Lessons Learned From That Time I Joined A Cage Fight

Girl putting her fist in the camera

Photo: Timothy Eberly

I had many unorthodox interests growing up—I wanted to be a magician, an X-Games rollerblader, a breakdancer, a pro gamer, an MMA fighter—and thanks to the invention of the internet, I was able to truly learn just how lacking my country was when it came to these new interests.

For instance, instead of mixed martial arts (MMA), I would train kickboxing, only because it was one of the few martial arts gyms in Malaysian that didn’t involve Silat, Karate, or Taekwondo.

The gym I joined was geared more towards fitness, so I never really got to actually spar with other people. And you know what they say about hitting heavy bags—it’s easy to hit something that doesn’t hit back.

So I stuck to living vicariously through other people living the MMA lifestyle, thanks to the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Had there been more support for combat sports during that era, I imagined I’d have made that my career instead of hairdressing.

But by the time Malaysian Invasion – Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) rolled around, it’d already be seven years past the day I’d first imagined myself stepping into the ring. Still, that meant I had seven years worth of recreational kickboxing to take a chance at a faded dream, so I packed my gear and drove myself to the event on my own.

I still don’t know why I did that, but boy did I learn a thing or two from that experience.

1. You’ll never be ready enough for anything

Like I said, I had lacked so many things coming into this event, and addressing my lack of grappling alone would’ve taken me a few years at least. I could’ve at least learned to spar. I definitely could’ve used more roadwork, because my stamina was shit.

But as I look back on the event today, even with an additional six years of grappling experience, plus a ton of Muay Thai and MMA training, I still don’t feel ready enough to join an MMA competition.

But I did join the competition, didn’t I? I came out all right, and I managed to do it at a time when my body could still handle the rigours of a good beating (this was in 2013).

What that taught me was that you’ll always feel like you could be better—and you could—but if you wait for the perfect moment to do something, then you’ll never get anything done.

2. Sometimes logic doesn’t make sense

You need more than a desire to fight to take part in something like this, and here’s an incomplete list of what I lacked at the time: grappling knowledge, some cornermen—or friends, at least—to accompany me, or fight experience.

I was pretty sure I had consulted the logical part of my brain to make the decision for me, but for some reason, I found myself at the registration booth, alone, and unsure what was in store for me.

Most of our lives, we navigate our choices based on logic, because that’s the practical way to do so. What you should know is that despite your best interests, your brain will have a weird way of telling you what to do. When that happens, don’t bother justifying anything.

Just know that it’s just one of those times when you’ll think back and say: “I don’t know what I was thinking.” That’s because you most probably weren’t.

3. Fear is only there until you face it

Thanks to stepping into the caged, I learned pretty quick that fear only takes place in your mind. I had so many thoughts of getting hurt, or looking back in front of the crowd. I feared the unknown. I even felt uncomfortable appearing topless in front of an audience.

The moment you step into that fear, however, the moment you face it down and say well, I’m here, it all starts to fade away.

Fear is just your mind’s way of protecting you. Most times, it does a hell of a job, but the danger of that is you could end up living an unfulfilling life in the sidelines.

When they’d locked the cage and my negative thoughts started to melt away, I realised that the fear was strongest only when I sought to avoid it.

Fight video

That’s me getting a few good shots in.

4. Sometimes the best cheerleader you have is yourself

Now we go back to the cornermen issue. As a combat sports fan, I’d often see them as nothing more than a couple of friends giving a fighter some advice between rounds. I never knew how important they were until I joined MIMMA without anyone by my side. Heck, even my girlfriend at the time didn’t bother coming to support because we were going through a rough patch.

So I gave myself a pep talk before I stepped into the ring. I worked out my own strategy and shadowboxed on my own in the warm-up pen. I even consoled myself after not having made the cut. I learned that it’s perfectly possible to cheer yourself on during tough times. And sometimes, it is the only thing you can do.

5. Always say yes to new experiences

The worst case scenario for failing in something new is that you’ll have a kickass story to tell. It’s the sole reason why I have this tendency to make questionable decisions, such as leaving to a new country with a girl I just knew, using the last of my savings to live in a Muay Thai gym in Thailand for a month, or hopping on a plane to Myanmar for a 30-day gig without a contract.

But you know what? Good or bad, I always came out of each experience learning something different, making new friends, and having endless stories to write about.

Sure, there’s comfort in the familiar, and staying safe at home always feels good, but nothing beats living life, even if you think you might’ve made the worst choice at the time.

Parting thoughts

Sometimes we dream, not knowing the costs behind making them happen. After joining MIMMA, I learned that I much prefer to fight as a hobby, because the only opponent that I wanted to best was myself.

I’m glad I still gave it a shot, because it’s a kind of sport with an expiry date, and as I round the corner to my forties, I can at least feel proud of myself for having tried it before the door permanently closed on me.

Besides, I would learn later on that writing about these stories is much funner than actually making a living out of it.

