Nick Smiley
Nick Smiley

After working a five-day stint as security in Savannah’s City Market District on St. Patrick’s Day — for those who are uninformed, it’s the world’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration — and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

I had to get two molars cut out following an errant haymaker from a drunk patron. No, I didn’t hit him back, and he didn’t do any damage, other than knocking a crown loose.

I left on Sunday, March 23, heading down to Boca Raton, Florida, to stay with my friend and UFC powerhouse, Todd Duffee. I went into Todd’s BST Gym in Boca around noon Monday and was asked to assist him in a boxing class for five NFL defensive linemen, which was pretty cool in itself.

Monday’s afternoon workout was at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. It was more or less a session to work out the kinks from the seven-hour drive from Savannah to Boca. It was a little awe-inspiring to be sharing the mat with Glover Teixeira, the UFC light-heavyweight division’s No. 1 contender, World Series of Fighting’s Steve Mocco and numerous other UFC and Bellator FC veterans.

We then headed back to Todd’s in Boca, mentally preparing for my first sparring session at ATT.

Tuesday’s sessions began like this — after a good stretch and warm-up, I did a few shadow sparring rounds with Todd. My first all-striking round was with Mocco. Nearing the end of the first round, I realized Mocco knows how to use his distance really well and get up under you. He has an unbelievable motor and this would prove to be a really, really long day for me.

Swapping rounds between Todd and Steve proved to be hazardous to my health.
After the fifth round — and probably the third or fourth time Steve dumped me — it was time to ice the shoulder and prepare for the rest of a very long week. Later, I had an afternoon pad session to finish up the day. I was realizing what it felt like to be the nail in a room full of hammers!

On Tuesday night, my manager Charles McCarthy took me out to dinner to talk shop. I had been a fan of Charles during his UFC tenure, so it was really cool to sit and chat and finally get to meet him. As the week ground on, workouts were up and down. Some bad, some really bad.

Having a constant nagging pain in my shoulder wore on me, as did a chest cold that was getting worse by the day.

Thursday I did sparring rounds with Todd and WSOF’s Scott Barrett. UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione was kind enough to film it all for us at Todd’s gym. After three extremely frustrating rounds, I felt like I was going in reverse. My cardio sucked and my shoulder screamed in pain with every punch.

Every morning I had been waking up and going down to the beach to pray and reflect, and on Friday I felt like I turned a corner.

After a great noon jiu-jitsu session with Parrumpa at ATT and a good pad-work session Friday afternoon, I was stoked that things were getting better. Saturday proved me wrong. We met again with Barrett at Todd’s BST Gym in Boca for some wrestling drilling and everything just fell apart. I felt awful, couldn’t breathe, my body hurt, all in all I felt as though I didn’t need to be fighting.

I was so frustrated with myself that after the session I sat out back of the gym and cried.
Yes, grown men who fight still cry!

Upon getting back to Todd’s, he and I recapped the sessions and I had a revelation — I had been training with an ego.

There is a fine line between competitive nature and ego and he explained to me that the difference is your memory span. Who was I to believe that I was gonna win rounds with these guys?

Here I was, blessed to be able to train with some of the best fighters in the sport of MMA at arguably the best camp in the world, and I was spending too much time worrying that I was getting beat instead of soaking up the knowledge available to me.

Todd put it all out there in plain writing — I had to put aside my pride, pay my dues and then I will get better with every session.

If nothing else was gained from my trip, THIS was a game changer.

Nick Smiley is a pro MMA heavyweight from South Georgia who is preparing to defend his Conflict MMA Promotions Heavyweight Title on April 26 in Savannah, Ga. Follow “Preparing for Conflict: The Nick Smiley blog” each week to read about his journey to fight night. Follow Nick on Twitter at @Nick_Smiley and on Facebook.

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