MY FIRST FIGHT: All The Gory Details
Thinking of my first fight takes me back to 2003, to the Orange Dome in Winter Haven, FL. for a promoter named Dieuseul “Tiger” Berto. I associate a lot of variously themed memories with my first fight: nerves, anxiety, pressure, exhilaration, pain. But before we get into that, let me rewind a little bit farther into the preparation for this momentous occasion.
I was training at American Top Team HQ in Coconut Creek, FL. My main goal was a career in MMA, I started with BJJ first but quickly fell in love with the striking arts as soon as I started training them. At the time, amateur MMA was still illegal in the state but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to build a solid base as an amateur. I decided I would take an ammy Muay Thai fight whenever it presented itself. After three months of training, the offer came in.
For this bout, I never found out the name of my opponent beforehand (not that it would have mattered). I just trained as I would every day. Throwing high volume kick on the Thai pads, sparring twice a week, working partner drills, and killing the heavy bags with as many low kicks as I could throw was the daily routine. As green as I was, I felt as ready as I could be.
The gravity of the situation didn’t hit me till about 2 1/2 hours into the three-hour drive up to weigh-ins (we all made weight with no problem). My teammates that were fighting on the card all had 5+ fights under their belt and they were relaxed as could be, in the van laughing and telling jokes like any other Friday morning. That’s when I saw the sign for the Winter Haven exit.
My stomach sank into my legs and I just put my head in my hands. My whole body felt heavy and my nerves were racing. In this moment, my teammate Eric Morel patted me on the back and said, “Look who just realized he has to fight tomorrow.” He laughed and tried to cheer me up. It didn’t help.
Fight day – oh, what a day. We show up to the venue and sit in the back for what feels like eternity. Though I was making my debut, one of my more senior teammates Luis Nazario fought before me… and here is where the day took a turn for me.
We all walked Luis out as a team. He’s got head gear and shin guards on, wearing 16 oz gloves. However, when we got to the ring, there stood his opponent in only 12 oz gloves. The promoter came over and told us to take off the protective gear. Luis obliged and won his fight. I, however, dove deeply into panic mode – my fight was only two or three away.
My coaches Christian and Carlao strapped on my shin guards, tied up the same sweaty 16 oz gloves that Luis wore, and put on a headgear entirely too small for my head. I asked Carlao to be sure my match was under amateur rules – he assured me it was. I relaxed a little, knowing the protection afforded by the guards and headgear would let me skirt the edges of pain and potential injury.
During my long walk to the ring, I saw my opponent for the first time – no headgear, no shin guards. Immediately, my heart sank. Shit just got real!
Once I got to the ring, I was stripped down to just the essentials (shorts, gloves, mouth piece, cup) and stepped onto the mat. I was fucking terrified. I looked over at Carlao and said, “Tell me I’m gonna die,” to which he laughed and replied, “You’ll be fine.” The bell rang and it sounded like a death knell.
I was successful early on with hard kicks and a decent clinch, both of which were brought into effect nearly immediately as the first round started. From the moment the bell sounded, I did my best to play the outside and chop the lead leg of my opponent. I was lucky that he wasn’t much for blocking, but much to my dismay he was happy to punch right through my chopping leg kicks. This is where the clinch came into play.
Much of the fight was a rinse and repeat for me. On the outside, I would kick the living hell out of his legs, to which he would respond by pressuring in with punches (knocking books off shelves in my head every time). To counter that, I would clinch and start kneeing and yanking him around till the ref split us up.
In the end, I won a unanimous decision and went back to the locker room more exhausted than I had ever been in just 9 min of work. Every inch of me hurt, every muscle ached, my shin bones felt like they were broken and swollen from kicking knees and hips (it took my ankle 4 months to recover) after a long shower and a nap we headed home early the next morning. I was a changed man. I’m not sure exactly what changed but I was distinctly different inside.
Facebook.com/BenStarkATT | @BenStarkHJJ | youtube.com/c/BenStarkHJJ
- Ben Stark, an American Top Team Black Belt has been training and fighting MMA, BJJ & Muay Thai since 2002. Training and fighting in the dark ages of MMA Ben amassed a record of 5 wins and 2 losses before getting on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11. Ben is now the BJJ head instructor at ATT Palm Beach Gardens.