By: King Eddie
I will go ahead and get the most obvious thing out of the way; I learned I'm not as tough as I previously imagined. Now that we have that out of the way, the story of one man-child's journey can begin.
Much like many newcomers to the sport at the time, I was a fan of boxing. There was just something about a good fight that I loved to see. It wasn't really the brutality of it, I saw enough of that everywhere else I looked. The attraction came from the hope that people like me could make a living actually doing something other than working in the Mill all their lives.
As a young boy, I was smaller than the other kids, and shy as well. I always felt threatened and wanted to find a way out. At one point, I even coaxed a kid to be my bully in order to ward off other bullies. The guy was not really a hitter, and at the time I guess it was a one bully limit. But I digress, I didn't want, or need, or seek out confrontation. I got enough of it at home.
As the years wore on, my father paid closer attention to me. Not exactly the attention I wanted. He never failed to watch me play in the street with the other kids, and later comment on how I should have been more aggressive. Or how I should have kicked some kids ass. It really got on my nerves.
I had never seen him in a fight, so to be honest I felt that if he were going to push me into one, I needed to seek instruction somewhere else. The love affair with Karate, Boxing, and Wrestling began. It occupied my mind and kept my dad at bay. For the time being anyway. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we wanted a front row seat to a kid fight, the guy just wanted to know I wasn't a sissy.
The time came when I was around 13 years old. I had been a state Karate Champion. I had learned a few things from old boxers around the neighborhood, but in the end some kid just pissed me off and I made him pay. It wasn't pure anger or rage that I felt good about after, it was the challenge. He must have outweighed me by 50 pounds, and I put him on his back and beat his face in. I actually felt bad about beating him up, but I felt good about the victory. And as if the stars aligned, it was two weeks later I watched my first UFC on VHS and fell in love.
As the years went by, I avoided more confrontation, but when faced with now way out, I threw a beating here and there. Hell, I took quite a few to be honest with you. But through it all I always wondered how I would match up against a trained fighter. MMA wasn't exactly popular, nor practiced, in my area at the time so there weren't gyms to train either. No sparring, no testing the waters. Not even an opportunity to test my own skills. Thinking back on it now, I guess I was kind of relieved because there was nobody around to really prove to me that I wasn't a fighter.
As I grew, my passion for the sport grew. I began to order PPV's here and there. And before you know it, every single month I was the guy ordering the fights. UFC, Affliction, etc... I didn't care what it was. I just loved the sport. My friends and I would go out into the backyard, as young adults, and have grappling matches to see who would be the champion of the weekend. Those days made us all feel so knowledgeable and invincible.
Out of the blue I was offered a chance to move all the way out to Hawaii. The first thing that popped into my mind was BJ Penn, Kendall Grove, and all the other fighters of the islands that I would be able to train with. I was stoked to move and get my training underway.
When I arrived on O'ahu, I immediately realized there would be no training with BJ Penn. The guy didn't ever really train on my island. I also realized the same about Kendall. But I took on the local fight scene as a reporter instead. I paid close attention to each fighter, to each event, and to each gym, carefully planning my transition into the fight scene.I would think back to all of those days in the neighborhood in the south. I thought of the street fights, the brawls, the overbearing father, and the scars over the years. I thought I was pretty tough.
It wasn't long before I realized how wrong I was. None of those things had ever made me tough. None of those things gave me any edge in any way. After a year on the islands, I finally found a group of guys that I felt comfortable training with. And they showed me just how humble felt. I never had imagined the struggle, and pain, and sacrifice those fighters had to tolerate, in order to just train. Not even compete. . . just train.
Their love for the sport transcended mine, and anyone that I knew of. I watched closely as they worked their jobs all day or night, and spent the rest of the time in the gym. Some even slept there. And not all because they wanted to be in the UFC. . or they wanted to be champ. Rather, it was because they just loved the feeling. They loved what it did for them. They loved the family it created for them around the fight scene, even in competing gyms. The brotherhood, and direction, and challenge grew stronger everyday for them. They didn't need to go look for trouble, or party all the time. I saw that the true fighters didn't fight for the money and the attention it attracted, but rather they fought because they are fulfilled purely through fighting the way that most are fulfilled from the social aspects.
I realized that I was not one of those guys. It was a shot to my heart, to say the least, but in a way it helped me find my place. I just didn't want it bad enough, but I did want to be involved. Over the years now, I have witnessed the birth of superstars, the growth of gyms and teams, the rise of the sport, and thousands of fights. It has put a smile on my face while sitting at the event, and also when I see the young fighters in public with their friends and families, and see the good it has done in their life.
By this point you're likely a little confused as to the point of the story, so I will cut to the chase. When I first came across MMA, I was a young buck who felt I had something to prove and felt I needed to be challenged. Even just being a spectator of this great sport showed me how wrong I was. And as I looked around at all of the lives it had changed, and how many kids in the future would never have to feel like I did, it gave me hope for our future generations. Yes, people will always want to fight. And yes, because MMA is popular there will be D-bags trying to start fights thinking that they are cool. But just imagine how many highly trained good guys there will be then, to put them in their place.
I have witnessed the formation of brotherhoods, and have gained more level headed friends through this sport that I could have at any college or job in the world. I learned that I didn't have to be the one in the cage to earn the respect, I just had to live my life as the fighters do. . . Be humble, be hungry, and stick with what makes you happy.