Thursday, 19 November 2015
It seems another lifetime now but in the same odd kind of way, I can still remember everything about it.
Every single thing from the songs I listened to on the way down, to who I saw, to how many fights there were, to how the bulk of them finished up.
About a year prior to Shoot n Sprawl I'd worked my first ever show in a professional capacity, providing some commentary for Ross Pointon's Night of the Gladiators.
Since then I'd done a smattering of writing, a lot of it is archived in the earlier editions of this very website, but nothing seemed to resonate quite like I wanted it to.
Don't get me wrong, I'll never ever forget the feeling I had after that first show when I was sitting in my car waiting to go home. I could have gone home at any point, but I just remember sitting in my car and staring at my own eyes in the mirror. It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that but, for that split second, I felt more alive than I think I ever had done up to that point.
When my now good friend Andy Sledge messaged me regarding judging work I jumped on the opportunity and spent a good week beforehand absorbing all I could read about the specifics of the judging criteria. I sat in my office at work and watched fights on my lunch hour with a pad and pen and headphones, trying to get my mind used to the task in hand.
There was something different about this Saturday in July though, quite what I wasn't sure but I knew I felt different. It was both a new experience and a new challenge and I was really excited to see just where it would lead.
Attending shows in general was still quite a new thing in reality, I'd been to see Ross fight for Cage Rage back in 2007, but it was only recently that I'd started working at events. As I sat cageside, I was aware of noise subsiding it became massively obvious in that instant that this was real. Commentary was fun, nervous at first, but soon it quickly became more professional versions of conversations we had at the gym.
All around me seemed chaos and a million things raced through my head but the second the bell rang, my mind was filled with a truly serene sense of calm. I can't describe it. It's kind of like the feeling you get when you first dive underwater and everything seems to slow as you swim deeper down. It's a feeling of complete crystal clear focus. It's one of the single most addictive feelings in the world. I think about it all the time.
The first few fights went off without incident and resulted in fairly early finishes but the one pictured represented my first real challenge. It just goes to show how long ago this truly was, in the spectrum of this young sport, that Luke Barnatt now an 11 fight pro and UFC veteran, was fighting amateur in only his 3rd contest.
His opponent was Spartan MMA's Chris Kelly, who only a few months prior had unwittingly created the audio dynamite that bonded myself and the dangerous one as a bona fide commentating powerhouse.
I remember the fight as if I remembering a story that happened last week. Barnatt using the jab early on before getting the takedown and working from the top dilligently. Kelly ploughing bravely on but seeming not to have any answer for the reach differential he was facing. The third frame saw the tide turn and Barnatt slowed down as Kelly came forward with enough momentum to steal the round but ultimately go on to lose the fight 29-28.
As I handed in my scorecards I realised that it was down to me now. Everything I'd studied, everything I'd watched, all the preparation I'd made was leading up to this entire moment. In my head I knew that there would be no excuses, I'd given it everything I could to try and be the best I could be at this.
The decision was announced as unanimous in the favour of Luke Barnatt, the respective corners nodded and photos were taken, and I mentally got ready to go again as the next set of entrance music began.
That's how it all started.
If you'd have told me as I drove home that night about what was to come there's no way I would ever have believed you. If you'd have explained that about 5 years later I'd be racking up my 1000th fight in the chair then I would have done some hasty maths and then laughed it off. I've been to some crazy places and seen some insane fights go down but the feeling remains the same before every single one; that liquid clarity that I can't seem to find in anything else that I spend my time doing.
It's all on me. I get it. I get how much time you've put into this. I get what sacrifices you've made and I get how this fight is the biggest one you'll ever have. All you need to know is that your fight is the most important fight to me, because they're all the most important fight. I've got this. Trust me. It's a never ending cycle of learning and reviewing. That's the best part. It's the beginning. 1000 is an insane number but it's only just the start.
Thanks to everyone along the way.
Thanks for reading this.
Thanks for the opportunities.
Thanks for putting up with the fact I talk about old videogames and fights a lot.