This experience and interest would be the reason why I would be able to cover stories of the mud wrestlers in India, and even attend an actual UFC event—fifteen years after I’d watched that first season of The Ultimate Fighter—and see the faces of the sports like Joe Rogan and Bruce Buffer in the flesh.

And maybe that’s my biggest takeaway from this, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, but we could very well get what we need.

36 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From That Time I Joined A Cage Fight

  1. Surprising read! I imagined myself as a karate kid back in the days until I accidentally gave my opponent a bloody nose while sparring and felt bad about. Plus getting beat up hurts.
    But as you say, you gotta live life despite your fears. It makes for good blog fodder!

    • Yeah, it does hurt to hurt people, doesn’t it? Maybe empathetic people don’t do as well in combat sports, but hey—and I like your description for it—it all makes for good blog fodder. Thanks for stopping by again, Kathy!

  2. You are so right about embracing new experiences. It’s so important to try new things while we can and like you said even if they don’t go well it’s something you will learn from or at least it will give you an interesting story to tell!

    • Hahaha, yeah. Really doesn’t feel like it at the time though. Whenever you’re going through sucky times, it always feels like it’ll never end.

      Thanks for stopping by, Pooja! Am honoured that you dropped a comment :)

  3. I love this post. It is really interesting to hear about your unorthodox hobby and what you learned from it. MMA is definitely not my thing, but I found your post really enjoyable and accessible.

    I’ve been mourning the loss of my own non-traditional hobby (competitive karaoke – the bars are closed because of COVID and I’m not sure if/when the competitive league will come back…) Your post is inspiring me to do something more useful than grieving.

    • Oh yeah, don’t remind me about the loss of hobbies due to COVID. Am still salty about not being able to touch other human beings, and the possibility of this sport being changed forever.

      Love having you by every time. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Wow! That definitely does take courage! I couldn’t imagine walking into a ring knowing for a fact I was in for a real fight. I imagine there is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that could do it, you’ll never have to wonder if you could “take it” or not.

    And you really let that guy have it!

    • Oh yeah, it was definitely a new experience indeed. Never have I felt that threatened before, though that all disappeared when it came time to face it head on.

      Lol yeah, that was the best action I got out of the few minutes I was in the cage. The rest was just fumbling around not knowing how to grapple with this dude.

      Thanks for always stopping by, Hetty!

  5. Your life…so interesting 😂
    Trying new experiences is something I’m being more open to. I once heard someone say, “Who knows what happens if you do? But you know what will happen of you don’t? Nothing.”
    So yes to new experiences and being your biggest cheerleader 🙌🏾

    • I like that saying! It ensures that people choose to take action when faced with the choice.

      I’d say you have an interesting life too. It takes a lot to uproot to a different place to live, and that’s something I find really hard!

      Thanks for stopping by, Wonani :)

  6. And that what makes life interesting. I’d never in a million years enter a cage fight. That takes an awful lot of guts. But I suppose each of us would have our little story to tell. Glad you shared yours with us.

  7. Wow, you learned a lot of valuable lessons from that match. In that way, I’d say you won big time. I’ve met people who seek out apparently new experiences (like through travel), yet their seeking becomes almost as much of a routine as doing the daily chores. It’s when you take those new experiences and really draw out the reflections they offer that they build you rather than just happening to you.

    • That’s true. Even the mundane, repetitive, everyday life has something to teach us if we reflect on it enough, and really it’s up to us to find meaning. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Reminds me of the Rolling Stone song… 🎶

    Turning memories and experiences into life lessons is a great ability we humans have! Writing about it is even better!

  9. First and foremost triple hats of to you sir!
    First for going after something that you wanted to do and not letting any one get in your way and figuring out how
    To go about achieving it!

    2nd: To figure out how to train even though you had no mma gyms around. That sir is huge achievement by itself. Also having to train to get in that cage without a sparring partner is a huge step. Having sparring partners is a main training camp part. So for you to give it your all and not know what your getting into and to still keep going is huge step.

    3rd for you just to step into that ring alone is not only brave but also shows courage and discipline to over coming a lot!

    Your a champ not matter what and don’t stop training. I’ve trained in mma for 5 years and also coached. It is an awesome sport if you enjoy it and if you do find an mma gym and stick to it you will instantly have a loyal family and new brothers and sisters. So I hope you find one. Hats off to you and never give up!

    • Thanks for your kind words! I guess it takes someone who’s practiced to know what a stupid idea it was joining a comp without having a corner, lol.

      I’ve been focusing on my grappling these past few years, but COVID has taken that away, so we’ll see.

      Love your comment, so thanks for stopping by!

  10. Pingback: Lessons Learned From That Time I Joined A Cage Fight — Stuart Danker – I Write Stuff – Sharkbytes Fun DIY Projects

  11. Pingback: 7 Life Lessons from Competitive Karaoke (Because I Learned Nothing from The Pandemic Year) – Jewish Young Professional

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