I stepped into the ring with my headgear on and nervousness living within me.
This was it. This is what I’d been training relentlessly for – for the last 7-weeks.
I’d have gruelling sessions 5-6 times a week in the general classes with the pro and amateur fighters and then I’d have my own private sessions as well on the same day.
By the time it got to around 8/9 pm I was absolutely exhausted and just read to sleep.
I remembered turning up in the gym for the first time a few months back and asking if I could learn to fight.
The man at the desk told me to come back at 2 pm
It was 11 am at that point, so I did as asked and promptly came back for 2 pm.
The whole idea was a little wild – that I’d decided to fly all the way to Brazil with the sole purpose of training to become a Muay Thai fighter after watching “The Warrior” with my friend Luc in Lisbon.
But here I was and that is exactly what happened.
‘Hey man!’ in a Brazilian accent with a twang of American said this smiling, and confident teenager looking at me.
‘I don’t fight MMA, but I can teach you, Muay Thai, if you like – that’s what I fight’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
He walked me through the art of eight limbs and I thought – ‘that sounds pretty good’
And I had little choice anyway – he was the only English-speaking guy in the gym – at 17 years old.
As it turned out he’d learnt English as an overweight kid who spent all of his time playing Call of Duty online – and the only way he could communicate and understand what was going on – was by learning English.
In a bid to get Victor in shape and off his bum, his father had enlisted him with the local fighting gym – and so began this journey that had led me to Victor.
He’d already had 15+ amateur bouts and was in the process of turning professional.
An amazing person to teach me, Muay Thai.
Of course, I wasn’t the only guy that had turned up to the gym wanting to learn to fight as well as desiring to actually fight.
This happened fairly regularly – as it probably does in many gyms around the world.
What made it slightly more interesting was that I am (and was) a gringo – and as taken from Google this is:
(in Spanish-speaking countries and contexts, chiefly in the Americas) a person, especially an American, who is not Hispanic or Latino.
There would be far fewer of us ‘wanna be fighters’- but the principle was essentially the same.
Along my journey with the Art Fighters club, I met another guy (Dutch) who was thinking about fighting but never followed through. And there were several others (Brazilians this time) who had been training/sparring for months, even years but not yet fought.
So I can see now why Victor was surprised when I kept coming back; week after week of getting beaten up.
I started sparring pretty much within the first two weeks.
Making the adjustment from running ultramarathons to training muay thai was definitely hard.
To start with, the other fighters didn’t make much of me or choose to even communicate with me – I was definitely an outsider.
There were guys there of varying weight classes, professions and skill sets – but I was definitely at the bottom of the pack.
I struggled in the sessions with the basic fitness exercises and then had issues with coordination. Learning to punch and kick correctly I found it difficult.
These would be a big focus of the private classes I’d take with Hugo to help refine my technique.
I was a test project for him – his first experience taking a complete novice all the way up to fight standard.
And for me, this was the first real-time I’d decided to take a significant amount of private classes in a bid to become an amateur fighter.
My days were odd – I’d walk over to the gym from the flat I had eventually found – and I later started subletting the 2nd room in the place to a French couple.
And after that, I’d stop by the hostel I’d stayed in for the first week I was in Rio – but I didn’t really have any friends to speak of.
It was to start with an intense and lonely existence.
The day could start at 7/8 am with the morning group class. This was with the folks that had day jobs and so wanted a session before they got to the office. There were definitely a few amateurs and professionals in these classes.
Nonetheless, you could always find several people of decent ability in the class.
Once this was done – I’d meet Victor immediately after sometimes (or during if he was teaching the class, participating in it – or just watching) and we would move into our private class.
In the first several weeks we focused heavily on technique whilst in the classes I’d work on whatever came up in class.
After these were both done, I had a choice of an afternoon class and an end-of-day class. Typically I’d go to the afternoon class as that’s where I’d get to train with all the pros and serious fighters.
These classes were intense and the standards were high. There’d be a series of warm-ups and intense physical fitness followed by technical sessions and then often we’d move into sparring.
50% of the time I’d spar with someone who could see that I was fresh and would go easy on me. But for the other 50% you’d be with people who didn’t really care about that so much and it’d be an intimidating and scary face-off.
I was pushing to fight and after an initial dizzying 4-weeks – Hugo began searching for a fight for me. He had no feeling I was ready.
By this time I’d gained acceptance from the group because for all of our differences, they could see that I was one of them – someone who would actually fight.
Preparing to fight once you have a bout date is a scary thing.
It’s knowing that there is someone else out there who is training with the sole intent of knocking you out.
Once the date is set – the first time you do this – it overtakes everything else that you do. It becomes the most important thing in your life.
Of course – this WAS the sole reason I was in Rio – so it made sense it was the most important thing.
This was everything I had been working for.
Sparring sessions where I’d always leave with a bloody mouth.
A day when I’d walked into the bathroom crying after getting basically beat up and knocked to the floor time after time.
Fitness sessions pushed me to my very limit.
An inability to really do much else outside of fighting.
My skills and fighting ability had been forged inside the Art Fighters training arena.
My friend Ashley had even flown in from the UK for a few weeks to visit Rio and see me whilst I was there.
He had taken several training sessions with me and as I did – became fast friends with Hugo and Cunha – the two young fighters who were my coaches and in my corner on judgement day.
The referee said ‘fight’ in Portuguese and inwards I gaited towards my opponent
That’s all for today guys – catch you in the next letter 🙂