Week 25: Cringing Ringside

Silverback picks up his opponent and slams him against the cage’s metal fence walls. The outline of the fence’s diamond pattern is etched on his back due to the pressure of Silverback’s weight. As the crowd hollers in support, I cringe. I turn away when Silverback’s opponent is thrown on the ground, yet I can’t help but look in frozen awe as brutal strength wins out. No match for Silverback’s ability, this MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match was soon over.

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Why was I here again? Oh yes, my friend Lacy J. (you all know her by now) studies Jiu Jitsu and she knows Silverback, aka Russ Edwards, who is an instructor and was fighting in his first pro MMA match. She wanted to go, and guess who again gets to be the lucky companion. Going to an MMA or boxing match was on my 50 Weeks to 50 list anyway, so it all works out. And again, it was a spur of the moment plan. She had just found out about it that morning. I really had a ton of other things to do (our school 5K was the next morning), but Lacy assured me we wouldn’t be long since we were just going to stay until Russ was done with his match; and for some reason, we assumed (you will see wrongly) he would be fighting early.

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First, we should have realized it would be a long day, when after committing to go, we then found out the matches were in Valley Center, which according to Google Maps would take us almost an hour drive. Ehh, no big deal. Lacy picks me up and we update each other on our lives, and before you know it we exit off the freeway and head east towards the hills past Escondido. After a few miles of windy roads, our Google maps app points us towards an empty hillside, and no place to turn around. We find a way to head back and try to look around towards the other direction of the T in the road. We then see an open dirt lot with white tents, and a big open-sided metal roofed building. We also see a sign that says parking $5 — I guess this is it. Not quite what I expected. What did I expect? I thought it would something like a casual type of boxing match in an enclosed arena setting, and felt I should dress appropriately with a cotton black dress and elevated sandals. I definitely did not expect the matches to be held in an open venue on a dirt lot. Have I been transported to the deep south? Hope I don’t twist my ankle walking along the uneven dirt and rocky landscape.

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Since tickets were what I would consider pricey, we get standing room only seats for $35 each. Luckily we were there early enough to find standing room space pretty close to ringside. Unluckily, we didn’t realize these MMA fights work in Filipino time, meaning they don’t start promptly — not even close. We also didn’t know there were a heck of a lot more matches scheduled than we anticipated, and like boxing, they start with the flyweight divisions — Russ is a heavyweight. Needless to say, the no big deal to stand attitude at the beginning kinda wore us down by the time Russ entered the cage, which was over six hours later at around 9:00 pm. (What time was I supposed to be at the 5k to set up the next morning?)

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Now, I am an MMA novice, I’ve never even watched it on television, but the whole idea of it seemed interesting. The current movement was created through a combination of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling, and popularized by the Gracie family challenges in Brazil, held in gyms and garages starting in the 1920s. The MMA competitions were introduced with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993, and Royce Gracie won the first tournament. The Gracie’s are like the royal family of jiu jitsu and MMA, which by the way Lacy trains under and they have a studio in La Jolla down the street from my office. I like the idea that it is a sport that combines all types of martial arts: Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Muy Thai, Wrestling, Judo, Kickboxing, and yes, Boxing too.

 

I probably paid attention to the first one the most, mainly because these kids could have been my sons. The flyweight division is up to 125 lbs. and they looked like they were still in high school. Well, actually yes, the amateur winner had to immediately leave to go to his prom. Apparently the limo was waiting, I hope he took a shower first. He had his parents there along with a bunch of friends, very exciting for him. Good thing the match wasn’t that long. He knocked out his opponent in the first round.

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What did I notice during the numerous fights we witnessed:

  • they make sure the cage is locked real tight, like they’re wild animals that might get let loose
  • the EMTs were very handsome
  • the fighting reminded me of all the wrestling matches I watched in high school (Go Canyon Comanches)
  • I liked it when the fighters bowed and greeted their opponents and used more of the eastern martial art techniques with lots of kicks
  • it seemed to be a pretty young crowd, lots of tattoos, shaved heads and beards, and lots and lots of muscles
  • they do cup checks and make sure there isn’t Vaseline rubbed on the shoulders
  • you can’t kick the groin, but you can kick the inner thighs
  • there was your typical T&A going on – the girls walking inside the cage announcing the round, and the vendor girls in skimpy shirts and undies, I mean shorts (shouldn’t there be guys walking around barely naked for the female fights, just saying, equal rights you know)
  • it was hard watching the match when there was a “ground and pound” move going on – one guy is basically sitting on top of the other and pounding his head
  • there’s a lot of guillotine chokeholds that are tried, many that end up getting called
  • it seems smart to use the fence to push off towards your opponent
  • it was a fun atmosphere, with random strangers talking to each other

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Again I will note that I have never seen a headline professional MMA match, even on television, and I hear they are much bloodier. But I felt the matches I saw were really quite civilized and not too brutal – which is why I really hate to watch boxing matches, to me they seem brutal. But as part of my journey, I’m trying to put myself in situations that may not always be comfortable. As a side note, I have also seen cock fighting matches in the Philippines. I know it is illegal in the U.S. and people have gone to jail for holding such fights, but in the Philippines it is part of the culture and is big business, with lots of gambling going on.

