Competition has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I begged my mom to let me do mixed martial arts, and she finally relented when I was eight years old. After my first Tae Kwon Do class, I was ecstatic. After my first competition victory, I was hooked.
It’s been eighteen years and I’ve lost count of how many long car rides I’ve taken to tournaments, bruises and body aches, first place medals, and last place finishes I’ve had. Through it all I’ve never lost the desire to push myself and look for new challenges. Starting boxing gave me that new challenge; it was a way to take eighteen years of martial arts experience and apply them in a new setting.
I started boxing in 2013 and my first fight was a victory in Athens after about one month of training in a boxing gym. One of the first things I realized once I started boxing was that, when it comes to strategy, there is not a whole lot of difference between Tae Kwon Do and boxing.
You need good footwork and good fundamentals. You want to establish your range early on, you don’t want to be overly aggressive and leave yourself open to counters, and you don’t want to sit back too much on defense and appear passive.
Thanks to my martial arts experience, my punching technique and stamina have been on point since the first day I stepped into the boxing gym. But the tools I used in boxing are different than what I used for Tae Kwon Do; one of the first things I had to adjust to was using my hands in a situation where I would traditionally use my legs.
However, the mental aspect of this training was a challenge to overcome.
I won my first fight, received a W (withdraw) for an opponent who didn’t show up for my second, and then dropped my next two for a 2-2 record (Which felt a lot more like 1-2). My next two fights were a chance for redemption, and, while my third win brought me my first victory by knockout, it was my fourth win that helped me see that I was a fighter.
My fourth victory was a hard-fought battle at the Paul Murphy Title Boxing Tournament on June 1, 2014. The week before the fight, I was in rare form. I went to the gym and forgot how to get tired. I sparred multiple rounds with a couple of different guys and even had my trainer putting me in to work with some guys after I had already done my scheduled rounds.
I’ve never been a big fan of cutting weight right before a fight, so when my dieting had my weight down to 158 lbs – four pounds over the limit for the division I was trying to get to – I decided that I’d take my chances in the 164 lbs division.
When I saw my opponent, my first thought was, “Damnit, I shoulda lost more weight.”
The man in front of me was tall and every bit a natural 164 lbs fighter. I stand at about 5’ 7 inches, and my opponent had at least four inches on me. I’m no stranger to fighting tall opponents, so I stepped into the ring ready to do what I needed to do to achieve victory.
The bell rang for round one, and he went to town on me. Between his longer reach, speed, and great training, he destroyed me in round one.
I got a standing eight count halfway through the round. Towards the end, I spun away from the corner to avoiding getting trapped – I thought it was a pretty decent Russell Wilson impersonation – but the ref apparently thought I was trying to run away and turn my back on my opponent. He took me to the corner and warned me that the next time I pulled that stunt I would get disqualified. That was all the wake up call I needed.
For the first 45 seconds of round two, I fired off nothing but jabs. I had to establish my distance and find a home for my straight right hand (I may be only an amateur, but if you put me in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, I’m not going to win, but I would bet a million dollars that I’ll land plenty of straight right hands by the end).
My right hand found a home on his left cheek and on his ribs. Once I started landing it, everything else opened up. By the end of the round, I had him pinned against the ropes while I fired everything I had. I was punching anywhere I saw open space. My stamina was at a level that allowed me to do it for a good five to seven seconds. The ref pulled me off and gave him a standing eight count.
The bell rang and I went to the corner knowing that round three would determine the winner.
The only thing on my mind at the start of round three were the words of the boxing champion “Sugar Bert” Wells I had heard from the week before: “You’ve got to work the body.” One of my favorite combos is a double jab to the head followed by a straight right hand to the body just before they can put their hands down. If I could establish a crisp jab that keeps his front hand up, it could leave the left side of my opponent’s ribs open to tee off on. That was my strategy.
I came out strong, and I could feel his body slowing down. He was finally giving way on each shot to the ribs, so I started adding extra punches to his stomach and liver with my left hand. At around the one-minute mark, I fired my combo. As my right hand connected with his ribs, he dropped. The ref counted, my opponent got back up, and then he came back for more. So I hit him with the same combo in the same spot again. And again he dropped. This time the ref called it a slip, but I could see the end was drawing near.
