Everyone has social situations or events that make them cringe to their absolute core. For anyone who is an introvert like me, there’s one annual event that we dread unlike no other. It usually comes in the form of a song that people scream at you rather than sing to you.
If you’re lucky enough there are always children present to drag it out longer than actually needed. “Happy birthday to Youuuuu!” For people who despise being the center of any sort of attention, this is an inescapable method of torture that you are forced to smile and nod through each year.
This is where I was the exact moment that life as we know it changed in the United States. Sitting in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) while my classmates were screaming the lyrics at me knowing it would drive me absolutely mad. Before they could finish the song our instructor walked into the room and turned on the television just as the second plane hit the tower. There was an audible gasp in the classroom and not a single one of us knew it at the time, but life as we knew it was forever changed.
My parents later told me that after watching me glued to the television for 14 straight hours following those events, that they knew I would join the military. I didn’t exactly have a plethora of options but it did help solidify my decision to join rather than run away with an unstable girl I was dating and make money moving up the ranks of a Mcdonald’s together. As it turns out, choosing a career path does not always equate to finding yourself.
21st Birthday to Remember
Finding myself did not happen until it was time to celebrate my 21st birthday with a magical liquid that I could now legally purchase. It was forcing me to open up to the world. Not only did I put myself in a social situation at a bar surrounded by other adults, but I also put myself at the center of attention entering an old-school dance competition.
To this day I believe I was the victor, but the club had other plans. An absolutely stunning woman in a Spanish Flamenco dress somehow edged me out. Twirling her dress while hypnotizing the crowd and repeating the same salsa dance over and over. I mixed it up throwing everything I had at her. I did the sprinkler, the running man, the cabbage patch, and yes… even the worm. I’m sure if I watched the security cameras the following day I would see clearly why I lost but I like to remember the night as it happened in my own mind.
The gang now decided they were going to introduce me to bar hopping. Keep in mind, when you ingest a large amount of this liquid you do not make the best decisions. My friend and I decided to walk and meet them there rather than cram into a taxi. We both set off fully confident the other person knew the way. Five miles later it was very clear we were mistaken. Making the best of the situation we both decided it’s OK, we know there are other bars in the area and surely we would run into one if we kept going in this direction.
10 miles later we were both pretty certain that if there were bars in the area, they were demolished and moved to another area in the time it took us to walk here. We had made it this far on foot though and we were young Marines capable of great physical feats. Surely we could just finish the journey home on foot where we knew we had a fridge full of mediocre beer.
We were so motivated by this journey that we began to run together in step while singing Marine Corps cadence. If time travel was a possibility today I would travel back in time just to slap my motivated self at that moment.
18 miles into our journey and we began to realize our mistake. Now 86 percent sober, this voyage was no longer amusing. It turns out that margaritas are not a good source of hydration. There was an unspoken agreement by this point. We made it this far. There is no quitting now. 18 miles into our journey one of our friends managed to find us and offer us a ride. With only three miles remaining, we both refused. We needed to see this through. We needed to prove to ourselves and to our friends that we were in fact… complete idiots.
The last mile of the journey to Camp Smith, Hawaii is 2.1 miles straight uphill from Aloha Stadium. Only if the legends who graced that stadium during the NFL Pro Bowl could see us now. We got our second wind and sprinted the entire way. That would later prove to be our source of pain the following day. Julio Jones had nothing on the hamstring injuries I sustained that early morning.
We both arrived completely sober and miserable. I had the good sense to grab some water rather than beer from the fridge while my friend collapsed on the concrete barracks floor. After about a 5-second attempt at shaking him to see if he was still alive, I left a water bottle by his side and went to sleep.
The Morning After
The next morning I woke up to find both him and the water were gone. This absolute savior of a man was at McDonald’s getting us both Spam, egg and cheese McGriddles to replenish the nutrients we had lost the night before. When he got back he reminded me that we had booked yet another social event for that day. I was too sober for this news but reluctantly replenished my soul with my Spam delight and got ready.
As much as I was unaware of how the events of Sept. 11, 2001, would shape my life, I was unaware of the impact this birthday celebration would have as well. This was the day I would experience my first-ever mixed martial arts event. Because this was a social gathering and I was still recovering from the previous night’s shenanigans, the first few fights did not phase me. I may as well have been watching paint dry.
I was just trying to make it through the conversations while sweating Spam and margarita mix. My legs were still throbbing from my morning workout. I was fully ready to go home and sleep for the next 7 days when all of a sudden something magical happened. A very unassuming fighter by the name of Nick Diaz began to do something that I could not comprehend.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Master
From the very first moments of the bout, Diaz began throwing punches in what seemed like slow motion. Most did not even seem to land and if they did, it was impacting with the same force of a pillow. I wrote him off in the first minute of the fight but he did not stop that pace for a single second. Always moving forward and always striking with that same lack of urgency. By the second round, I remember asking my friends what exactly was happening. How did he show up to this fight with such extreme disregard for his opponent?
In the middle of the second round, I realized that me, as a fan, watching in the stands had fallen into the trap that he set for his opponent. He did not let up for a single moment. His strikes doubling in pace. Moving forward as his opponent began to slow down. A relentless barrage of pillows reining down on his opponent until the bell. I’m not sure it was as clear to my friends as it was to me at this moment. This was a master class in MMA, a chess match that put other sports to shame.
During the third round, I was in complete awe of what I was witnessing. The pillowcases were hitting like bricks at this point. Nick Diaz was relentlessly attacking the feet, in the clinch and on the ground. There was so much I did not understand about what was happening, yet so much that was clear to me at that exact moment. I knew that I wouldn’t rest until I unlocked the secrets within this game of chess.
That day would unlock my journey into mixed martial arts. If I was capable of walking 500 miles and then walking 500 more, what else could I achieve?
UFC 266: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
Welterweight Bout: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
This is the second matchup between these two fighters and it’s very fitting that my column has been focused on Diaz to this point. 14 years after I discovered one of my passions, Diaz still continues to amaze me. Just like my journey to discovering MMA was a marathon, Diaz’s career has been as well. With long breaks between fights, he has not seemed to age or slow down at all.
Despite coming off of two losses and a no-contest, these were fights against the best in the sport at the time, after he took long layoffs. I would argue that he managed to exploit weaknesses in each of these fighters when no one else could at the time. Robbie Lawler saw somewhat of a resurrection in his career before losing five of his last six fights. I believe despite the layoff, Nick Diaz will once again defeat Robbie Lawler by Knockout (KO )or Technical Knockout (TKO).
Women’s Flyweight Title Bout: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
This fight is the easiest pick of the three for me. Valentina Shevchenko is one of the most dominant female fighters next to Amanda Nunes. She is the only fighter to seemingly challenge Nunes. It’s a safe bet that Shevchenko wins this fight in dominant fashion by KO over Lauren Murphy.
Featherweight Title Bout Main Event: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
I believe this will be the closest of the three fights listed. Both fighters have been absolutely dominant in the division aside from each of their fights with Max Holloway. Alexander Volkanovski holds the edge in striking accuracy but the edge on the ground goes to Brian Ortega with seven wins by submission. I believe Volkanovski will avoid the ground altogether and this will be a heavy striking match.
I don’t think he will find the same dominance he may have in the past on the feet against Ortega. Ortega seemed to reach new heights in his striking game in his last fight against Jung Chan-Sung (The Korean Zombie). With his improved striking and the edge on the ground, I’m going to give Ortega the win by decision in this bout.
“Now the night is coming to an end… The sun will rise and we will try again.” – Twenty One Pilots
Thank you for allowing me to share this. @3rdandShortt