Sunday, September 18, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Fighter

The theme of this story is:

Persistence and Sacrifice

To get in the mood for this, please watch the following 24 second video clip:

Now THAT'S exactly what this is going to be about. This blog is going to take you on a journey. A journey through the mind of an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter during an MMA bout. I will be using fictionalized characters, but the Persistence and Sacrifice will be anything but fiction....if I do my job right, that is.

I apologize to anyone out there who knows MMA (or competes in it) if I don't do my job as a writer, and fail to capture the true essence of the qualities needed to compete in the gruelling sport that is mixed martial arts.

And so, all of the preamble now behind us, let's join our two fighters in the cage. The referee, 'Big' John McCarthy, is about to signal the start of the bout with his famous line:

Gentlemen! Are You Ready? Are You Ready? Let's Get It On, Guys!

I look into my opponent's eyes as I cross the cage to meet him head on in the middle. His eyes are set; he's ready and determined to win. I am wearing an identical expression. It's important to let the other guy know that you're ready to bring it. What my face doesn't show, I think, as I reach the middle of the cage and touch gloves with my opponent, is the pain in my lower back from a nagging injury. I want to fight. I am ready to fight. My back does not, and is not, but it must, and I cannot let him know that. My opponent is like a predator in the wild, and I am like his prey; any detection of weakness and he'll be all over it, trying to capitalize. It's not that he wants to hurt me; it's just the nature of the game.

I'm now in the middle of the cage. We again touch gloves, and there's no backing out; the fight is on. He and I circle eachother, trying to get a feel for the fight. What is it that I bring to the table that he needs to be aware of, and vice versa. I try to concentrate on this vital part of the puzzle as we circle the cage. I watch his every movement. His footwork, his head movement, his hips, everything. I want to know what he's planning, where he's going, and yes, I want to know if he's injured, because I, too, will capitalize on that. I try, as I said, to concentrate on this aspect of the fight, and I am mostly succeeding, but I'm not 100% focused. For one thing, my back is throbbing. If most people had this injury, they would stay home from work, trying to recover. They wouldn't dream of going into the office like this, let alone fighting a world class athlete.

Another problem keeping me a bit distracted is the nagging doubt. Injury aside, I just don't feel 100%, and haven't for a while. I'm coming off of my second loss in a row, and my camp has noticed that I'm just not bringing it like I used to. I can't pin point exactly what's holding me back, and it's frustrating. I try to set these thoughts aside but they are always there, lingering in the recess of my mind, casting shadows of doubt across my thoughts.

He throws a jab. It connects. I throw a counter straight and he avoids it easily, then counters with a quick one two that leaves my face stinging. Both punches land. Not good. Apparently, the feeling out has given way to a fight.

I throw an inside leg kick, he checks it. He throws another quick jab, which I avoid. He follows it up with that straight right of his I trained for in camp, and I avoid it. Another jab. Miss. I counter with a lurching two punch combination, both of which miss, and he nails me with a right hook that casts a shadow across my vision and leaves me momentarily stunned. Panicked, I shoot for a takedown, and he sprawls, quick as a cat, seeing the desperate attempt coming. I scramble backwards and, sensing blood, he gives chase, now throwing with bad intentions. I block two, dodge one, and then bam, he nails me with a hard left uppercut and I'm staggered. Quickly, he closes the distance and suddenly he's raining punches down on me, trying to finish the fight.

He's throwing straights, uppercuts, hooks. They are coming fast, and they are coming hard. I know I need to act fast and so, out of desperation, I secure a clinch and try to take a few seconds to breathe while I have the chance. I throw a couple of knees to keep him on the defensive and buy myself a few extra seconds. It works, and I start to put a bit of distance between us, knowing that the clinch is his dominant position, when suddenly I'm nailed with a hard knee to the midsection, and then and uppercut lands squarely and my ass is on the canvas, with my legs halfway up the cage. I'm in a sort of slumped over sitting up position, and I'm rocked.

Time slows. I hear the roar of the crowd. I hear my corner screaming at me to do something, anything, and quickly. I hear his corner screaming at him to finish the fight now, what are you doing- now! I taste blood. My back is throbbing. And all of it seems far away, unimportant. My opponent has just dropped down into the side control position and is now throwing rapid succession hammerfists, (that too, seems far away, although certainly not unimportant) the majority of which I have thus far had enough residual awareness to block, but any fighter will tell you that can change, and fast. The referee is next to us, watching closely. If I stop intelligently defending myself, he will stop the fight. No one wants the fighters to get seriously hurt, and the ref is there to make sure that doesn't happen. A stoppage, of course means I lose.

I'm going to lose.

Suddenly, time speeds back up and the immediacy of the world around me returns. Sound amplifies, my senses are heightened, and I feel a rush of adrenaline coursing though my body. My survival instincts have just kicked in.