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For the most part, the fights we saw did not last long. Many were knockouts, the losing opponent tapping out (relinquished), or for the handful that lasted all three rounds, it was a unanimous decision. Oh, I forgot to explain, there are only three rounds of five minutes. I believe that championship matches last five rounds. Although a very amateur spectator myself, the matches did seem to increase in ability as the evening progressed. I was also told the professional guys later in the night are fighting harder to try and get picked up by the UFC or obtain sponsors. I do think the officials do a very good job of watching the fighters and calling the match to prevent any more injuries to the losing guy or gal.

 

I will say there was one match that was very scary, and it happened to be the one female title match. The two women both looked tough, and I would not want to get into an argument with either one. It soon was evident that one was better than the other. They lasted into the second round, when eventually there was a ground and pound maneuver. Soon the referee called it and as the winner got off the girl with the pink hair on the ground to celebrate, we saw pink girl’s feet to start uncontrollably shaking — she was having a seizure. As a spectator, it was pretty scary to watch helplessly as this is happening. And it seemed like a long time before the paramedics returned (They had left to take away someone who drank too much in the heat – isn’t it proper protocol to make sure there is another ambulance in place before you leave?) Finally, they got her onto a gurney, but the fighter in her was evident as pink girl fought to get out of those straps. Maybe it was an aftereffect of getting pounded and possibly a concussion, but you can tell that she did not want to go. I hope she is doing well.

 

***

You’ve got to hand it to these fighters. Like most sports that you are dedicated to, in MMA you too must concentrate full time if you are serious about competition. You can’t just have one coach or trainer, you need to be knowledgeable in many martial art styles.

 

Yes I had fun. Met some interesting people, including a law professor who you would not imagine to be an MMA fan and martial arts student. I liked that there was a DJ playing music which gave it a club-like atmosphere, which sounded like the music my kids listen too (profane lyrics and all, hey I like the beat). We also loved the variety of the players walk-up music, which ranged from soft country to hard core rap. All us legal-minded folks that I met thought it would be pretty cool if they played walk-up music in the courtrooms – when the judge walks in, attorney’s opening statements, when witnesses are introduced. Right? What would your personal walk-up song be?

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So by the time Silverback entered the cage, we had seen a full range of fights. And before you knew it, the match we had been waiting all day to see was over. Darkness had enveloped the outdoor arena, the crowd had gotten bigger, and there were people in the beer garden that had no plans of leaving. But we were tired, I had a big event the next morning, we were starving and hopefully something would be open along the road home. In MMA speak, we were tapping out, we had enough for one day.

 

Can I do that in my everyday life, tap out when I’ve had enough?

 

***

I’m surprised that I didn’t think the fights were that bad. I still haven’t seen a pro MMA fight on TV, which everyone tells me are pretty bloody. Maybe I would think differently if blood was splattered all over the mat. I do think you have to be not only skilled in many forms of martial arts, but smart enough to figure out which technique to use when. That’s what makes you a champion. My opinion after one day of fights — it seems rules have been put in place to keep fighters from getting damaged too much. The girl having a seizure was still frightening, and the ground and pound sequences made me want to run in and stop them; it’s a good thing the refs do so. And afterwards, the camaraderie amongst the fighters seemed pretty strong.

 

Like all sports, you respect your opposition and can learn from them. It’s like life, when you get beat down, take it as a learning experience and figure out what went wrong and try not to repeat. Some of us learn from those life lessons, others don’t and make the same mistakes over and over again. We’re all on the same team, with coaches trained by different experiences. Each can give you advice. Take the relevant advice, play smart, and fight like hell. You’ll always come out the winner.

 

(At this time, I would like to thank all of my life coaches…you have helped me create such extraordinary experiences.)

 

***

There’s one more story I want to share. Earlier this week, I saw a story about a Filipino MMA fighter named Mike Pantangco, who in an amateur fight in Michigan was clearly beating his opponent. In order to prevent further physical damage to that opponent, Pantangco decided to tap out, conceding the match. He was concerned about the safety of his opponent, because hey, they’re amateurs, no one gets paid to get beat up. They’re not all out there brutally destroying someone else for fun. It’s like when our baseball teams play another team who are making tons of errors, can’t hit and you’re winning 15-0 — it’s not fun for either team. That is sportsmanship, and Pantangco is the winner in my book. Apparently, Manny Pacquiao did something similar in his career too. See the story at: https://ph.sports.yahoo.com/news/pinoy-mma-fighter-taps-out-to-save-opponent-from-getting-seriously-hurt-044321079-mma.html

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Notebook:

Gracie Jiu Jitsu La Jolla, 7598 Eads Ave., La Jolla, 858.454.5345, http://www.graciejiu-jitsulajolla.com/

San Marcos Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Silverback Competition Team, 456 E. Mission Road, San Marcos, 619.550.9884, http://www.sanmarcosbrazilianjiujitsu.com/

Xpolde Fight Series – www.xplodefightseries.com

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