“This Sunday marks the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The way America looked at itself was altered immensely on that date, and a decade later the world is a very different place. Memories of panic and uncertainty are still present, but the urge to keep moving forward is even stronger. In remembrance of this anniversary, TheFightNerd.com, has released an exclusive short-film that commemorates this event alongside the New York MMA community. ‘A Fighting Spirit’ is a video memoir that interviews members of the NY martial arts community and discusses where they were when the Towers collapsed, how they have coped, and how New York and America have grown stronger.
Directed by Kahleem Poole-Tejada (director of the full-length documentary ‘New York MMA’) and produced by Matthew Kaplowitz (Editor-in-Chief of TheFightNerd.com) in association with Ranger Up, the film takes viewers around a tour of downtown Manhattan and provides a glimpse inside several of New York City’s top MMA gyms. It features many NY-based fighters, such as Renzo Gracie, Chris Weidman, Pete ‘Drago’ Sell, and Vitor ‘Shaolin’ Ribeiro, as well as Stephen Koepfer of NY Combat Sambo, Mark Yehia of ‘Elite Plus MMA,’ Rob Constance of ‘The Renzo Gracie Academy’ and President of the ‘Ultimate Absolute’ grappling tournament, and Emilio Novoa, President of ADCC North America. Also appearing is UFC middleweight fighter Jorge Rivera, as well as Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy, who adds the voices of members of the U.S. Armed Forces to this emotional piece.”
As a New York resident since August 2002, the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 has put me in a reflective mood all week. Maybe you feel the same. If you have any recollections or tributes to share from that day, please leave them in the comments section. Here, I’ll start…
The summer of 2001 is when I first fell in love with New York City. I came here for a two-month internship doing grunt-work for a dearly departed men’s magazine called Stuff. At the time, some of the editors on the payroll included Seth Kelly (who’s now the editor-in-chief of UFC Magazine), Laura Gilbert (who now runs UFC.com), Jon Small (who later moved to Break Media and hired me to launch CagePotato.com in 2007), and Greg Gutfeld (then the magazine’s editor-in-chief, now the wacky host of Red Eye). I’d never been around such a talented collection of smart, funny motherfuckers in my life. I think the majority of my days were spent transcribing interviews, but still, it was a dream job.
The experience helped me decide two things that had already been in my mind: 1) I wanted to write for a living. And 2) I wanted to live in New York while I did it. It’s hard to match the exhilaration of being 20 years old and spending two months in a crazy-ass city with nobody watching you. On one of my first nights there, I walked 25 blocks to CBGB, just to see the place and pay my respects. Napalm Death and Isis were headlining a death-metal showcase. At one point, I got slammed so hard by a mosh-pitter that I fell onto the stage. It was awesome. Now CBGB is gone, and I feel like an old man.
After my crash course in the lad-mag biz, I went back to Ann Arbor to finish my last year at the University of Michigan. Just a week into classes, my roommate woke me up and told me that something really bad had happened, and I should come look at the TV. Like most people, it took me a long time to process what I was seeing. “Holy shit,” I said. “I was just there.” Over the next few days, I contacted everybody I’d met at Stuff, checking to see if they were all okay. They were, but they knew people, and they knew people who knew people, and it was all very fucked up.
Obviously, nothing like this had ever happened in my lifetime. My heart broke for the victims, and for the multitudes who had lost children, parents, spouses, and friends, and for those who kept searching for their missing loved ones, past the point of hope.
But it was inspiring watching some of the news coverage that followed in the subsequent weeks. The tragedy united New Yorkers in an unprecedented way, and it was clear that the city would heal and become “stronger at the broken places,” so to speak. It seemed to me that New Yorkers were keeping their heads while the rest of the country was freaking out, and that made an impression.
So I finished school, kicked around Ann Arbor for a couple months, then rented a U-Haul with my girlfriend at the time and rolled the dice. I had friends and family members advise against the move because they didn’t think New York was safe. And maybe they were right, but I was young and adventurous, and I had faith that this big, ferocious city would protect me.
In November, my wife and I will be leaving New York to move back to the Midwest and raise our first child. I’m already bracing for the homesickness. In nine years, this place has never let me down.