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Tag: The Travel Chronicles

The Travel Chronicles, Part 4: California Inspiration


(Photos courtesy of the author. If you missed the first three installments of The Travel Chronicles, click here to catch up.)

By Elias Cepeda

After any failure one natural inclination is to enter a depressive state. Another is to get on to the next thing you can take action on as quickly as possible, replacing success for failure, joy for disappointment, in order to stave off depression.

I’d just gotten my ass kicked in Canada. I very badly wanted to instantly transport to LA and Vegas where fun, work, and training awaited me. Instead, I had a long, sleepless night and ten hours of layover-ridden air travel ahead of me.

I could only be so active during that time. Mostly, I sat and thought. My cell phone was not working well up north and so I didn’t even have text messaging and phone calls to distract me. As I write this, it has been nearly four months since my fight in Canada and I have yet to watch tape of it even once.

I have, however, seen the fight, what I can remember of it, over and over in my head enough to satisfy me for some time. Most of that replay happened at the airports I arrived at, waited in, and departed from over and over that day after the fight.

I arrived in Las Vegas after 11 p.m. on Friday. The initial idea was to get a rental car and drive straight away to Los Angeles where I’d be staying with my friend Dave Doyle. Perhaps more than any other major media editor or writer over the past decade, Dave has been a major driving force in getting MMA covered in the mainstream. When he was at Fox Sports, Dave got his bosses to let him cover MMA, a true coup for the sport. He also got the Associated Press involved, doing great coverage for them and later, as an editor of the MMA and boxing sections at Yahoo! Sports, built the largest and most widely read combat sports pages in the English speaking world.

Dave now writes for MMA Fighting. Lucky for me, his smarts extend beyond the reporting and writing realm and he gave me some useful advice on my plan to drive from Vegas to LA through the night after a whole day of traveling. “You can come here any time you want, Elias, that’s fine. But if you try to make that drive as tired as you will be, you’ll probably die in the desert.”

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The Travel Chronicles, Part 3: War in Canada & Presence of Mind


(Elias is the “eccentric American” on the left. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/HardKnocksFighting. If you missed the first two installments of The Travel Chronicles, click here to catch up.)

By Elias Cepeda

He was a two hundred and twenty five pound Canadian amateur MMA heavyweight champion. She was a buck and some change, blonde, twenty years old and from California. They would both knock me on my ass. I just didn’t know it yet.

A few days after my win in May I got a friend request from someone named Chad. I didn’t know him but for whatever reason I accepted. He was a young aspiring fighter out of La Ronge, Canada and recommended that I contact the matchmaker for Hard Knocks Fighting, Sarah, which put on pro/am MMA events in Northwestern Canada. Ronda Rousey had made her MMA debut at Hard Knocks and the organization was developing a strong reputation. Chad was going to make his MMA debut in July and had seen tape of my fight on CagePotato.

I didn’t feel ready to fight yet again — my knee hadn’t gotten more injured in my last fight, though it still wasn’t strong — but I thought I’d at least introduce myself to Sarah to put me on their radar. I’d never been out of the U.S. except for Mexico, and getting flown out and put up to fight in another country as a lowly amateur seemed like a prospect not to be missed. How many people other than high level professionals get that type of chance?

Sarah and I spoke, she looked at my May fight tape and said she was definitely interested in including me on a card at some point. Perhaps if they had an event in the fall I could jump on board after training during the summer to improve. Canada would come a lot sooner than I expected, and would become the first stop on my summer travels.

Shortly after speaking with the Hard Knocks Fighting matchmaker I happened to meet a girl at a concert my friend’s band was playing at. Turns out he was a mutual friend of ours. She was passing through Chicago quickly to see his concert and would soon be heading home to California from school.

I’d seen her behind me at the concert. I stared. She smiled.

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The Travel Chronicles, Part 2: Anger is a Gift



(Photos courtesy of Chi-town MMAniacs)

If you missed part 1 of “The Travel Chronicles,” click here to catch up.

By Elias Cepeda

Warm Bones

I remember asking longtime heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko a question about his pre-fight routine once on a conference call. I’d heard rumors from people that had been around him backstage before fights that he didn’t warm up, but instead went from playing cards with his team to standing up and walking out to the ring to fight, cold.

If he didn’t warm up intensely before fighting this would have been further evidence of Fedor’s otherworldly talent. Getting one’s muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons (to say nothing of one’s mind) warmed up before fighting by doing drills with your coaches that simulate fighting is considered the essential final preparation to competing.

It may seem strange to the uninitiated, but fighters ideally want to walk into the cage or ring already sweating so that they don’t start slowly or get injured from suddenly exerting themselves during the fight. When I posed the question to Fedor he chuckled before humbly demurring, as he often does.

No, it wasn’t quite like that, he said. He had to warm up like everyone else. Still, he didn’t offer specifics, and the people I knew still swore they didn’t see him do so much as a jumping jack before walking out and demolishing an opponent in total calm.

My coaches Said Hatim and Lyndon Viteri were taking no chances that I’d be capable of doing anything like Fedor, so they set to warm me up vigorously before my fight. I had just accepted a last-minute change of opponents about a half-hour before I was set to walk out to the United Combat League cage late last May.

I grappled with my cousin and teammate Gerardo, practicing moving from a front head lock to taking his back because Lyndon was sure that he would shoot in on me for a takedown. Said held Thai pads for me so that I could work my own jab-cross combo as well as countering his lead left jab.

I began to sweat and feel tired. But fatigue during warm-ups, even during the beginning of fights themselves, is a deception.

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The Travel Chronicles, Part 1: From Heart to Limb to Pen

By Elias Cepeda

For me, it’s simple – there’s only so long I can watch something I find fascinating before needing to try it for myself. I saw the first UFC when I was ten and I began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when I was 15.

Growing up admiring the Gracie family and studying their history, I’d often wished that I didn’t have that five-year gap. More recently, however, I just wished I’d made better use of the time I had.

Less taking off for basketball seasons in high school and more drilling in class. Less time getting old in a chair at work and more reps in the ring.

Saulo Ribeiro, BJ Penn, and Gunnar Nelson all become elite black belt grapplers in just a few years. That isn’t me and no matter how much time I would have spent grappling I wouldn’t have been a BJ Penn.

But I could have been a lot better than I was at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, competed more and learned more about what I can and cannot do. That’s the thing with fighting – you find out what you know and who you are.

Technically, this is true. You may think you’re good in a position or with a move because you hit it on your friends in training, whose games you know and with whom you are comfortable. But wait until you are under duress against a decidedly non-friendly opponent in competition or a fight and see if you execute the same way you did in the gym.

If so, you trained well enough to say you really do know that position, that submission. But if you hesitate, if you freeze or if you’re sloppy because of the added adrenaline that hits you when you fight, then you weren’t exactly as good as you thought you were.

The fight brings that knowledge out about yourself and your technical abilities. It also brings out much more essential things about your being.

Who are you when you’re under attack? Who are you when you’re alone? Who are you when you’re afraid?

In 2010 I fought two amateur MMA fights. The first I took on three days’ notice and the second I had about six weeks to prepare for. I was tired of being an inconsistent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student who, furthermore, had never tested himself in the type of competition that interested me in the martial art to begin with.

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