I had one of the best nights in my recent history. It was the culmination of a 12 week goal that just took off with a life of it's own. The entire experience came to a fun finish by way of a cool night full of unexpected twists and turns surrounded by a motley crew of colorful characters.
After the Battlegrounds event, I said goodbye to the last of the stragglers at the camp around 11:30 pm, grabbed Matee and said, 'let's go get drunk!' Naturally, Matee obliged. I'm not a drinker but after 10 weeks of denying myself basic pleasures while enduring punishing fight training sessions, it seemed like an appropriate thing. Besides, there were parts of me that required numbing. On our short walk to the pub, I turned to Matee and kiddingly say, 'ok Matee, just a few drinks but no trouble tonight, ok?' Matee tells me with a devilish smile and his cool Thai accent that his times of getting into trouble are over and he just wants to have a good time. We agree, laugh and head for the front door.
We walk into Tommy Foxes Pub, grab a few stools at the bar and I order a Stella for me and a large Jack and Coke for Matee. We find Ives (pronounced ee-vez), Damian, Bob, and Gabe from Guerrero's BJJ, pull some table and stools together and get to know each other while discussing the events of the evening. I find out Ives is a NAGA champion and judging from the size of his 275 pound frame decide it must be the superhuman division. Ives ends up being a teddy bear of a guy. Really cool, down to earth dude with 2 liter soda bottles for forearms. I must admit, my preconceptions got me and I realized Ives was nothing like I had thought from just looking at his surface mass. What? A huge, hulking, scary guy can't be sensitive? They need love too, right? It ends up we have a lot in common and become fast friends.
Ives begins showing us pics from his Droid of his son, his dog, and pictures from NAGA. When he shows Matee, Matee points out two females and says he wants to grapple with them. They end up being Ives' wife and current girlfriend. I immediately ask Matee, 'I thought we weren't going to have problems?' I knew I shouldn't have ordered him a large drink. At this point, it didn't matter since he was on his fourth large Jack and Coke and looking quite 'relaxed'. Matee banters back and points to Ives and says, 'him, him, no proooblem but him (pointing at Damien a large 250+ pound grappler), he look scaaary.' Oh man!
As this is unfolding before me, I look outside and upward to the sky and thank the universe for blessing me with such color. What a night! Full of heart break, euphoria, relief, violence, love, courage, and bad spirit all stirred into a human cocktail by storybook heroes, warriors, bad guys and dare I say, fair maidens.
Here I was now at 3 am, getting drunk in a proper Irish pub flanked by a 275 pound teddy bear of a NAGA champion and 5'7" pitbull of a 5X Lumpinee Stadium and World champion Muay Thai fighter, Matee 'Dragon Leg' Depeetipak. My left leg hurt, my right foot was swollen and my left bicep appeared to have some tearing but boy! These were great times!
As I downed my 6th pint of Stella, Ives joined me at the bar and ordered us a shot of whiskey and he toasted my fight...and I cherished this day one last time...cue dream sequence!!!
I had slept until 3:00 pm and headed to the camp for weigh ins and medical clearance. When I arrived, the camp was already abuzz with electricity and I saw some of the Kru family setting up chairs, the food concession, the sound system, etc and fighters and their supporters were arriving and milling about. We got a special, unusual experience for an amateur event thanks to Master A's desire to give the fighters a more professional and richer experience.
Firstly, he got a backdrop banner with sponsors that we took individual pictures in front of as well as with our opponent. The kind that you give each other your best mean face. Master A also had invited Paul to come again and provide his expertise as photographer. It was cool seeing Paul running around getting action shots in and out of the ring with his professional camera and accompanying skill. Eloise got the event started with an awesome rendition of the national anthem.
The event also saw two videographers. Isaiah, our typical man behind the camera was doing his thing but was joined by a film student from one of the affiliate camps in Pallisades Park interested in filming action sequences so we ended up with 2 angles. Master A served as MC and introduced the fighters and addressed the crowd on several occasions. To top all this off, Matee Jedeepitak refereed my match! What a memory! So thankful to the universe for providing such a gift of experience. All these cool details came together and elevated the experience to personally epic proportions.
It wasn't until showtime and the first fight was starting, that this whole thing became real for me. It was no longer something in my future; something I was working towards. The moment was upon me. Surprisingly I was relaxed. I simply refused to think about it and I kinda just Zen'ed out. One of the worst parts I hadn't anticipated was realizing while I was warming up that I did not feel strong. Most notably, my legs felt rather weak. Was it nerves? Fear? From cutting weight? Whatever it was, at this point, it was too late. It was what it was. I warmed up with JD on the pads, going throught the motions but very lightly. And suddenly it was my turn to ascend the stairs and head into the ring. My son Max, working as a glove runner, came down and announced, 'Dad, you're up!'
...and finally the moment of truth had arrived. From the moment I hopped over the top ring rope and into the ring, everything was a blur of bone crushing action, flying limbs, pain and incoherent screaming from the crowd. The crowd was so electric, their pulsating energy spilled out into the street. I can only remember small random slices. For example, in between one of the rounds, I could see G (GJ aka 'lil bomb'), my cornerman, standing in front of me giving me instructions but all I could hear was loud audio in slow motion like in the movies. It kind of sounds like ohhhhwahhhh noooooeeeeeenaaah. Then everything became real time again. I look to the right and I notice my brother Dennis telling me to throw a spinning back fist. I remember thinking 'but I can't throw a good spinning back fist'. I look to my left and I notice a huge guy (who became my fast friend Ives) screaming some tips to me. I remember thinking, 'hmmm, he's taken an unusual interest in me?!?! Then I heard the rapping indicating the next round was about to begin. I sat there dazed, my senses on overload, taking in the intensity and the insanity as I heard my cornerman G say, 'hey Al, you gotta get up!' as if waking me from a dream. I stood up, G removed the stool and I head back into the center of the ring...