Fighting is, well, a difficult thing to be a part of. And nerves are very much a part of that. Even with over fifty professional fights, I still find myself a bit nervous every time I head out to the cage or ring. Yet, I also feel at ease. There is a part of all of us, as human beings, that seems to give us a desire to fight. To me, it’s not about incapacitating another man, though. It’s about simply seeing that when it comes to using your fists, your body, I am the superior man. It’s so much more mental than physical.
Heading into the Shine Fights Lightweight Grand Prix, my career had been on a downward spiral, one which my personal life seemed to be mirroring. I had won my last bout, but before that, I had lost eight of my last ten fights. And without going too much into detail, one could say my personal life had been in shreds, too. To me, the Grand Prix was a way to right some wrongs in my career. Most importantly, it was a way for me to be able to see my daughter again. And that’s what it’s all about for me. Focus had come into my life. My past problems with the law…those were behind me. My mind and body were focused on training. I was thinking about my daughter every second I could, and that drove me to train even harder. When the night of the Grand Prix came, I was ready.
First up for me was Charles Bennett. “Krazy Horse,” as he’s most well-known, is not an opponent to take lightly. I was willing to trade, but I wanted the takedown. And I got it. He swept me, which surprised me, and when I latched on an armbar, he tried to spike me on my head. But nothing was going to stop me. I stayed focused. I saw his head in the right position, and I caught him in a guillotine. He again tried to slam me on my head, but I had it in and he tapped. I appreciate the fight Charles gave me, but right then I knew this would be my night. Everything was falling into place.
Next up for me was Dennis Bermudez. I didn’t know much about him, but I had heard he was a good wrestler. I saw very early in the fight that this was the case. He had no intention of striking, and went for a takedown pretty quickly. Unfortunately for him, his inexperience gave him away. I slipped to the mat, and I encouraged him to follow. To my shock, he actually followed me down. Big mistake. I was able to utilize my positioning to eventually get a sort of chin-in choke. Bermudez defended well, but I got the hooks in, and eventually a body-lock on. Bermudez is young, and I think he’s got a good career in front of him. But, again, I knew this was my night. I was prepared to fight forty minutes if I needed to. The thought of my daughter was spurring me on. And now I was in the finals.
My team had been behind me, my girlfriend was behind me, and I was ready to take the Grand Prix title home with me. In the final with me would be Carlo Prater, who I’d actually submitted once before, back in 2004 in another tournament. Carlo had lost earlier in the night, but was in the finals with me as an injury replacement. I like Carlo, but all I saw in front of me was the last obstacle standing in the way of me seeing my girl. I wouldn’t be denied, not tonight. Carlo is a tough guy, but he’d already fought two full fights. I saw my opening early on when the fight went to the ground. We tested our wills against each other on the mat. I was able to maneuver him into position for the rear-naked choke, and though he fought it, he had to tap.. I had done it.
The emotion just started pouring out. I couldn’t help it. I wept, I smiled, I laughed, and ultimately I went over and paid my respects to Carlo. It was all so humbling. But I’d done it. Thanks to my team, my friends, my girlfriend, and most of all to my little girl. I’d be on the next flight to go see her. And I didn’t feel nervous about that at all.
In the end, I felt like I’d been raised from the dead. I felt…resurrected. And in a lot of ways, it was a factual way of thinking about it. I had redeemed myself as a fighter, and as a man.