light sparring session – wussy, patty cake exchanges compared to some of the all-out combat I’ve witnessed in the gym. And therein lies another major issue for me: my body simply isn’t accustomed to a fi ghter’s regimen.
According to striking expert extraordinaire Vince Perez- Mazzola, just to be profi cient in throwing a punch (or a kick, or any specifi c physical movement for that matter) requires somewhere in the realm of 3,000 to 10,000 perfect repetitions. Sounds ridiculous, I know, and I questioned that logic, but for neurological programming (oftentimes referred to as muscle memory) to take place, the physiological evidence supports the statement. And let me tell you, I haven’t even thrown a fraction of that number of punches or kicks. Were it about banging out articles on my laptop, I’d be home free; by now my fi ngers have got a mind of their own. But for mounting a proper pugilistic attack, I’m way behind the curve. And that training applies not only to delivering the blow properly but also to conditioning the body of the puncher/ kicker to handle the impacts. Why do you think drunken bar brawlers often break their hands or wrists? Trust me, it ain’t because the recipient of their animosity had a granite jaw!
But I’m getting off course a bit. Dedication in the gym takes on new meaning when you’re training for a fi ght. Pounding out reps on the bench press or muscling through “curls for the girls” is not usually part of the standard exercise regime for MMA fi ghters. Kettle bells, raw strength drills, fl exibility training, offensive and defensive scenario drills – fi ghters need workouts that will help them be badasses, not simply look like them. And then there’s the whole nutrition and sustenance side of training. Bottom line, I love to eat – what I want, when I want. Granted, I normally eat pretty healthy. I watch my fat and carbohydrate intake. I’m defi nitely not a Twinkies-andpork- rinds kind of guy. But I also like to splurge on an occasional piece of coconut cream pie or Caribbean rum cake or even a nice big bowl of fettuccine alfredo. Fighters don’t have that luxury. Give me pina coladas, mango daiquiris, and Guinness over sport-specifi c replenishing drinks any day of the week. Hell, you should’ve seen the looks I got in the gym when I was drinking light beer from a pitcher between my squat sets. I didn’t realize that was inappropriate behavior!
I could ramble on forever, citing reasons why I’m not of the same ilk as those who play for pay in the cage. After all, that was the whole purpose of this series of articles. I wanted to experience what they experience and report my fi ndings honestly and accurately. Anything less would be a total disservice – to you and ultimately to me. I’d like to believe I’ve done that; the innumerable e-mails I’ve received telling me I’m out-of-my-gourd crazy for trying this seems to indicate that, if nothing else, I’m on the right track. And as my confrontation deadline looms large, I am both nervous and excited. Only time will tell how I will respond when the cage door slams shut, leaving me mano y mano with a trained individual intent on pounding me into oblivion or choking me into the Land of Nod. As the prominent saying inside The Ultimate Fighter training center declares, it will be, “As real as it gets.”