Last weekend (Sat., June 6, 2015), I competed in my second amateur fight at the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
But before I get into that, I want to take it all the way back to Thursday, which was the real start of my weight cut. I began the week at right around 135 pounds, meaning I had to lose 10 by Friday.
Waking up at around 130 on Thursday, I ate little except for a salad before my mitt session with Coach Joey Rodriguez, Team Alpha Male's boxing coach. Usually, I sweat off at least a couple pounds from hitting pads with him, so I figured with a skin-tight rash guard and hoodie on, there was a decent chance I'd end the workout at 126.
With the one pound allowance, that would've meant I was already on weight, meaning I could eat something small and drink some water that night. Instead, I trudged through a punishing mitt session, but ended up weighing a disappointing 129.5 after the workout.
As Coach Joey aptly described the situation, "Shit."
Without getting too whiny, that meant no water or food that night. In turn, Thursday night was definitely the most difficult to sleep through. I can handle stress and nerves fine, but trying to drift off while thirsty and hungry is a different monster.
Regardless, the next morning eventually arrived, and I woke up at about 127.5. Luckily, my apartment complex has a sauna, so I slipped into a sauna suit and sweats. I sat in for around 25 minutes and came out just a few ounces over 126.
In short, refueling at all was still out of the question.
Before long, the time to leave for the event came. Now, it's important to note a simple fact: the vast majority of MMA promotions -- amateur, professional, or unsanctioned -- are total shit shows in terms of organization. There's a reason someone like Burt Watson is so valuable.
To its credit, this event seemed to be keeping its head above water. However, it faced a separate issue, as it was in support of the military and took place on an active military base. That meant everyone who wanted to get into the fights (fighters, corners, family, etc.) had to send a bunch of personal information to the base weeks ahead of the actual event.
Naturally, this kills ticket sales, also known as the income of your average amateur fighter.
But more importantly, it resulted in plenty of delays. Most of the fighters, myself included, spent at least a couple hours waiting in the visitor center, unable to get onto the base. While waiting is definitely a big part of the fight game -- my personal least favorite part -- it'll still test the patience of dehydrated and hungry athletes.
If this read has been a bit of a downer so far, then I'm doing a decent job.
Once again, to the promotion's credit, they did another smart thing. Rather than wait for the official weigh-ins, which at some point was delayed an hour to 5:30, we did them a couple hours early once all the fighters had arrived. Instead, of sitting around doing nothing for two hours while on weight, we were all given a chance to drink and eat before weighing in again and squaring off.
Which is why I look moderately happy in the picture below. At the real weigh-ins, I made it at 125.1 with underwear on, meaning I would've also made weight had it been for a championship belt. A few hours later, I was up about three pounds.
After the official weigh-in, all the fighters waited around and bonded. It was a cool experience; everyone was going through very similar circumstances. There were only eight of us and it was a small room, so fighters and their opponents all talked and joked around trying to pass time.
I can happily say that my opponent was/is a very respectful person and more than friendly. I don't need animosity to fight.
Nonetheless, in the "for show" weigh-ins later on, I still gave a serious stare down, which was returned in kind.
The final noteworthy moment came when one of the men running the event began going over the schedule. At some point, the words "... and at 4:30, Urijah Faber will come by to do a meet-and-greet with the military members." While Urijah definitely does stuff like this fairly often, I had to laugh.
The night before, I talked to Urijah after my mitt work. We talked about the details of the fight -- including the event location -- and Team Alpha Male's head honcho wished me well and gave me some advice for the fight. At the same time, I'm fairly certain he had no idea that he was scheduled to come onto the base the next day. The general is a very busy man.
It was a welcome surprise.
Buy your Cody 'No Love' Garbrandt shirts now, before he's the champion of the world and the cost goes up.
Anyway, my dad and I then left the base. To refuel, we had dinner at Mikuni's sushi, which is the unofficial -- or official? I don't know the exact relationship -- home of our team, There's a couple of rolls named after members of the team, and my personal favorite is the "Money" roll.
Sleep came much easier on Friday.
After a decent-sized lunch of grilled chicken, rice, and sweet potatoes, it was back to the base, where things would get decidedly more interesting.
While this fight card was unsanctioned, it was sold to me as having the same rules as CAMO, which is California's regulatory body for amateur MMA. I had to do all the same medical work as if it were a CAMO event, so I had no reason to doubt that.
The only difference that I knew about heading into the event was that it was three minute rounds instead of two, and I was more than okay with that. As it turned out, the gloves were also four ounces rather than six and there were no shin guards at all.
So, basically, it was a professional fight with shorter rounds and a few minor rule differences (no elbows or heel hooks).
While it was surprising -- and the analyst in me would've liked this information ahead of time to plan -- I didn't feel intimidated. A big benefit of being at Team Alpha Male is the huge number of training partners coming in from all over the world to visit. I know from training around the room that I'm ready to fight professionally, but in-cage experience is still important.
