I can't remember what I was doing at 18 years old, but it certainly wasn't fighting in front of several hundred people with no shirt and no shoes on.
But in 2012, men (and even some women) are doing just that, beginning what they hope are fruitful MMA careers that will end in fame, fortune, titles and accomplishments. A select few will break through while the vast majority will fail, but sometimes the pursuit is well worth the risk.
Upon first glance, there wasn't a lot about 18-year-old Garrett Elias that stood out. That isn't meant to be offensive, but for a guy going into his first amateur fight, there wasn't exactly a lot to know. As the Nashua, NH, native stepped into the Global Fight League cage to open the mid-September show, he was like any other 0-0 fighter anywhere in the world: a bit nervous, a bit excited and a bit terrified.
In just nine seconds time, that feeling of being terrified transferred into the people watching the fight, especially me at cageside covering the event.
Elias' opponent was Daniel Monteiro, a fellow amateur also making his debut. In just nine seconds, Monteiro landed a right hand flush on Elias' chin that turned his head sideways and dropped him cold. Like in the aftermath of any other rapid fire knockout, the expected happened. People went crazy, Monteiro was excited and there was a very distinct winner and a loser.
There was one unexpected consequence. As Elias lay on the mat, he started to violently shake. He was having a seizure.
Like you reading this, I've seen hundreds and hundreds of fights. Like you, I've seen guys knocked unconscious, submitted to the point of needing revival and everything in between. But I've never seen anything like what Elias was going through and I'll admit that I've never been more scared or more uncomfortable watching fighting than at that moment.
The EMTs rushed into the cage and the mood changed. The crowd went silent, Monteiro looked on with a blank stare and we all waited for Elias to come around. Not ever haven taken an EMT class myself, I had no idea what I was seeing. Was I watching a man die? Why didn't the medical staff have a sense of urgency? Why isn't he snapping out of it?
Well, if you read up on how to treat those having seizures, the key is being calm. Loosen any clothing around the neck. Put something under the person's head if you can. Roll the person on their side if you can. Then, you have to observe and wait. What seemed like hours passed but it was only a minute or so. Elias stopped shaking and that sudden thought no one wants to have took over. Is he...?
After several minutes, Elias was strapped into a board and stretchered out, slightly moving his extremities and struggling to escape the confines of the orange straps, a welcome sight. An older man next to him, which I think was his father, was getting instructions from the medical staff. The air returned back to the room as he went away to the hospital. As scary a scene as it was, Elias was going to be ok.
The rest of the night went on without a hitch with the usual submissions and a few more TKOs, but nothing like what happened in the opener.
Through a contact, Elias declined to talk about the fight. He sustained a bad concussion, but no serious damage. Not surprisingly, he wants to fight again which to "normal" people seems insane. Perhaps he wants to do so to not have that nine seconds replayed in his head for the rest of his life or because he truly wants to make a go at being a full time fighter. Either way, he's not quitting.
Weeks later, I'm left with the image of Elias in the cage, his eyes meeting mine as his body badly rejected what had just happened to him. With the glut of events we see on TV, we get desensitized to what we're actually seeing: people fighting with real physical consequences.
When Lyoto Machida lifelessly slumped to the canvas after being submitted by Jon Jones, the first thought in my head wasn't about Machida's safety but rather how dominant Jones was. Or how about when Pat Curran utterly decimated Joe Warren? But these guys always get up, right? Well sometimes, it takes them a bit longer to recover. This isn't a video game. It's a very real and very violent sport.
I'm looking forward to seeing Elias' name in local results someday soon, but I'm more looking forward to the result not being "L-KO".