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Keyboard to the Cage: Ep. 4 - Focus & distractions

Check out the fourth episode of this SB Nation original series, where journalist Eddie Mercado gets honest about the distractions stealing his focus, and how Dustin Poirier helped him overcome them.

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Welcome to the fourth episode of Keyboard to the Cage: A journalist’s journey to pro MMA! This video series will document my journey through a fight camp in preparation for my professional MMA debut at SFL 42 on January 31, 2020.

Episode 1 explored exactly what I’m doing here, and also introduced my coaches and teammates. In Episode 2, I went and supported some of my guys as they had some MMA matches of their own, and captured some of what goes on behind the scenes. For Episode 3, I got in some sparring rounds, endured some hellacious pad work, and also discuss with my teammates some of the common fears associated with getting into a fight.

In this installment, I’m approaching fight week and run through some of the major distractions I’m dealing with leading up to my match... which are ample.

Some of these focus-stealers include:

  • Friends and family hitting me up for tickets, asking about camp, or just seeing what’s up. All of that comes from a good place, but it’s a double edge sword.
  • Getting the weight right
  • Nutrition and diet
  • Staying healthy
  • Recovering
  • Fine tuning strategies
  • Overthinking
  • Dialing it down
  • Ex girlfriends

To manage these distractions, I’ve really had to pull myself away. It’s not because I don’t love or care about my peoples, it’s just that I have a job to do and I will genuinely be risking my life out there. This sport requires 100% dedication and focus, or you could die in the cage. That’s just the reality of it.

It’s important to have a tight inner-circle around me that really understands that I have to be completely selfish in this season. All of the support from those outside that immediate circle is appreciated, but at the same time, I have to block out anything that’s going to take away from your focus. Whether it’s friends, family, ex girlfriends... anyone around me that isn’t completely on board, I have to just push away.

I learned a valuable tip for managing distractions from Dustin Poirier when I interviewed him before his UFC 242 with Khabib Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi. He told me that each camp he draws a circle, and places everything that he can control on the inside of it. The things beyond his control go on the outside. Periodically throughout camp, he would reference that circle to remind himself.

There’s many things that are trying to take away from my focus, innocent or otherwise, so keeping the mindset focused and strong is my biggest priority coming down the stretch.

Online gambling site BetOnline.AG has betting lines for my SFL 42 fight. I started out as a -260 betting favorite, before dropping as low as -180. My line has puffed back up to -260 since then. As for my opponent, Will Holtzclaw, his moneyline began with an underdog tag of +200. It fell to the +150 mark before rebounding to its initial offering.


I want a deeper appreciation for both the sport I love to cover so much, and the athletes that risk their lives for their dreams. It’s easy to sit here and critique and ridicule fighters for bad performances or lapses in fight judgement. I believe competing in an MMA bout myself will give me a better understanding of what they have to go through, both in preparation and inside the arena. I gained a little bit of insight in December of 2019 when I traveled to Thailand to train at Tiger Muay Thai and compete in a pro Muay Thai bout out there. It was truly eye opening, but striking is just one facet of MMA. I feel like I need to get a mixed martial arts fight under my belt to curb my curiosity.

Another important ‘why’ for me is that I never want to live with the regret of never trying, or sitting in a rocking chair when I’m 80 years old saying I could have, I should have, or I would have. I want to look back and say I did that. Tomorrow is never promised. This is a fact. I want to do my best to live life to the fullest, and what better way than knucking in a cage? If I happen to inspire at least one person to pursue their dreams in the process, well then it’ll be totally worth it.

Also, I have a lot of little tiny humans looking up to me in the form of six nieces and two nephews. I want to prove to them that anything is possible if you drop the excuses, silence the fears, and put forth your best efforts. It’s easy to be afraid of failure, but easy doesn’t equate to fulfillment. The truth is, I’m just a regular dude without any special talents. The good news is that you don’t need talent to work hard or have an unwavering passion. I want to be proof of that. Inspiring humans is my ‘why.’

Why not? (Excuses):

  • None.

The match:

  • Eddie Mercado (0-0-0) vs. Will Holtzclaw (0-0-0): Middleweight
  • Three five-minute rounds
  • SFL 42 on January 31, 2020 in Norfolk, Virginia

Training regimen:

  • Jiu-Jitsu with Diego Bispo - 6x world black belt champion
  • Muay Thai with Harvey Grasse - Duke Roufus product
  • Wrestling with Seldon Wright - Old Dominion University product
  • Strength & conditioning with Andrew Delcarmen - Certified monster

How to watch:

  • The video series can be seen on Bloody Elbow in article form, along with their and MMA Mania’s Facebook page.
  • The fight itself will be available on in PPV form. Click the link to purchase. If you happen to be in Norfolk, Virginia on January 31, 2020 then you can come watch live at the Chartway Arena across from Old Dominion University.

Making this possible:

SFL 42 fightcard:

Main card: (Pro)

Mitch Aguiar vs. Mumia Abu Deyali: Welterweight

Kedrick Harris vs. Kaine Tomlinson Sr: Welterweight

Thomas Blair vs. Elias Briley: Featherweight

Alan Stephenson vs. Sam Eure: 165 pounds

Ryan Parker vs. Ricky Thompson: 190 pounds

Eddie Mercado vs. William Holtzclaw: Middleweight

Prelims: (Amateur)

Evan Stephens vs. Zion Tomlinson: Light Heavyweight title

Pierre Ba vs. Matt Hicks: Bantamweight title

Adrian Soto-Perez vs. Joseph Huggins: Lightweight title

Justin Spyres vs. Brandon Eldridge: Welterweight title

Alistair Patterson vs. Jeffrey Summers: Lightweight

Manny Fernandez vs. Emanuel Thompson: Featherweight

Seldon Wright vs. Conor Mosby: Welterweight

Kaine Tomlinson Jr vs. Kyle Hall: Welterweight