In our locker room, a walleyball court, I talked to the fighters, listened to music, and played Pokemon. As the co-main event of an admittedly tiny card, I had some time to kill.
When I was a couple fights out, I warmed up with one of my cornermen, professional flyweight, knockout artist, and Team Alpha Male Japan ambassador Mike Nakagawa. I hit some pads, worked on my game plan, and practiced some of my favorite combinations. Meanwhile, my other cornerman Amadeo Novella -- strength coach to many of the top fighters on the team (and me!) -- played some music and got our supplies together.
After I got a light sweat going and felt comfortable with the snap in my punches, I bounced around until it was my time to go. Before long, I was walking to the ring -- did I mention it was a ring? Found out the day before -- underneath the slamming drums and distorted synthesizers of Sacramento's own experimental hip-hop/punk/noise/industrial group Death Grips.
Here's the fight video. Turn your sound down first, and my thoughts/walk through of the match are below.
Heading into this fight, I was extremely calm. Some fighters want to be hyped up and aggressive before they enter the cage, but that isn't my style. For better or worse, I'm a thinker and need to have a clear mind.
My opponent was 0-2 prior to this fight, but he hadn't fought since 2013. Two years is a life time in MMA, but I still figured I could pick up something from the one fight video I found. Namely, he stood in karate-influenced stance and seemed to play the outside counter game. While I definitely expected him to be much better than that fight showed, most people just get better at their style, so I planned to take out a Southpaw that kickboxes from distance and patiently waits for his opportunities.
With that in mind, my game plan was pretty simple. I wanted to pressure him with punches and level change feints, walk him into the
cage ring, and take advantage with punches and/or takedowns. In the process, I would follow up inside low kicks with off-beat punches and step into knee strikes.
None of that happened, except for some level change feints.
He came out of the gate quickly, and I circled away. Almost immediately, I stepped on the lower rung of the ring and stumbled a bit like a moron. As I recovered my stance, he slammed a high body kick into my chest. Apparently, when you put a divot into my chest muscle with your bare shin, my immediate reaction is to drop into a double leg.
From his back, he rolled into an armbar not long after. My arm was fully extended, but I kept enough pressure on him that he couldn't use his hips to finish. I briefly applied pressure from the top, stacking him on his neck. Despite the danger, I felt quite calm, and told myself that he would get tired breathing as rapidly as he was. Then, I spun around him, spinning my arm out and landing in side control momentarily.
From there, I hunted for a guillotine and d'arce choke as he recovered guard. I tried to pass a few times, but he did a nice job of either holding on tight, rolling for the arm, or trying to buck me over whenever I did create some space.
For me, this fight was a mixture of my improved wrestling courtesy of TAM and a healthy dose of Hassett Love (the rough part of jiu-jitsu my home gym is known for).
Nonetheless, I managed to land some hard punches. Whenever I managed to stand up in the guard, I'd throw all my weight behind a punch when he pulled me back down. Elbows would've been hugely useful here, but that's life. When he did grab an underhook and squeeze, I relied on all the mean, grimy, but ultimately legal techniques I learned back in my days at Hassett's Jiu-Jitsu. I ground my forehead into his jaw, dug my knuckles into his cheek, and repeatedly slammed his head into the mat with my shoulder.
Most of the fight took place in this position, so I'll just go through the highlights.
Round 1 continued...
- After slamming my way out of an armbar, I tried to fall back into a knee bar. He twisted, and we landed in the 50/50 guard. Unfortunately, heel hooks were illegal. Instead, I tried a few footlocks with little success. But the highlight of this exchange was when we both sat up from the position, I landed a hard punch that caused the crowd to cheer.
Getting some great corner advice that I've since mostly forgotten. Damn, my thighs are pale...
- I landed a sharp front kick to the body to start the round, but he countered with a nice calf kick and follow up punches.
- On the mat, the only real exchange of interest came when he successful rolled me from half guard. I kept my underhook deep and tried to come up on a single leg, then re-rolled him when he based his knee out to defend. I've been doing that series of sweeps since I started jiu-jitsu.
- I partially landed a high kick to start the round, then we traded some punches. His knee to the body didn't land cleanly, but he then went for a headlock throw. I tried to go with it and swivel around into back mount -- that's how I won my debut -- but he stayed on top.
- I'm really proud of the triangle set up I used from the bottom, and am equally annoyed that I didn't finish it. With my feet in the hips and controlling one hand, I waited for him to punch and timed it perfectly. He hunkered down initially, but some punches from my back let me move into a good position to finish.
- The problem came when he moved his leg up. I thought he was looking to lift and slam, so I hooked the leg. Instead, he wrapped me up with his legs and prevented me from moving. We then stalemated for we too long. I even gave the ref a look to stand us back up.