What's it like to fight in a cage?
“Are you ready?” the ref turns and points to me. I’ve been here before so I know what to do. I nod my head and bring my hands to chin level. My inner dialogue completely stops as I lock eyes with the man standing across the cage. I try to focus my attention towards his chest to avoid the menace of his gaze. He nods to the ref and we cautiously make our way to the center of the cage. We briefly close the gap to touch gloves and that is the last act of chivalry until the fight is over.
It is now time to try to hurt someone that I know nothing about. For me, this is a difficult concept but, I have been conditioned to restrain my emotional response and act purely from a physical standpoint. We have made an agreement that we will use whatever means necessary to cause enough bodily damage or threaten enough damage to make the other man forfeit.
If you’re thinking that this is crazy and pointless, I would have to agree that it seems that way. It feels very, very crazy and I’m convinced that I want it to be over more than I care to win. The weeks of painful training, restless nights, torturous weight cutting, and excruciating anxiety that I’ve experienced pale into comparison to what I wish to achieve in these few minutes of violent combat.
We begin to circle and throw leading punches and kicks that hit nothing but air. We do this to gauge what our opponent will do and test the distance of our reach. Both of us appear relaxed and unconcerned but, we are both calculating our next move.
After about 20 seconds of this, it happens. I lunge forward and throw a quick jab followed by a wide overhand right. Both punches only hit his gloves as he covers his head in defense. This leaves his left lead leg open and I drop my level to swoop in and grab ahold. I drive into him until I feel his body abruptly stop against the cage. He works to loosen my grip by leveraging his arms against mine and throwing punches that hit me in the side of the head. The crowd lights up with excitement as the show gets underway. There are only two things on my mind at this point. The first is, “I need to get him down” and the second is, “What the hell am I doing in this cage?”
Shortly after I get my bearings, my perception begins to slow as my brain processing catches up with my external experience. Our heavy breathing drowns out the noise from the crowd and I can hear my coaches voice in the distance. “Underhooks!” “Trap that leg!” “Pressure!” “You gotta move Bryce!” The commentary helps immensely because my coach knows and sees things that I can’t and his encouragement can motivate me when I feel like giving up.
Most people may never experience the full strength of a well-conditioned, full grown man, pressuring, punching, and kicking with everything that he has. We are amazing creatures who can summon unbelievable strength when we are in this “flight or fight” stage. Holding onto him, as he fights to get up, is like riding a raging bull.
Even though our heads are pressed together and I can feel his heartbeat in rhythm with mine, we don’t speak. There isn’t even enough air in my lungs to summon a word if I wanted to. After what seems like hours, the bell rings and we break apart to go back to our corners.
The 60 seconds we get for a break between rounds is extremely disappointing. It takes precious seconds to get our trainers in and out of the cage before it’s time to answer the next bell. About half of the time, I notice that there is blood coming from one of us. If my cornerman is touching around on my face or head, then I know it’s mine. My coaches fix me up as needed and give me a few quick tips as I stare down at the floor.
There is an agonizing moment where I have finally started to catch my breath and the ref tells me to stand back up. He asks me if I’m ready again and I nod my head without wasting one second of thought. Here we go again. All the systems in my body are running at full capacity and my brain is flooded with dopamine. The man at the other end of the cage rushes in and I have to decide whether to defend myself or go back on the attack. I can feel the punches and kicks hitting me but, pain isn’t registering much. It’s only when something stops working that I begin to notice the pain. Maybe, it’s a shoulder that got twisted or a body shot that takes my breath away. Those are the only times that I’m reminded that I’m in pain.
The minutes drag on and fly by at the same time. It’s a fascinating experience as I try to recall which one is more obvious. Both seem true. I want the rounds to end so that I can breathe and by the end, it seems like we had just started. It is a strange trick of the brain.
When it’s all said and done, one person wins and the other loses. One gets his hand raised and one walks back to the locker room in defeat. I’ve done both and they are vastly different experiences. When I win, I go out and celebrate with my friends and family in the crowd. Everyone seems to be as doped up as I am on the excitement and we begin to relive every heart pounding moment of the fight. Everything makes sense and the rush of excitement feels so worth all the hard work.
When I lose, I quietly walk back to the locker and try to go straight home without anyone seeing me. I’m not necessarily disappointed or ashamed, I just have nothing left to give. It’s too much to process so I just feel numb.
In my 9 amateur fights, I’ve won more than I’ve lost. I’ve experienced the exhilaration of a hard-fought win and the painful defeat of a TKO at the end of the last round. I’ve had more black eyes and bruises than I can count, been to the ER 3 times, and gone through bottles upon bottles of Ibuprofen. I’ve been lucky enough to have been coached by UFC legend, Jeremy Horn, and I’ve sweat and bled with my MMA brothers who share the same passion for the sport. My dad got to be in my corner for one of my fights and I nearly cried with joy as I walked into the cage. The amount of support I’ve received has been awe inspiring and I’ve always had a good chat afterwards with each one of my opponents.
I may not ever fight again and I’m okay with that. I never got involved with the sport in hopes of making it a career or gaining notoriety. Fighting still seems crazy to me but, I understand it. The whole process has been its own life lesson as I have had to push myself beyond my limits, accept defeat, get back up, and keep fighting. It’s not always perfect. Sometimes it’s a sloppy mess and sometimes I lose. It helps to know that I can still approach each battle in my life the same way that I’ve approached fighting. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to lose. The only thing that I can control is to take a deep breath, step in there, and nod my head. There is no one that can fight this fight but me and I know that the ones that care about me will be cheering me on, no matter what happens.
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