An Idiot With a Deathwish: Why a Well-Off Punk from the South Wants to Get in the Cage

I'm not Jens Pulver. Fighting isn't in my blood, it's not the only thing I know how to do, and I don't carry the burden of a soiled name.

I'm not Rousimar Palhares or Jose Aldo, either. I wasn't born in the slums, never had to claw my way through each and every day.

I'm  an asshole from Texas who was lucky enough to be born into a good financial situation. No expense has been spared for my education, from the stuck-up boarding school in Ohio I chose for high school to Vanderbilt University, the fine, expensive institution that has the misfortune of me reducing the average intelligence of its sophomore class. I'm pursuing a career in mechanical engineering and am doing well enough in school that, combined with the connection my family has developed through the years, a well-paying job in a company like Lockheed-Martin isn't out of the question provided I don't crash and burn between now and 2014.

Physically, I'm nothing special. I'm 5'10" and, after a summer of knee rehabilitation and a brief period spent training at former champ Jesse James Leija's gym, am consistently breaking 150 pounds on the scale for the first time in my life. I'm not thick in any sense of the word, and you could only call what I have a six-pack if I flexed with all my might, hadn't eaten in the past three hours, and you were feeling charitable. My right knee is shot, despite the fact that I can't even legally drink yet, as training accidents have forced me to have two surgeries on my meniscus this year. My cardio is garbage; I can barely go two solid rounds in a sparring session, and my hands are down by my waist after the first one.

So why do I want to throw all those prospects away, strap on a pair of gloves that offer all the protection of wet tissue paper, and try vainly to knock someone out before they send most of my brain cells careening into the audience?

Just a note: I'm not writing this in any official capacity, not as Patrick L. Stumberg, prelims preview writer and occasional editorial provider. This is me, Johnny WF, JMMA nuthugger and professional Fedor apologist, feeling moderately crappy and having the urge to regurgitate the crap that's going through my head right now. I'm not asking for pity or understanding or anything of the sort; I just want to get this stuff out.


I got really into fighting a couple years ago, in my senior year of high school. Stupid as it sounds, the initial push came from a Japanese comic called "Hajime no Ippo", which is about a kid taking up boxing and climbing through the ranks along with the amusing jerks he calls friends. It's chock-full of boxing references, and so going from there, I learned about my favorite boxer, Thomas Hearns. I started watching his fights, learning more about the fight game and spreading my interest to include Hagler, Duran, Foreman, Frazier, and the other greats of the past; I knew a handful of names, but before this, if you asked me what kind of fighter Foreman was, I'd have probably said "I dunno, probably fights like Ali".

I found MMA soon afterwards and was fascinated; the extent of my UFC knowledge beforehand was seeing a commercial for a Wanderlei Silva fight while browsing the local channels, Googling his name, and thinking that his record didn't look all that impressive. The first event I ever watched was UFC 108, and the only name I recognized on the entire card was Gilbert Yvel from having read one of Seanbaby's articles. I picked every single fight wrong but enjoyed the entire show, from Jim Miller dropping and subbing "Bang" Ludwig to Paul Daley committing a war crime on Dustin Hazelett's face.

I started following rabidly, always loving the PRIDE highlights above all else and developing a fanatical devotion to Fedor, Mirko, and Big Nog.

Yes, that means that since I became a major fan, Fedor has never won a fight. Interesting how that works out.

The desire to train came soon after; I'd been introduced to a wonderful boxing coach whom I still train with when I can, but I dreamed about getting in the cage and learning the crafts beyond the Sweet Science.

I intended to spend an upcoming Spring Break boxing with my coach, but a shattered elbow from an accident at a school carnival shut that down. Then, once summer rolled around, I trained but, due to wisdom teeth removal, couldn't spar at all.

Getting to Vanderbilt, I found the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club and eagerly joined in. The second practice I went to, I was still pretty stiff from the first one, and while rolling with a far more experienced associate, I was placed in an Achilles Lock.

Something popped before I could tap out. My knee was shifting out of place, but I kept going to practice because I was having too much fun. I went to the doctor some weeks later, was diagnosed with a sprained MCL, took a couple weeks off, and got back in the game. My knee was still shifting, but the doctor said I was okay, so I took her word for it.

