My first ever martial arts competitions were a couple karate point fighting tournaments in my early teens and a NJ state TKD championship. I managed to win most (if not all) of them, including the 14th annual NJ state TKD championship (as a green belt). I also wrestled for 4 years in high school but never really accomplished anything of note.
Upon moving to Georgia I fought some Toughman boxing before turning amateur and winning a couple novice boxing titles (including the Golden Gloves). I would eventually start my amateur MMA career, take two years off, win an amateur Muay Thai title, fight amateur MMA again, and soon after begin my professional MMA career (November 2001 in South Africa). I even won my one and only pro kickboxing match.
I’m not entirely sure why I decided to fight in the beginning. If memory serves, my brother Adam and I came upon an event in south Georgia and thought, “if we were doing all of this boxing, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, why not put it all together and fight some MMA.” So we went to Griffin, GA and each fought opponents far more experienced than either of us. We both lost, my elbow got popped, and Adam realized he never wanted to fight again. This was February 1999 and Forrest Griffin wouldn’t even begin training with us until later that year.
My pro fight career had its ups and downs. I made (and won) my debut in Johannesburg, South Africa. I fought Daijiro Matsui (Pride veteran) in Japan. I fought up and down the East Coast and eventually gained some popularity including the eyes of producers from The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). It probably didn’t hurt that Forrest won Season 1 of TUF. I won my first UFC fight by submission 44 seconds into the first round. Not only did I win a submission of the night bonus, but it still stands as the fastest submission in UFC middle weight history. My fight with Josh Haynes is still considered one of the bloodiest and earned us honorable mention for “Fight of the Year”. My UFC career (2-2) came to an end after I lost a fight outside the organization and was subsequently given my walking papers in March 2008. I finished my pro career 12-9 and on a three fight losing streak. I’ll come back to why a little later.
Keep reading and I will hopefully get to my point.
Back in 2009 when Adam and I were opening our new gym I had to take a hard look into my motivations for fighting MMA. I was 33 years old, on a three fight losing streak, and questioning whether I should try to get back into the UFC. Did I have the desire to train and sacrifice what was necessary in order to get back on top? Was I willing to fight for pennies in order to chase a dream? Was fighting in the UFC and becoming a world champion really my dream? The answer to all of those questions was no.
When I think honestly about why I fought, and it was likely to my detriment, I did so for a multitude of reasons; none of which ever appeared to become a world champion. I fought because it was challenging, to prove my standing with my peers, travel, meet people, make money, and because I enjoyed being the center of attention. I was never one for the, “I want to be the best in the world.” I dealt with confidence issues and under performed in a handful of my fights. It’s likely that a lack of confidence hindered my ascension to the top of the ranks (whether I was good enough to make it or not). I believe I had the requisite skills to be a contender but I always fell just a little short.
Fighting is dangerous. When I was active throughout my career I put everything I had into it i had, in order to be the best I could be. I spent early mornings in the weight room, worked full time, coached classes, ran a part time business, and even earned a college degree. In 2009 I was married for a year, watched Brian Bowles win a world championship, and moved into a new 7200 square foot facility. I wanted to grow the new gym, help my fighters, and bring the best MMA and BJJ to Athens, GA. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice all of that to chase a dream I never had. And what was the point of fighting 20 year olds (for minimal money) if my goal wasn’t to be the best in the world?
Don’t get me wrong, I had the itch from time to time. I was even scheduled to fight in an 8 man tournament a few years back against a few other old guys like myself. It didn’t pan out and life went on.
After not competing in MMA since my last fight against Brian Baker in February 2009 I began competing in BJJ as a Black Belt in Masters level BJJ tournaments for the IBJJF. My first one was in 2013. I have since competed in the Atlanta Open, Orlando Open, NY Open, a couple of the World Masters in Las Vegas, and a handful of super fights for Kakuto and NFC BJJ. I absolutely love it.
About a year ago I asked one of my close friends, a fellow BJJ black belt, why he doesn’t compete more often. He basically told me that if he wasn’t able to put in the work required to “guarantee” victory, he’d rather just not compete. Basically he wasn’t interested in competing for competing’s sake. I get that argument. Whether it’s training to be a UFC world champion, BJJ world champion, or even a business “world champion”; sacrifices must be made in order to be the best at anything. The difference between me and my friend is that I’m still happy to compete without making the sacrifice to be the best.
I sometimes think about how much better I would be at competing in BJJ if I hadn’t spent all those years focusing on MMA. I realize I can’t make up for that and have come to terms with just trying to be as good as I can. I recognize that if I put in more time on the mats, travel and compete more, lift more, do more road work, and enhance myself illegally that I would be better. Unfortunately, my marriage, relationship with my children and business would suffer as well. I’m not willing to sacrifice the four most important things in my life in pursuit of a gold medal or world championship.
Instead, I look at every opportunity to compete as a way to gauge how good I am while pursuing competition under my terms and my jiu jitsu. Some might say I’m just fooling myself and this is all a way to rationalize why I haven’t been successful. That’s certainly possible. I like to think it’s more about being honest with who I am, what’s important to me, what I’m willing to sacrifice (or not), while still being able to compete, travel, and be the center of attention from time to time.
I look forward to testing myself once again when I step back onto the NFC BJJ mats next Saturday, September 28th, against my old friend Chris Stolzman. See you there.