I thrust my hips up and to the side and at the same time, use my feet, still on the cage, as leverage, and push off. My opponent's advantageous position is gone in an instant. I scramble back to my feet and before anything else can happen, the bell rings, signalling the end of the first round. The crowd is deafening. I return to my corner, and I feel invigorated. I cannot wait for the second round to begin, and, thirty seconds or so later, it does.

My opponent comes charging in, as I expected him to. He's still caught up in the immediacy, as it seemed to him, and everyone else in the building at the time, of the victory. Unfortunately for him, I have completely regained my composure. In fact, it goes beyond that. My throbbing back, my doubt, those things are now resigned to the very back of my conscious mind. I'm not just in the fight now; I'm in it. And I'm in it to win it.

His charge ends with a flying knee which I avoid, and he then rushes at me, throwing several quick jabs in succession. I backpedal, avoiding them easily. I circle around him, utilizing my footwork, and when he circles in the opposite direction, closing the distance, I throw a hard leg kick that lands with an audible smack. I throw a second one, this time to the inside, and he checks it, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Checking the kick has left him with one leg momentarily in the air, and I immediately shoot in for a single leg takedown, catching him off balance, and easily take him to the ground.

We land with him on his back, and me on top, and he's got me in a half guard. He immediately works to ensnare me in his full guard, and I position myself in such a way as to disallow that from happening. I press my weight down on him and start to work for a better position, wanting to get into the full mount position and then hit him with my ground and pound technique, which would hopefully, end the fight, leaving me with my hand raised in the air for the first time in three fights.

We work for a minute or so, both trying to improve our position, a time during which I throw a few weak punches, trying to soften him up and slow him down. Another thirty or so seconds pass, and I capitalize on a mistake and grab the side control position, which is a more dominant position that the half mount I had, although it's not the full mount I was gunning for. I slowly start to rain down punches on him, but he's still fresh and alert, and I don't want to punch myself out trying too hard to end the fight at a time that's just too early, so my punches are timed and not at full power.

Another minute passes, and suddenly, he makes a desperate escape attempt and remarkably, his back is momentarily exposed. I quickly capitalize on this turn of events and now I'm in a much more dominant position, and he's in big trouble. I push all my weight down on him, flattening him out, so that he's stretched out, his entire body flat to the canvas, limiting his potential for escape. Limiting it to the point, in fact, where a win for me is not assured, but certainly very much a possibility, and I work to suppress the excitement that arises at this thought. I need to be careful at all times, and refrain from letting my emotions override my caution.

Calmly, rationally, I assess the situation. I have one hand wrapped around his midsection. The other is around his neck, although he's pulling down on that hand, ensuring that I cannot try for a choke. Single armed chokes are difficult anyways, and I know that I most likely would not be able to secure one on him at this point in the proceedings. I know that, if I want to end this by submission, my best option is a two armed classic rear naked choke. In order to do this, I need to get him to drop his right arm, which is currently up near his neck, protecting it from just such an attack, and so I begin to throw punches into his side.

These punches are clean, crisp, and hard, and it only takes 3 of them for his hand to travel down to his side. I quickly reach my hand up, but before I can get it into position, his hand is back in place, foiling my plan. I revert back to the punches, and this time he withstands them for a longer duration, knowing full well what I am up to, and not wanting to grant me the opportunity I was working for. Still, he can only withstand so much, and after landing seven of them, he again lowers his hand, trying to time one of my punches. He is unsuccessful, and this time I am not. I get my arm in place, wrap my hand around the forearm of my dominant limb, and begin to squeeze. It's not a perfect choke, as his left hand is still interfering somewhat, but it's still in fairly tight, and should suffice. As this is happening, the ten second warning is heard.

Hearing this, we both know that the outcome of this fight is hanging in the balance. We know that if I don't get him to tap, or put him momentarily to sleep, as the colloquialism goes, he will come back fresh in round 3, the fight at that point tied, and the win up for grabs. And so the goal for him simple” hang on for ten seconds. My goal is also simple: I have ten seconds to secure victory. And so I squeeze for all I am worth, and count time in my head. My anxiety level rises with each passing second, and then, just as I count seven, I feel the glorious touch of my opponents glove on my arm, as he taps, trading the win for the ability to breathe.

I win.

I fought through doubt, pain, fear, and an onslaught from a gifted striker in the first round, and my perseverance, persistence, resilience and sacrifice paid off. I fought through both mental and physical barriers to achieve my goals. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the distillation of what this is all about. Fighting through the barriers placed in your way in order to attain your dreams.

I didn't just beat my opponent just now. I also beat myself.

Elated, I check on my opponent. He's breathing heavy but unhurt. We embrace in the center of the cage, both relishing the mutual respect one warrior gives to another, as well as the roar of the crowd, which conveys to use that they are appreciative of what has just transpired. We exit the cage one by one to the sound of their appreciation and respect.

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