Read the first in this series here.
MMA often disproves that macho line about acting one’s size—certainly an even more dubious measure of wisdom than acting one’s age. Technique can make a child of a hulking giant, swaddling him down and cradling his once terrifying bulk into a sweet embrace that ends in a lullaby and sleep. For that brief moment in the cage or on the mats, the universe is brought back into proportion, makes one remember that absolute sense of right and wrong we had when we were six and the bad guys always lost, no matter their speed or strength or hideous malice. Of course, one must not fall for the lie that size doesn’t matter because it definitely does, and you don’t want to find out too late that a two hundred-pound brick-fisted opponent might as well be two hundred pounds of brick.
A fight isn’t real until your name appears on the white board in simple dry-erase marker: dry-erase because the fight will most likely be rescheduled many times before the final date is set, and it’s never as final as you’d like it to be anyway since most fighters can tell you a story about an opponent disappearing after weigh-ins the night before, or worse, vanishing the day of the fight, never to be seen again. At the moment, the board simply reads, “Rob Sucks” with three arrows pointing for added emphasis, but you know one day soon you will walk into the gym and reflexively glance at the board and there will be your name—your name and a date—nothing more. Nothing more is needed: a name, a date, a fact. You don’t know why your throat catches—you knew it would be there. In fact, you have been waiting anxiously for the board to be updated since you agreed to the fight a couple of weeks ago, ever since your coach approached you with the specifics, which in the amateurs never amounts to much. If you’re able to find a fight or two on Youtube, you are lucky. Most of the time, the opponent—whomever it ultimately ends up being—is nothing more than a man to meet on the mat, someone who’s spent weeks marked in black, or red or green in the grip of your name and a date.
The most important part of the fight is the ride over. Long before the walk-in music and the constant trips to the bathroom is the ride in a down-and-out and duct-taped Ford Explorer on its last legs but tempered like a kickboxer’s shins. No menacing opponent’s face, no worst-case scenario looms larger than your coach’s voice as he becomes the dad you never had—even if your father had been man enough to do his job without complaint or promise of return. The talk never varies and you are surprised to find adventure is not really the color of blood, nor is it the dark of the sea or the lure of distant lands, but a series of sweet platitudes long since memorized and unremarkable in every way, as unremarkable as the back seat of that bruised-blue Explorer where your problems were always serious, always solvable, but never small.
Photo: Sassom fitness MMA by Benicio Murray