Last Saturday (Nov. 16, 2019), I won my third professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fight. It’s been 16 months since my second bout, and I have so much to talk about.
Right away, there’s the obvious hurdle that has to be cleared: the brain surgery that kept me out of the cage for more than one year. There’s also much to be discussed on topics like having a half-dozen opponents pull out or decline the match altogether, having back-to-back camps, injuries, and my first true weight cut as a professional Flyweight.
Oh, and the fight itself.
To briefly recap the brain surgery, I found out just after my last fight in July 2018 that I had a benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma inside my skull, slowly growing and squeezing some important nerves. Surgery was the best option, and I had the tumor removed on Nov. 26, 2018, in a successful 12-hour operation.
The cost was a loss of hearing in one ear, a chunk of skull replaced by titanium mesh, and balance complications. I had to learn to walk again and take roughly six months off from real training. I wrote more about the surgery in the recap of my trip to Vietnam, a journey only made possible because of the forced layoff and one that will be relevant again by the end of this article.
I was given permission to lift heavy weights and train hard in May and allowed to fight in September, so I quickly targeted Global Knockout (GKO) 14 as my return bout on Sept. 7, 2019. I said yes to two opponents with undefeated (2-0) records, but they declined. I was matched with an opponent (4-4) who accepted before pulling out 11 days from the fight. For this fight, one potential opponent (1-0) agreed to fight but then broke his hand. I think I went through six potential opponents total before the one that stuck.
I worked really hard over summer to prepare for the would-be September fight. I got my ass kicked quite a bit. Getting back into real fighting shape was not easy, and at times, there was definite doubt. By the end of my attempted camp, however, I felt largely back to normal, so there was no hesitation to attempt to get on the next GKO card.
Here’s the part where writing about fighting is difficult. Honesty has always been my primary goal with these recaps, to provide an encompassing and accurate look at the experience of fighting MMA. However, any time a fighter mentions injuries or camp difficulties, it’s written off as excuse-making.
Fans and pundits alike make fun of the canned, “I’m in the best shape of my life! Great camp!” answer that every fighter gives when asked, but it’s the default because any alternative is shit upon.
Still, honesty remains the goal, so I’ll take my shots. Back-to-back camps is rough on the body. I strained my MCL in the last couple weeks before my September fight was canceled and felt instability until just recently. I broke my big toe on the second day of this camp and was unable to throw a left kick for about a month. Four weeks out from the fight, I was merely drilling in wrestling, but landed wrong on a throw, scoring myself a grade 1 AC joint separation.
I talked with Mike Piekarski, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and physical therapist who runs the awesome Instagram account Doctor Kickass. He taped me up and advised that based on the schedule, the torn ligament should be healed by fight night so long as I didn’t screw it up worse before then.
That ruled out most martial arts training. For more than two weeks, I ran distance or did sprints every day. I did one very light sparring session 10 days before the fight with two training partners I trusted. I was able to hit mitts and do light drills for the final couple weeks, but otherwise, I didn’t wrestle, roll jiu-jitsu, or spar live at all for half of my eight-week camp.
It’s a really good thing I won the fight, because otherwise it would be hard to write that bit without getting blasted for being an excuse-making punk. Injury aside, I cannot complain about my preparation. By fight week, my shoulder felt healthy. Running and sprints are boring and miserable, but I’ve never entered a fight in better shape.
Being unable to grind in the gym also made it easier to operate at a caloric deficit, so my weight was great, too. I started camp the absolute heaviest I have ever been in my entire life, fattened by canceled-fight-depression and copious amounts of cereal. Four weeks of hard work returned me to my usual walk around weight of 145 pounds, but with the injured shoulder and additional roadwork, I was at 136 pounds 10 days removed from the fight.
The concept of fighting at Flyweight again really excited me. Due to day-of weigh-ins in amateur fights and the randomness of my first two pro bouts, I had not bothered doing a true weight cut to 125 pounds since 2015, when I was quite a bit smaller. However, I train with lots of elite Flyweights and Bantamweights at Team Alpha Male. I know their walk around weights and how much they cut, and as such know I’m perfectly built to fight at Flyweight — not too heavy, not too light.
I also looked at the weight cut as an opportunity to prove my dedication and willpower. My diet overall is quite healthy in camp, but for the final 1.5 weeks, it was meticulous and perfect. I ate increasingly smaller portions of food every three hours when not fasting intermittently, cut out carbs and sodium completely when the diet plan called for it, and drank up to two gallons of water per day.