There was a little sports bar near my school where I could catch every event; inside, they had one of those machines that gives you a score based on how hard you punch. While watching UFC 121 (after having suffered through UFC 119 and literally crying as I saw what was left of Cro Cop lose to Frank Mir), I challenged a friend to see if he could outpunch me.

After a couple tries, I fouled up a punch and hit the bag with the second knuckle of my right thumb. I lost range of motion and it hurt quite a bit, but I waited until Cain destroyed Brock before heading off to the hospital to get that checked out. I was diagnosed with Gamekeeper's Thumb, which I later discovered (from a different, more competent doctor) was completely wrong. In fact, with the way I had injured it, it was literally impossible for it to be Gamekeeper's Thumb. Presently, it's nearly 100%, but it was a pain for quite a while.

Then, one day in December, my knee gave out in practice and I couldn't walk. Two guys I knew, one of whom I had barely interacted with, practically carried me down to a car and carted me to the ER, where I had to have a morphine drip just to stand the pain of straightening out my leg. The guys who took me are some of the best people I know and proof that not everything is crap these days.

I staggered through finals, came home to Texas, had my meniscus repaired, toughed out a week of immobility,returned to school, and began rehabbing two days a week and occasionally slipping off for some light BJJ. All this time, I did everything I could not to miss a single event; for some reason, the sports bar near the campus shut down, leaving only a 21-and-up bar to watch UFC 124. After a Chemistry final, with a huge brace on my yet-to-be-repaired knee, I stepped in and accidentally let slip that I was too young. I asked if they would mind me standing outside the window and watching from there; they said no.

So I spent ninety minutes outside in winter, watching Thiago Alves outclass John Howard, Mac Danzig murder Joe Stevenson, and Matt Riddle make a fool of himself against Sean Pierson before they relented and let me inside.

Score one for pity points.

After rehabbing and pulling through Spring semester, I returned home for a brief time before heading back up to Tennessee to spend time with my grandmother, who coincidentally lives five minutes from my boxing coach's gym. I intended to spend the whole summer honing my hands, having gotten leave from the doctor to box provided I wore a sleeve on the injured knee.

On the first day, I was having a good sparring session when I took a step backwards and felt my knee give way. I called a halt, returned to my grandmother's, and tried to sleep it off. In the morning, with my leg still sore, I experimentally bent it with my hands and felt something tear.

Back to Texas, another surgery, more rehabbing, and here I am.


So that's what got me interested in the fight game. Why I actually want to get in there and do it for a living is more complicated.

I'm not really sure myself; the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. I'm sure at least some of it is repressed self-loathing and a larger part is my desire to prove myself as strong after getting bullied earlier in life.

The biggest parts, though, are probably laziness and selfishness.

When I look at what it takes to be an engineer, how much must be balanced and how much work must be done and how if I mess up, people die, I'm appalled. I am a lazy individual; I'll get work done, but I'm an abysmal self-motivator. The more I look at office life, the more I start dreading it. To me, the simplicity of "wake up, train, shower, train more, go home, eat dinner, sleep" sounds like paradise, even if it's a physical nightmare.

The selfishness aspect is exemplified by the fact that I'm perfectly okay with leaving a piece of myself in the cage everytime, of letting years of my life get beaten out of me. This may be because I'm young and stupid and have no respect for my own mortality, and maybe when I get my clock truly cleaned for the first time I'll rethink it, but that's where I stand. Regardless of how it affects those around me, I really yearn for a simple life where the dress code is Muay Thai shorts, my performance reviews are $70K checks I may or may not get, and the only motivational speech I hear is my coach telling me,

"You're doing what you love and you're getting paid for it. You worked to get here and you're living your dream. See that bastard on the other side of the cage? He wants to take that away from you. Go get him."

Seeing Big Nog slam his hands into the mat, roll onto his back, and scream after submitting Cro Cop is the embodiment of everything I want: that one, perfect moment where everything I've done comes to fruition. I love MMA, everything about it, and to be a part of it is something that I will tear myself limb-from-limb to accomplish.


So that's it. If you were ever wondering why a scrawny loser with a high GPA and a Dungeons and Dragons hobby would want to get his skull caved in by burly men in front of the whole world, that's why. A handful of things I should probably tell a therapist, a blatant disregard for my own well-being, and the desire to, just once, get pulled off an unmoving foe by a referee, feel the weight around my waist, look the world in the eye, and say,

"I'm still here. What else you got?"

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