I locked onto my sweet spot once more. He kept his left hand close to his body for a while, so I landed a couple of jabs – right hand combos upstairs. As soon as his hand came up, I dropped him with another shot to the ribs. The ref let him up again; however, by this point he was nearly doubling over from the damage his ribs had taken. I could see he was hurt, but the ref let him continue. So, I dropped him for the fourth and final time with another combo to the same spot.
Finally, the ref called the fight – victory by TKO!
I’ve only had one match since then, but it still stands out as my favorite fight. I know how badly I was shaken in round one, and how demoralizing it can be to face an opponent who seems superior to you in every way. For me to fight against that mental adversity, and to win by knockout, is my own personal Rocky movie. I haven’t had a victory in the boxing ring to surpass that one yet.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” –George Addair
George Addair explains that in order to get what you want in life you have to face fear directly in the eye. Exit your comfort zone and face the things that scare you the most. What you want in life is out of your comfort zone, by constantly allowing yourself to become uncomfortable is how you grow as a person. Do something that requires courage and calculated risk and you will be likely to find success in your endeavors.
My obstacles were not as serious as living in an underprivileged community or in poverty – my story relates to overcoming shortcomings in competition and overcoming the mental aspect that I struggled with.
Well, before answering that, one must define what the term ‘success’ means to them and what one’s purpose is when aiming for success. The dictionary defines the word success in two prominent ways:
1) The attainment of popularity or profit.
2) The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
For the most part society synonymously attaches the term success to winning, prosperity or monetary gain as the first definition proclaims, but I believe the point is being missed with that definition. I look at success and identify with the second definition: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose, regardless of money or fame.
My coach Adam Singer elaborates on the second definition and describes success as the progressive realization of a worthy ideal or goal. The key word here being progressive, I believe that people want success immediately and forget that it comes with a journey of ups and downs.
Successful people have the mindset of accepting failure as a necessary learning process, which allows them to take action and correct themselves in the future and in what they truly believe in and are pursuing. It is only truly a failure if you stop trying.
I only say I was a ‘failure’ because I did not accomplish any goals I set forth and never managed to win anything in my years. Many would consider my career as a baseball player or wrestler as successful but the truth is I never actually won anything.
However, I sure did give a valiant effort in all my pursuits. I AM hard on myself but the statements above are facts.
I constantly came up short and damn near quit in my efforts, but I kept trying with each new venture and when I eventually found my true passion I obtained one of my major goals I set in being a champion.
FAILURE definition – to be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal.
My journey began as most kids did; I bounced around every sport from basketball, soccer and baseball in my free time. In my early teenage years I took interest in baseball over everything and began to focus on that in 7th grade. I would play countless games throughout the year from spring ball, to summer and then to fall ball. It was a year round endeavor and eventually got old by the time I hit high school and my passion had run out, but I continued because it was all I knew.
I needed a change of pace.
I had been thinking of taking up wrestling my freshman year before baseball but did not due to the fear of the grueling practices and wanting to play fall ball. I had always admired the mental fortitude of wrestlers and the fact that it was an individual sport with no one to blame for failure but yourself. There was something about relying on my efforts and no one elses I found amusing. When the next year rolled around I decided out of nowhere to just join without thinking and that the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
I fell in love with wrestling and saw success at a JV level early on. In my very first tournament in which comprised of over 20 teams I found myself winning the first two matches on the first day and set up in the semi finals. The next day I would go on to lose 3 straight, place 6th and not even show up to the podium because of my embarrassment. I knew I had many opportunities in the future to get on the top of that podium, but little did I know I would never step foot there again.
When my first year of wrestling ended it was back to baseball, but something didn’t feel right. During tryouts I was preparing to field ground balls at second base and I found myself lost. I found my mind wandering and was more focused on my wrestling posture at second base than fielding ground balls.
By junior year I decided to hang up my cleats before the season even began. I was stepping out of my comfort zone. It was especially hard when my baseball coach pulled me in the wrestling room (not knowing what was happening) to talk. I remember to this day what he said after I broke the news I was done playing baseball. Perplexed he went on “Well, do you have fun in here?!,” Saying sarcastically. I looked at him directly in the eye and said, “Yes, I love this room.”
No matter how tough and daunting every practice was I loved every moment of wrestling, there was something to be said about physically and mentally pushing yourself to the limit only to have to go beyond that in order to succeed. I had found my new passion.
Without wrestling I would have never learned the important life lessons in humility, agony, failure, success as well as all of the ups and downs the sport brings to a human.
