Saturday, March 10, 2007

The cage fighter in me

By Brian Linder

I was decked out and ready to go as I made my way around the tiny gym in Walterboro. I had my weightlifting gloves on, black Windbreaker pants, Nike shoes and a hoodie that was pulled down low enough that my eyes barely showed from beneath its brim. I work out, and I like to psych myself up pretty good before I begin.

But on this day, the gym was filled with recreation basketball teams, and as I made my way to the weight room I noticed one of the little boys along the sideline in front of me grinning from ear to ear. There was a little drool running down his chin, and I forgave that because he was around seven. Heck, I still drool sometimes today, so who was I to say anything to him?

His smile suggested he was looking for some sort of interaction, but I already had the testosterone pumping and the only interaction I was interested in was the one I was about to create between my biceps and some barbells. I made it a point to totally ignore the little fellow, but I only made it two or three steps past him when I heard, "Hey, mister."

Great, I thought. I spun around, and this time I found that this situation had multiplied itself. The little drooler was joined by one of his friends, and they were now both wearing wide grins. The situation seemed to be getting so much better for me.

I gathered myself for a second, broke from the scowling, ready-to-punish my body mode I was in, and put on a smile.

"What's up, little man?" I asked.

Now, there's a sick little secret about me, and now is a good time to get it out of the way. That secret: I am fast becoming a hard-core UFC fan. Actually, it goes deeper than that. I have a dual identity -- a character that exists mostly in my mind -- and that character is "The White Hammer". All my friends know about it -- actually, they created the nickname, and I have no problem with it. As Napoleon Dynamite-esque as this may sound ... I want to be a cage fighter. Well, at least a little of me does.

So, I was a different person, and here was this little kid with a river flowing down his chin -- friend in tow -- demanding my attention.

"Are you a wrestler?" he asked.

Instantly, I was smiling. I loved his question. It fed the ego of the Hammer.

"Na, little man, I'm not a wrestler ... I'm a cage fighter," I said.

"Cool!" he shot back.

Yes, being a cage fighter is cool ... at least that's what I think. And, really it's cooler right now than ever before. Once, MMA (mixed martial arts) was considered a blood sport, but now it's becoming something entirely different. For me, it's must-see TV, and you should see these UFC pay-per-views. Celebrities fill the crowd, the fighters get all the girls, and there is something so bad ass about locking yourself in an octagon with someone else and battling things out.

Just a couple of years ago, names such as Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz were not necessarily well known. But now that is changing. In fact, Liddell, who is likely the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, is gaining near-rock star status. He's on television, he's on radio -- this thing is taking off.

But it's well deserved, too. To the untrained eye, a fight is just that -- a fight. But to those of us in the know, a real fight is the culmination of months of rigorous training and hard work. Recently, I watched a program on Hughes. His training regime was unreal. He would wake up around 6 a.m., chug down a protein shake and go for a run. From there, he would weight train, and then spar into the late afternoon. It was an all-day, every day affair. I couldn't do it, and you probably couldn't, either.

After I wrapped up my coverage of the Holly Hill Academy boys' game in Sumter Saturday, I raced to Charleston where I met up with a buddy of mine to watch the UFC pay-per-view. It was the return of "The Natural" Randy Couture, a legend in the sport of MMA. Couture, 43, retired a few years ago after losing to Liddell twice, but he was coming back as both a heavyweight and an underdog Saturday against UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia.

Sylvia is around 6-8, and Couture, who stands around 6-2, was expected to try to take the bigger man down and try to beat him on the ground. Sylvia's reach was supposed to be too much for Couture to deal with on his feet, and it was expected that Sylvia would probably knock Randy out and send him back off into the sunset.

So, Couture started the fight by marching across the ring and blasting Sylvia right in the face. For the next five rounds, I watched as the supposedly washed-up Couture pounded away on his bigger opponent, nailing him with shots that would have probably sent my alter-ego into never-never land. Rightfully, the decision went to "The Natural," and Sylvia's face looked like it had been flogged with a hot frying pan.

Couture also pulverized my dreams of one day being able to step into an environment such as the UFC. Couture is great, and "The White Hammer"... well, the hammer isn't so great. I probably would stand a better chance of becoming a Super Bowl winning quarterback than stepping in with those guys in the UFC. A guy like Couture is downright dangerous. In the grand scheme of things, I am pretty harmless, and I have no doubts that if I stepped into an octagon nothing but bad things would come of it for me.

That's because the guys in the UFC are world-class athletes. I am not a world-class athlete, and I guess I am fine with that. To the kid down in Walterboro, I have to say that I am sorry for lying. For now, I am much more comfortable leaving the 6 a.m. jogs to the fighters, and taking the pre-fight plate of chicken wings for myself. It's probably for the best.


No comments: