On March 16th, 2012, I’d handed in copy to my editor Mike Russell for a blog post about an interview a reporter named Karyn Bryant had done with UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and left my home office to go cover an Illinois political candidate on the campaign trail for Tribune Co. before the primary election just days away. Several hours later, after spending the afternoon with the political candidate, I opened up my email through my phone and saw a long chain with the CagePotato boys enjoying themselves at the expense of Bryant’s husband/camera man, Wade Eck. He had taken offense to the blog post and begun leaving threatening posts on the site’s facebook page.
In my blog post I called Bryant’s conversation with Jackson a “solid interview,” but I also commented on the weirdness of that video and one some months before with Bryant and Jackson on account of the fighter being sexually inappropriate with Bryant as her husband watched and filmed it.
I called him a cuckold. I compared him to the fictional “Chad,” from the old “Mad Real World” sketch from Chappelle’s show. I would have felt fine criticizing anyone in that situation — Jackson for acting like an entitled bully jock, Bryant for allowing for her reporting to be reduced to being the chick that let fighters objectify and grope her on camera — but I chose Bryant’s husband because his perspective was the one that I could understand the least.
Standing by and silently watching you and your wife get disrespected seemed strange to me, especially coming from someone like Eck who previously had no problem in the past publicly bullying less threatening people than “Rampage” while touting his “full contact” experience.
A lot of fun ensued for the next few days, including Rampage and Matt Lindland getting involved, forum members over at The Underground offering to sponsor me to go fight Eck in California as well as creating some hilarious photo shopped images and GIFs as a part of a thread that was eventually censored. I won’t spend much time giving Eck more attention in these pages but things basically went like this — I wrote the blog post, Eck said he’d kick my ass for it. I replied that, though I couldn’t provide the same assurance of my beating his ass as easily as he was certain he would beat mine, I’d gladly fight him.
At some point after that, he demurred and backed down. Just another would-be bully who had no interest in following through.
What Eck couldn’t have known was that I was already itching to fight again. More specifically, I was eager to have a goal to focus on and ramp up my training. I’d not really kicked my training into high gear again since injuring ligaments in my knee that past November while training for a kickboxing bout.
The image of me when I first read “Chad’s” insults and threats on my computer that March evening encapsulated where I was with training at that time – I had not one but two double filet o fish sandwiches in my lap with an extra large order of fries at the very moment I told him I’d fight him, tomorrow or whenever he was ready.
I had fought my first two bouts at middleweight – 185 pounds – but had gotten up to nearly 210 pounds. Certainly, too much of that was fat around my midsection but some of it was added muscle on my chest, back, shoulders and legs.
I felt stronger than I had at middleweight and liked it so I thought fighting at light heavyweight might make sense. I’d be a lot smaller than most in the division, because even at an amateur level guys like to cut at least some weight. I’d cut out the filet o fish sandwiches but I wouldn’t dehydrate myself.
I got back in the gym, started working, testing my knee out with the intention of finding a fight and trying 205 out. I texted a local matchmaker, Tony Bilius, I knew of who had been successful with his partner Mike in running shows for some time. They were starting a new promotion and had a show in late May.
The first time I fought it was on a few days’ notice and I didn’t know anything about my opponent. The second time, I had six weeks to prepare but still had never seen my opponent in action.
I decided to take the advice I’d given to fighter teammates through the years and be a bit smarter about who I fought. I told the promoter that I wanted to fight and asked him for a few names of possible opponents.
From there, I looked up tapes of their past fights and had my coaches check them out. Of the names he gave me, I felt comfortable fighting three of them. Tony got one of them to say he’d fight me and I had a fight. The guy I was supposed to fight had one prior fight that I could find.
I couldn’t tell much from watching that fight other than that he was clearly nervous and scared during it. He took on a much larger opponent and a rising undefeated star in the promotion, Bill Jessie, in his last fight. Jessie basically dropped him with the first good shot he landed and then he tapped out before taking much damage on the ground.
Either this guy would come out tentative again, in which case I planned to feint, feel him out and see where his holes were and then try to hurt him on the feet before finishing on the ground, or he would have decided that he never again wanted to look as bad as he did in his last fight. If that was the case, I could expect him to come out guns blazing.
There’s only so much that a fighter can actually learn during a training camp. I had about two months to get ready to fight and so I focused on basic strategy and tactics based on the few seconds of tape I’d seen on my opponent and conditioning myself. I wouldn’t become a drastically more skilled fighter in that short period of time. All I could hope to do was get in shape physically and get as many sparring rounds in as possible.
My head coach Dino Costeas is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu-based and loves smooth technique more than almost anything, but he knows the benefit of good, hard sparring, as well. “If you spar three to four times a week, you will almost get good on accident,” he once told me.
So we did that, concentrating on dealing with storms of punches, kicks and knees that I might see in the fight. Physically, we tried to concentrate on improving on the basic but crucial glaring mistakes I often made. On the feet, I needed to keep my chin tucked and hands up. On the ground I needed to not concede the take down and if I did get taken down I needed to work to get back up to my feet or reverse positions at all times.
Things were going well for about five weeks. I got less tired and more comfortable during sparring. I simply tried to become the best version of my current self that I could be by fight night. I’d be conditioned to go three rounds and I would spar enough to where, even if I couldn’t smoothly counter every move my opponent made, I at least wouldn’t feel psychologically overwhelmed by anything he did or any way he did it.
It could lose lots of ways, but I wouldn’t lose because I wasn’t tough enough in training to get in shape or because I wasn’t tough enough in the fight to stand up to any pressure he’d bring long enough to grab hold of him, drag him to the mat and finish the fight there. That, at least, was the idea.
A couple unexpected turns along the way got in the way of that plan. Before dealing with some adversity and uncertainty, though, I got good news and an added helping hand.