I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for people who fought in the ring. Putting yourself out there, body on the line. There was a purity to the respect they earned by doing it. It didn’t matter how much money you had, what your parents did for a living or where you worked, when you were in the ring it was solely about the character you displayed. Watching someone in the ring shows you a lot about them, their commitment and dedication, their heart, courage and desire for victory.
Fighters displayed values and qualities that I held in high regard. Courage, respect, discipline, humility, commitment, passion. Outside of the ring I saw how they treated people as well as how they dealt with victory and defeat.
It was something I always wanted to do. I could see the respect fighters earned from people and I wanted to feel what it was like to experience that. I wanted to feel those character traits, not just believe I processed them but force there revealing.
I had trained on and off in different locations as we moved around the world but life had always interrupted.
At Christmas time I decided it really was now or never. I began training at ETK North Shore. As time progressed I was reminded repeatedly why I wanted to do this, I really enjoyed being around people who have these qualities.
Greg Nesbit is the head trainer, a tireless warrior for the sport of Muay Thai, dedicating his life to his gym and developing his students. He has created a real family culture amongst his students and it is a credit to him. I began training one on one with Jamie Eades one of Greg’s top fighters and now holder of two New Zealand titles. Jamie is a young determined fighter and I see him achieving great things in his fight career. I remember watching his fight against Rod Powdrill in Perth and thinking this guy is one tough determined fighter battling away to a well deserved win on foreign soil. Jamie’s brother Chris also trains at the gym. The first time I saw Chris fight he was fighting a Chinese fighter who had 50 wins and 2 losses, I think Chris at the time had 3 wins and 3 losses. He was 21 years old and took a real beating in the first round, his opponent started to tire and he drew the second round. Then to everyone’s surprise he hung in there and won the final round forcing the fight to a 4th round. His opponent was exhausted and Chris through pure heart delivered a killer knee knocking he opponent out in the 4th and winning the fight. What a sight, I hardly knew him and I was on my feet screaming encouragement for what was every personal quality he was displaying in that moment. Josh Heta, another hugely successful fighter from the gym is someone else I’ve been privileged to meet. The consummate gentleman, such a tough fighter in the ring, yet the humble polite family man outside the ring always the first to help you out with some guidance. He perspires what I consider to be ‘mana’. Amy Vaughan, the gyms female star in the ring wouldn’t look out of place on a cat walk yet instead is fighting it out with the best of them, what an inspiration. I recently started training one on one with Nonsai a Thai world champion with over 300 fights, a new member of the gym and what a genuine guy. So many more great people I have met and have learnt from, a real privilege it has been to train with them. I have also been really inspired by the founder of the ETK Gym Jason Suttie albeit we have never met. I have followed his facebook for some time and he is a pillar of all that I have described. Being six time world champion will earn you a lot of respect but I feel now he draws even more respect for who he has become as a father as he and his partner bring up there little son Phoenix who suffers from a condition which effects his ability to speak and walk. I absolutely believe they will succeed in their journey to overcome it.
When I first started training at ETK north it was about me, it was about achieving an ambition I had held for a long time. I wanted to experience what it was like to be a fighter. As I progressed with my training it started to change, it wasn’t just about me anymore. When I fought I would be representing ETK North Shore, I would be fighting alongside my training comrades. I felt a real responsibility to not let any of them down with a performance that didn’t resonate with the qualities I had seen in them.
I had been training to fight on September 27th and with work commitments in Queenstown I was struggling to train as much as I would like but squeezing it in where ever I could. A few days ago late on Thursday night Greg text me and offered me a fight on Sunday. It was a couple of days notice and if I wanted the fight I’d need to weigh in on Saturday afternoon at 76.5kg. That left Friday and half of Saturday to drop 5.5kg’s. There were so many legitimate reasons to say no. Not enough recent training, one sparring session in last month, not enough time to cut weight, not enough lead up. None of which would have spoken in the voice of character I wanted to have. There was only one answer I could give if I wanted to feel I had earned my place. “Yeah bro, let’s go.”
I called the sauna home and cut the weight and weighed in at exactly 76.5kg. I did my best to rehydrate after the weigh in but after a terrible night’s sleep on the Saturday night I awoke in a bad way. I was consuming myself with self doubt. Would I disappoint those who had trained me? Would I get a hiding in front of all those people to whom I respected? How would I tell people that I had failed? At that stage I had lost the fight mentally before I even got in the ring. My legs were like jelly, I didn’t know if it was because of the weight loss and poor recovery or just nerves, maybe it was a bit of both. The only thing that I knew for sure was that there was no way I could not turn up and fight after saying I would.
I took my boys for a walk and we walked up and down the street as I tried to get the muscles in my legs to feel like they were alive again. It didn’t seem to help.
Linda my ex-wife picked up my boys at lunchtime on Sunday-fight day, I was a mess of tangled anxiety. When she left she asked me why I do this to myself, why on top of everything else I do these things that put me in these states? She probably asked more rhetorically as I think she knew why. Anyway she hugged me and said “you’ll do great, I believe in you”. In that moment, I felt the self belief poor back into me, it was like night and day, I now felt confident I could do it.
I was the second fight, the first fighter to represent our Gym. I felt really proud to wear the ETK North fighters robe as I walked to the ring. I wasn’t really pumped up or itching for a fight, I don’t know what I was but I was there, where I said I would be and that felt good.
The first thing I noticed when climbing in the ring were the drops of blood scattered around from the previous fight, again I remained in this limbo state carrying seemingly no emotion.
I didn’t look at my opponent just organised myself in my corner with Greg and Nonsai. When we were called to the centre of the ring it was the first time I had seen who I was fighting. An Asian guy maybe in his early or mid twenties. He was my height and as we faced each other he wanted to look at me tough but I saw through that, I could see his nervousness.
It was a strange feeling getting in the ring and standing in front of someone who wanted to take your head off. It’s just you and him. When the bell sounded I was still in this surreal state of nothingness but as my opponent advanced and started to attack me with menacing intent I knew it was real, it was time to fight. So for me it wasn’t listening to my favourite song or revving myself up, it turned out my beast mode just needed provocation. I switched into a zoned out focused state and went to war. I forgot about how much energy I had or didn’t have, I forgot about many of the techniques I had practiced, I just fought based on what techniques rose to the surface at the time on instinct. My fight strategy only had two things predetermined. I wanted to immediately establish myself as the go forward fighter and secondly hurt him first and break his spirit. I was fortunate enough to do both and dominate the fight finishing with a convincing win. I was proud of myself. Proud to have pleased those who had trained me and proud to stand alongside my fellow fighters and have them congratulate me with a look of respect in their eyes reserved for those that have put themselves on the line and battled inside that ring. To walk past some world champion ETK fighters and Jason Suttie and have them say “great fight’ was a rewarding moment.
After the fight for a time I just sat up in the prep area and reflected. Greg walked past and asked me what was up, he thought I had zoned out. I had. I was in a place of such pride being amongst great people. I felt really proud that I had earned their respect, I had earned my place alongside them by entering the fire. I was one of them now. A Fighter.