Part 3

I flew back up to New York and quickly remembered, amateur or not, sparring is a far cry from a live cage fight. The night schedule made it impossible to find an open gym to train at, so I set my alarm an hour early every evening and locked into a pre-shift jump rope routine followed by post-shift interval work on the building’s stairs; jump rope focused on breathing and the stairs quick footwork; morning shadow boxing with egg weights helped my shoulders remember how to move fluidly.

Every minute on shift not tasked with patient care or supporting my team on the floor was spent online watching videos or running timing drills with techs and nurses. As the date drew nearer I began spending the first part of each shift managing conversations with Combat Night's staff and teammates as potential opponents shuffled in and out.

Eventually it was time to fly home, still with no opponent locked in. I left an hour early from my last shift to make it to the airport on time, scarfed down some overpriced food and settled in for a two-hour nap before landing in Florida. We touched down a little before 11 a.m., leaving just enough time to make it to Elevate MMA’s noon practice. Our team had found a building in Jax Beach, so I downed a 5-Hour Energy (no lectures on caffeine please), grabbed my gym bag and headed to the mats.

The first practice back felt like a dream. Feeling the sun on my face and fresh air in my lungs, I took comfort knowing I had nothing to think about over the next week other than becoming the most physically dominant version of myself. The quiet, steady energy required during the night shift in an ICU was about to be transformed into a violent expression of discipline. I was surrounded by athletes that had been preparing for weeks and allowed my mind to turn off and reactions take over.

I was home.

Less than 10-days to prepare for the fight didn’t leave any room to skip a practice but my plan for a nap before 6 p.m. drills went out the door when my body decided that if the sun was up, so were we (the 5-hour energy probably didn’t help). I made the most of my clear head space and got in a couple games of FIFA with a buddy before heading back to the gym. Running on fumes and good vibes from 26 hours of movement, my mind stayed off as my body went into autopilot. “Be a strong partner, breathe,” was running through my head like a mantra. After practice I went home and fell into a restful sleep, leaving laundry and unpacking for the morning. Easy day.

I spent the following week preparing my mind and body for combat. Sunrise beach movements listening to my walkout song grounded me for the moment to come. Noon sparring sessions allowed violent reactions to take over. Evening drills set my breath to center my mind. The mats were infused with discipline and focus, I was doing my best to absorb and contribute. 

Weigh-ins came and went without incident. We had a team dinner before divvying up responsibilities for the next day’s gear loadout and set off in our own directions to enjoy the calm before the storm. The fight venue was located in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, at the Scottish Rite Building and the entrance hall was decorated with elaborate art and a sense of history. The warm-up areas were set up in rooms on opposite sides of a large auditorium, which had the Combatagon and production equipment assembled smack in the middle of stadium seating.

Our team dropped gear in the back, the red corner, and made our way out to the cage before doors opened to the public. I shuffled around the canvas a few times, threw my back off the fencing, took a couple shots and called it good. My fight was scheduled second to last on the amateur card and gave me plenty of time to watch as my teammates came out strong and confident against a variety of styles and opponents; each fight showcasing a high level of Respect and talent that is the standard on our mats.

When it came time to start wrapping hands my mind shifted from teammate to operator, mentally aware and present to use my tools efficiently. Very little entered my focus other than breath. Questions were answered with looks, energy met with movement, the brain turned off while the mind stayed fully engaged. Ten days of work and three different opponents gave us no means to thoroughly gameplan. I had to bring the fight to whoever was in front of me and knew to rely on three basics: speed, surprise, violence of action.

The call came back that the fight before mine had ended and I’d be walking out in less than five minutes. The energy of the room picked up a familiar buzz. Teammates became closer, quicker to anticipate needs, prepared to locate and provide anything necessary. We did one last check: bucket, ice, towel, mouthpiece, cup, corners. We shuffle to the staging area. My opponent’s walk out song plays. Only a fighter knows.

Life comes at you fast.

Tim Kline

Tim Kline

TK is a former pararescueman and retired surfman from the Jacksonville Beach Voluntary Life Saving Corps. He has traveled the world on military and humanitarian missions, as well as exploring on his own.