Monday, October 7, 2013

Pressure

Pressure… It will either crush you, bring you to your knees and turn your entire world upside down or you will face it and use it to reach heights you never dreamed possible. Either way it will show you who you really are and what you are made of. That’s one thing that I love about fighting, it really shows you who people are, forces them to be honest. You can run your mouth and tell everyone how ‘bad ass’ you are but once you are in there the truth comes out. If you are truly a coward it will be magnified that much more once you get in the ring.

In the beginning it was all just fun (still is) no real pressure other than what I put on myself to be the best and to make my trainers and teammates proud, which were all positive things. It was just ‘take it one day at a time, one fight at a time, fight better people every time, push yourself harder every time, and become the best fighter that you can be for as long as possible’. I never thought it any further than that. There weren’t fights on TV, there weren’t big promotions and there wasn’t even anything to really base what was even possible on. There were only a handful of guys in the states to even look up to (Ben Garcia, Melchor Menor, Duane Ludwig and Alex Gong). And getting the chance to watch them fight or even getting footage of them training or fighting was extremely rare.   

Muay Thai in the states was such an underground thing for such a long time, very few people even knew what it was “oh you fight that karate stuff?” Over the years I did start noticing a slight shift in things however. From time to time people would come up to me and tell me that I inspired them or would say how much they looked up to me or how good I was. Most times when this would happen I would think to myself "Who in the hell does this person think I am, how could they have even seen me fight?” Part of the reason I thought this, other than the fact I had no clue why anyone would look up to me (it still baffles me), was back then I was often mistaken for Ben Garcia. We had a similar build, both had tattoos, fought out of Master Toddy’s gym and had short bleached blonde hair (which I had from time to time), so I guess they assumed we had to be the same person. There was a time I specifically remember when a young guy told me he had been watching me since he was a kid and he really looked up to me. I was like “Damn how old am I and where have you been watching?” and this was back in like 07'. As the years went on this would happen more and more frequently. It never got any easier for me to understand however I eventually got to a point where I just accepted it. It was like “Ok, people look up to you for whatever reason so you had better make sure and go out of your way to be the best fighter/person you can be” which I was already doing because that is just the way I am but it gave me that much more incentive to push myself further.

It wasn’t until after my ACL surgery that things really changed, both in actuality and in the way that I perceived them. It was probably having all that time to just sit around and think about where the sport was in this country and where my place was in it. Things had really progressed over the previous couple of years. My fight with Saenchai really being a huge milestone for America and then the ‘Thailand vs USA’ card at Nokia Theatre in LA right after that, it was ground breaking. I looked back and thought ‘Damn, did all of that really happen, how did we get here?’ You could feel it in the air, it was electric, and things were heading in the right direction, or at least seemed to be.  

My first fight back there was so much pressure for me to just see if I could still do this, and at what level would I be able to compete at. After I won that fight and knew that I could get back to where I was is when I think all the negative pressure really started to creep in on me. All of a sudden we were on live national television, it wasn’t just this underground thing here anymore, people were watching and taking notice, all around the world.

In a lot of ways I felt like I was carrying the weight of the American Muay Thai world on my back, not to say I was the only one. I felt this need to be someone that the rest of the world looked at as an American that could fight “real Muay Thai”. I wanted to adjust and ‘fix’ my style. I wanted to be more well-rounded, even though I feel that I always have been. There’s a certain way I like to fight which might not be viewed as ‘traditional Thai’. I had this ongoing battle in my head about being true to myself in the way I fight and fighting the way I feet would give us more credibility as a country. One thing I did notice though was that anytime I tried to fight this way I hated it and felt like I was lying in there.


Going into my fight with Bernie (Mendietta) Kirian, my coach, as well as everyone else, would tell me “You’ve already done enough for this sport, don’t do this for anyone but you. Just coming back from a career ending injury like you have is more than enough, fight your fight, just be you” I would hear this, and know this, yet I had that nagging voice in my head telling me to fight a certain way. Finally it all became clear to me during/after the fight vs Embree. The first round I played the game, started slow, and just felt like the biggest piece of shit liar ever. I hated myself for fighting like that and even though I still think I should’ve gotten the decision in the end I didn’t care, because I knew I at least gave that first round away and wasn’t true to myself and to me that’s a loss regardless of the decision. I told myself from there on out, win, lose or draw, I was going to be honest with myself regardless of the outcome, I would at least be able to look back on what I had done and be proud.

It’s usually the hardest lessons that stick with us the most, unfortunately.

Finally, going into the fight with Yamato, I felt like myself. Mentally, physically, everything just felt right. Maybe it was losing that fight with Embree that took some of the pressure off, or maybe it was just finally realizing who I was as a fighter, either way I felt back, and couldn’t have been happier.

I did still start a bit slower than I would have liked to, and this is what got me clipped and lost me that first round. But after that I really felt like my old self and it came out in the fight. Even though once again I felt like I was given a horrible decision, I finally felt like myself and to me that’s worth more than any win ever could.

Being true to yourself is a constant struggle, some people deal with it easier than others but I feel this is something we all battle with in different areas of our lives.

I feel the only way to ever be truly happy is to be honest. When you’re honest with yourself you can be honest with others and people can see and feel this about you.
The biggest thing for me was always going after my dream of being a fighter. I knew that was something I always wanted and lied to myself until one day I had to be honest and go after it. Obviously there are still things within that dream that I have to adjust and figure out who I am but it definitely makes it easier knowing that I’m doing what is in my heart.

Pressure, like most things and life, can either be a positive or a negative thing, depending on how you react to it. In the end it’s about learning from your mistakes, growing, and being that much better in the future. One day at a time!

-El Presidente'




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