I believe it is the most crucial factor in making me who I am today.
My second year I was one of the leaders on the JV team yet failed to make the podium once again individually, yet as a team we had massive success.
This still left me unfulfilled, as wrestling is mainly an individual sport. My senior year I expected to start and dominate until my good friend came out of nowhere to beat my handily in the pre-season wrestle offs. I was upset and utterly confused.
Eventually he would injure himself, which allowed me to start the majority of the year. I worked hard all year and saw some success against mediocre wrestlers but got beat by the top notch guys every time. I felt as if I was so close to the capabilities of these top level guys. Physically I was as strong and athletic, but mentally I lacked what the champions had. I was improving and when my friend came back he wrestled me off for the spot once again.
We had one last team tournament as a team I would wrestle in before Josh came back from injury and we had to wrestle off for the starting spot. It was the team regional tournament and the top 3 would move on to the team state tournament.
We found ourselves in the semi-finals and the winner would go on to the state tournament regardless of the finals result and we had our hands full with the team in front of us. It was decided that my weight class would be the very last to compete, which had me just a little bit nervous. Anyway, when the time came we were down by 5 points and we needed a PIN, or we lose and go home. I began by dominating my opponent but struggled to pin him.
I was devastated. I knew that if my friend Josh (who’s spot I was taking due to injury) would have pinned the man. Now, because of my shortcomings our team was headed home. As they raised my hand in victory, I cried. I did not do what needed to be done and although it was not 100% my fault, I felt like I failed my team.
It was the week before the last tournament and I knew I had to show-out and win or else I would be done. The wrestle-off was intense and I found myself down by 3 when time ran out as I was about to hit a reversal/possible back points which would have put me ahead for the win. Just like that I was done, my career was over. (and worst of all, I found myself injured with a neck problem that wouldn’t allow me to be physically active for months and bad place mentally.)
I had graduated high school and was set to attend Georgia Southern but needed something to fill the void after wrestling. I knew I wasn’t done competing yet – I had only just started 3 years ago in something I became obsessed with. At the end of summer after I healed up from my neck injury I sustained while helping my friend who beat me prepare for the final tournament I started kickboxing two weeks before I left for school.
When I started at Georgia Southern University I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do.
I was indecisive with every endeavor from choosing my major to joining a fraternity or continuing wrestling/MMA, I was lost. I went the safe route with my major, decided not to join a fraternity the first semester and I joined the MMA club immediately.
The guys in charge of the club were well-established amateur fighters and coaches. The first day I showed up with no gear. After a tough practice they matched everyone up by size, gave them gloves, shin guards and pretty much said ‘fight.’ I was scared to death. Not only was this the first fight I would ever be in, I was fighting a taller and much bigger individual. But the second they said ‘spar’ I was lost in my own world.
I loved every second of the pure one on one aspect of unarmed combat, who can impose their game plan and come out the victor. There was no one else in there to lay blame on if something went wrong. It was new and it was real. This was the coaches’ test to see if you truly wanted to do this, and boy did I!
When second semester rolled around I decided join a fraternity, stay sober and was practically non-existent in the club. I was set to have my first fight but that fell through quickly with all of my obligations.
The next summer I trained feverishly and sharpened my tools with them and I knew what I wanted to do now. Although I had just joined a fraternity I was set on giving MMA a crack. Countless hours in the gym and I finally was set up for my first fight, only for my opponent to not show up at weigh ins.
Fortunately the next week I took a late replacement fight in the weight class above my normal one. I went through a tough first minute but came out of my shell and hit my opponent with a flurry of strikes until I rocked him and the ref jumped in. There was no better feeling in the world – nothing compared to the euphoria of winning a fight.
After my fight I partied a lot. After my fight I lost sight of all of the hard work I had put forth. I began partying a lot after I found out I was going to UGA the next semester. I was leaving everything behind and although it was a tough decision, I was excited. Once I settled down in Athens my spark for the sport began to burn just as it had before and fortunately for me Athens was home to the HardCore Gym, which has produced two world champions. I found out I was going to UGA the next semester and was leaving everything I started behind. It was honestly a tough decision but would prove to be a great one. One fight down and I knew I wanted to keep having more. Athens is home to The HardCore Gym, which has produced two world champions.
Once I was on the fight team I fought constantly and improved my record to 3-0. I had found early success but that all came to a screeching halt.
With one more win I would receive a title shot but I ended up losing in the first round and found myself in a rut. I was devastated, I didn’t take the fight seriously and I shouldn’t have looked past him. I learned my first lesson to never look past your opponent and focus on what is front of you. Just like wrestling I came so close but ended up with nothing once again.
He came in overweight but I did not care. I got a call in the morning of the fight from my coach – the fight was off, my opponent had eye issues. It was not until 6 hours later they said we have a guy; he was cutting to 155 (I’m 145) and is making his debut…but he’s a golden gloves boxing champ at 165 lbs.
I took the fight, I didn’t care, all the work was done and I just wanted to fight. Lesson number two; don’t do that. I ended up losing a decision and took home a huge gash under my eye and huge black eye that didn’t make my mom happy.
I decided to return April and won decisively. I was now set to fight the champion in May and realize my goal but he suffered a concussion and the fight fell through and was set to be re-scheduled for the summer, but I had obligations to study abroad in Australia and missed my shot once again. He then went pro and vacated the belt.
I was then set to face my friend in August for the vacated belt but he ended up getting injured. My patience was running short. Finally on September 13 I had my chance to fight for the vacant title only to find out two weeks before my opponent pulled out for personal reasons. With no challengers stepping up I took a fight at a weight class lower versus a very tough opponent and failed to perform.
A few fights later I found myself in a position to fight for a title in a promotion in South Carolina. Light was coming through the dark tunnel I had put myself in and I was ready to seize the golden opportunity in front of me. The fight was a grueling war between the larger opponent and I which I lost due to lack of activity, something that had haunted me in previous fights. I was absolutely gutted and thought I was done.
But I knew I needed to keep grinding and not give up knowing my potential. Eventually in March a huge promotion rolled around town and co promoted a show with NFC and I was selected to fight an undefeated fighter for the vacant belt I had earned the right to fight for. It was my opportunity on a huge stage, the time was now or never. I busted my ass for 3 months to get ready for this opportunity.
The first round I got beat up from every angle. I took his best shots and submission attempts but made it through. The second round I came out and relaxed, I breathed deep and took the fight where I was best, the ground. It was not long before I won via Technical Knockout. The feeling of the ref stepping in gives me the chills every time I think about it. I had never won anything in my life and I finally accomplished something. I was now a champion.
“You don’t deserve anything in life, you deserve what you earn” –T. Brands
When that belt wrapped around my waist the excitement kicked in. I didn’t deserve that win, I earned it. I worked hard, stayed patient and eventually my time came I capitalized on the opportunity. I am now champion with a target on my back.
It was the small changes that made the difference. My coaches Adam and Rory stress the three things we control every morning with the acronym A.P.E. (Attitude, Perspective, Effort)
This coupled with showing up and working hard day in and day out culminates into success. I had struggles and hardships in my career along the way but I reached my goal for once in my athletic career. I defended my belt on June 27 and won via submission in the third round after getting beat the first two rounds.
I just recently dropped weight classes and defeated the 135 pound champion in a dominant unanimous decision victory. It was my final amateur bout and now with my goals being complete I am now set to accomplish a lifelong dream in becoming a professional athlete on February 20, 2016. For my whole life I was sure I would be a professional baseball player, but through my journey I was lead into the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
In every success story there is a struggle that no one sees – it is not an easy path. I learned a lot on the way to the title and failed a lot as well. All of my experiences and each time I failed to meet my expectations/goals I was upset, but I did not quit. I took lessons from each ‘failure’ and learned to apply my knowledge in order to progressively better myself in the future and create a different result. Eventually my time came and I seized the opportunity.
I am far from achieving overall success but I am progressively realizing my goals as they come to fruition with hard work and focus. I celebrate the small victories for now and know they will play a part in my overall goal and have many future successes in the future.
On what it takes to be successful former World Champion, Chael Sonnen sums it up perfectly. He said, “Between success and failure some say that failure is not an option. I think that is ridiculous. Failure is the most readily available option, but it’s a choice. You can choose to fail or you can choose to succeed.”
It’s a rarity that a successful person has had an easy path to their destination. No matter how hard your journey might be it is all in the mindset and how you approach what is in front of you that will determine your destination. Success comes from fulfillment, if you are not satisfied or happy with what you do or who you are then is it really success?
The Complexity of success can be daunting but at the end of the day success is all a state of mind.