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My First Fight: James, Pt.2

"The prospect of eating another back fist doesn’t fill me with joy. But my coach, Dan, and my teammates give me some great advice. If you’re going to lose, go out fighting."

Sleep the night before was impossible, maybe the worst of my life.

My teammate competing before me is one of my students. He makes short work of his opponent in spectacular fashion, getting a knockout from the back with a barrage of punches. Now I have the added pressure of following his performance as well.

Time is a paradox, moving both slowly and quickly. There is a long period of time between my teammate’s fight and my own. While I wait in the back, time drags by at a snail’s pace. After I get changed, it rushes forward like an avalanche. As I wait outside the cage for the match before mine to end, I’m in a swirl of chaos. I have never weathered such panic in my life. I can barely see or hear anything.

I recede completely into myself, flitting constantly between every aforementioned frame of mind I could inhabit. One moment I am a Viking, the next I’m panicking, the next I am a zen warrior ready for death. My mind feels fragmented like weak glass.

Then I step into the cage and it all goes away. I’m still nervous, but it’s more like a faraway noise. They announce my name and I smile. I don’t know what to do with my hands, what gesture to make. I’ve seen fighters do countless things, but none of them seem to fit how I feel right now.

I touch gloves with my opponent, who does not appear to be nearly as overweight as he looked in his videos. The bell rings, and everything I had prepared and trained for vanishes.

I am a grappler. The plan is to charge forward, set up takedowns with long shots, and get my opponent against the cage. I set up nothing. Basically, I close my eyes and rush forward. I do get him against the cage, but I learn quickly that it is rather difficult to force a man your equal size and weight to fall down, especially when that man is full of adrenaline and does not want to fall down.

I feel like stopping the match, taking him aside, and saying, ‘Listen dude, maybe you didn’t notice, but I did everything right. I’ve got you against the cage, can you please sit the fuck down now?’

Eventually, my opponent gets off the cage. Then I discover I am very tired. I shoot the most pitiful wrestling shot of my life. My opponent defends easily and tags me a couple times for it.

Near the end of the round, he throws a spinning back fist. I can say with confidence that was the hardest I have ever been hit in my life. I remember smelling o-zone, funny enough. I also remember seeing literal stars and thinking to myself, ‘Oh wow, it’s not just an expression. I can actually see stars.’

I remind myself that the fight is not over and bring my mind back to the task at hand. I am in a great deal of pain. I wonder if maybe I’m just being a baby, but I hear the crowd’s reaction to the strike landing clean and realize they must’ve thought it was a pretty good shot, too.

I put my back to the cage and try to goad him into a grappling exchange. Luckily, he doesn’t take the bait, and the clock runs out. The first round is over.

Again, I feel an odd distance from my thoughts and emotions. If the next two rounds continue like this, I know I’ll be tired and possibly very hurt. My friends will see this, and for weeks afterward, I’ll have to tell everyone that I lost my first and only MMA match.

I observe this as a mundane fact like, ‘It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.’ I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t cause the fear and dread I felt before stepping into the cage.

The prospect of eating another back fist doesn’t fill me with joy. But my coach, Dan, and my teammates give me some great advice. If you’re going to lose, go out fighting. They would bring me back on my shield.

I am in this cage, and I have accepted that for the next six minutes, I will give my life to this.