As a result, my water cut was small and easy: just six pounds split over two sub-hour sauna sessions on Thursday night and early Friday morning. My girlfriend sat with me for both sessions to make sure I didn’t black out and die, also helping out by capturing a Boomerang of me dumbly dancing to Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round.”
After the morning session, I weighed 125.5 pounds on three separate scales. After an hour drive to the casino and another hour of waiting, I weighed 126 exactly on their scale! I definitely could’ve lost more water if need be and did still officially make weight, but I was butt hurt.
My personal beef with their scale aside, I’d like to take a minute here to shoutout Global Knockout for being a great local promotion who runs its show very well. Another huge positive is that they had an excellent camera crew on hand. I have like four decent pictures previous to this bout from my entire fight career, but thanks to the wonderful folks at WAFFLE HOWSE (great name!), I got some professional shots from the weigh-ins and fight night!
Immediately after weighing in, I drank the first of my three recovery shakes, which was disgustingly salty and not at all the liquid salvation I had envisioned. I also had the chance to shake my opponent’s hand and introduce myself. Before, during and after the fight, I have nothing but good things to say about Trent Phillips and wish him the best moving forward.
After some real goddamn food over the next 30-ish hours, I returned to the casino at about 136 pounds. Ideally, I would regain a few pounds more than that to match most UFC Flyweights, but this being my first true cut, I was hesitant to cut too much water and risk screwing it up.
More important, I felt great. I have blabbered plenty despite a genuine effort toward concision, so let’s get to the fight already! Currently, I only have a highlight video, and some of the clips are chronologically mixed up, but I explain it all below.
My gameplan was roughly to flow with wherever the fight went, and I ultimately ended up doing that. Early on, my opponent was more aggressive than I expected, and we both landed a couple good jabs. I ripped a few hard kicks to the calf — at least two I’m confident landed perfectly — and believe at least one right hand scored decently. I also backed straight up too much.
Either way, he shot in along the fence. I used a guillotine choke to shift his focus and stop the shot, grabbing an underhook immediately when I released the neck. I used that underhook to spin him to the fence, worked some pretty good knees, and was looking for an opportunity to take him down. I had a body lock, which is one of my go-to paths toward the takedown, so I went to throw my hips in and lift him into the air.
That’s not what fucking happened, though. I don’t know what happened for sure. I don’t know if I slipped on GKO’s insanely slippery mat (everyone was falling all over the place) or if I just tried to force the lift too much. I don’t know if my opponent pulled some ninja shit.
I do know I basically pulled mount.
From tape-watching, I knew my opponent had good jiu-jitsu, and a real nice triangle choke specifically. At one point in camp, I had a dream that involved watching myself fight my opponent, do well, and then get triangled in the final seconds. I woke up and promised myself there would be no damn triangle choke.
So, while I was still plenty calm, that’s what was running through my head when I pulled mount. I glued my elbows to my ribs, waited for him to attempt a punch, and spun away, giving up my back.
I am a back control guy with 10 years of jiu-jitsu experience. When I started jiu-jitsu, I was a tiny teen with zero athletic ability — I’ve spent literal years with people on my back constantly. I don’t feel particularly threatened with someone on my back. It’s hard to make this statement without sounding like a jackass, but I generally only get submitted by black belts/black belt-level no-gi guys — and they’re usually bigger than me!
I definitely did not want to be there, but I looked at my cornerman Andrew Coyne and gave him a little nod to let him know all was well as I began fighting hands. To his credit, my opponent is very good from back mount himself, as he quickly wrapped up a body triangle and went after the neck.
My philosophy toward escaping back mount is different than most. My main concern is winning the exchange and landing in top position. There were times when I probably could have used the mat to scrape my foe off and landed in my own guard. I didn’t try, though. Instead, I kept switching sides while hand-fighting for inside control, because I knew I would eventually hit my favorite hip heist into top position, and I wanted to win the round back.
It took somewhere from 90 seconds to two minutes, but I spun into top position. My opponent tried to bail and stand up, but I threw both hooks in almost immediately and applied heavy hip pressure. In the span of less than five seconds, we had completely switched positions. When he avoided the flattened out back mount, I immediately attacked with the two-on-one method of trapping the arm that is immensely popular in sport jiu-jitsu right now, particularly with Gordon Ryan and the Danaher group.
It worked, as I was able to pin an arm underneath my own body triangle. There are several technical keys to submitting an opponent from back control, important things like head position and hip pressure. Perhaps underrated, however, is the value of being a dick — Vagner Rocha has made a career of it on the mats.
Controlling one of my foe’s arms with my legs and a wrist-ride on the other, I tried to work the smother choke that Rocha uses often. It wasn’t working for me though, nor was I able to smoothly slip the arm under when he moved to breathe through the smother. I moved to option B, which was to use the bony notch on the wrist to wrench at the soft cartilage of the nose and expose the neck.
That didn’t work perfectly either, but between the two attempts, I was able to gain a decent wrap on the neck. I released his wrist, switched palm-to-palm grip, and extended. The choke sunk in a bit deeper. I switched my hands once more to the classic grip, and continued applying hip pressure.
The tap came.
There were three things I really focused on during the layoff when I wasn’t allowed to do more than drill: the calf kick, straight jacket set up/two-on-one back control arm trap, and general clinch work with wrestling legend Lee Kemp. Outside of that tiny moment where I pulled mount like an absolute twat, I was able to use all three of those techniques/concepts in this fight, which I’m really proud of.
Otherwise, it just felt great to be in the cage. I’m guilty of underselling the difficulties of surgery and recovery at times, but it was mentally and physically taxing. While on the sidelines, I stayed focused and disciplined and worked my ass off. As a result, I was able to make the walk 10 days shy from the one year anniversary of surgery.
That was a lot more important to me than the result.
One of my big focuses for this entire fight week was to live in the moment and enjoy the experience — appreciate the career I nearly lost. I suck at living in the moment. I always know how much time is left in an activity even when I’m enjoying myself. Even on fight day/week, my mind is usually occupied on what’s next before the fight has happened.
I’d like to think I was a bit more present this time.
- My post-fight plan comprised tacos at Mas Taco Bar with friends and family, a local spot with fancy street tacos built from various food cultures — i.e. butter chicken on naan taco, Korean fried chicken on a bao, and of course all the classics — that are only $2 a pop during late night happy hour. I told my visiting cousin that I expected to eat about 15 tacos. He did not believe me. I ate 14 before everyone started leaving, but I had a bowl of cereal when I got home — does that count?
- I came home from fights and celebrations to write about UFC Sao Paulo, finishing up a little before 2 a.m. PT. Once again, I don’t think anyone else does this!
- My usual post-fight tattoo tradition continued with a couple new additions to my leg of impossible-to-understand-without-explanation musical references. The Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention join the list of tributed bands — which now stands at eight total! Speaking of, my walkout song was the classic jam “Miss You” by the Stones, which seemed extremely appropriate given the layoff.
- I entered all the names from the banner (check out Colour Printing!!!) into a random selector I found online, and the winner is none other than long-time MMAmania.com troublemaker Joben! Congrats my friend, and again, a gigantic thank you to everyone on this site who supports me in one way or another!
- After the fight, I spoke with Trent quite a bit backstage about how the fight went down and what we were thinking at different points in the fight. The next day while I was at brunch destroying a gargantuan plate of chicken and waffles, Trent messaged me and asked about places to eat around downtown Sacramento. I gave my recommendations and invited him by, and later in the afternoon, he stopped in to catch the end of my tattoo session. We grabbed beer at a nearby bar and discussed the fight in further detail, as well as the martial arts game as a whole and respective struggles in camp. Apparently, we both planned to kick the shit out of each other’s lead legs, strategies that on Sunday we were both regretting a bit. In addition, I had to ask if he knew what happened when I tried to throw him — we still aren’t sure!
Awesome guy, and I hope to train with him in the future, whether while visiting Xtreme Couture or here in Sactown.
On Christmas day, I leave for Thailand with my girlfriend for six weeks, half of which will be spent exclusively on training and learning Muay Thai. The details are still being ironed out, but there’s an excellent chance that I will be writing and/or vlogging about that experience here on MMAmania, so please stay tuned! I greatly enjoyed writing about my time in Vietnam, and the responses were fantastic, so I believe this project could turn out to be something really great.
There aren’t any local shows really between now and Christmas, so that sets the fight schedule for when I return to the cage. The last three weeks of my trip will be hard training, so I should be ready to fight by the end of February/beginning of March. Hopefully, GKO will host an event around that time, as I’d love to compete for them again. My team mates have a long tradition of winning belts at GKO, and I’d like to continue that trend someday in the future.
It’s good to be back, motherfuckers.