How I got here: The last part

At the end of 2013 I was one of the highest ranked players in the Taekwondo Australia Rankings. I wasn’t able to go to Nationals due to a meniscus injury I sustained during the TA International where I fought world class USA player Philip Yun. Nevertheless I was psyched for 2014 and felt like I was about to make my break onto the world scene. The first step was winning a spot on the National Team.

The Oceania selections were at the end of April so to make sure I was prepared I booked a trip to South Korea. One of my friends Sol is Korean and she organised a few high schools for me to train at. Everyone I spoke to about training at Korean High Schools warned me of the intensity I would be training at. They were not wrong. For two weeks I was battered by the Koreans. On the first day I partnered with a heavyweight boy who kicked me so hard I had to stop training because I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was under water. The Koreans train with a kind of ferocity I haven’t seen in Australia.

As the training camp came to a close I was becoming used to the way they train, the way they embrace pain as a means of motivation. Although at times the trip was very unpleasant I learned a lot about myself and I feel that I genuinely came back as a better person. I said my goodbyes and made my way home. I had three days after training finished for me to enjoy Seoul and to rest my body in preparation for the Oceania Selections. When I arrived in Melbourne on the Tuesday I had a few recovery sessions and a light kick around before I left on the Friday for the competition.

I was fighting in the Middleweight Division which is an 87kg limit. I weighed in about 85.5kg with my clothes on. I was very comfortable in my weight and due to my success when not dieting hard and dehydrating the year before I continued the trend. I saw my opponent Ben the day after and we had a nice and polite chat in the chairs in marshaling. I didn’t mention that I hadn’t cut any weight, but he did mention he was about 93kg at the time. I was at a weight disadvantage.

Weight aside I do not excuse myself from what happened. I had the best preparation of my life. I couldn’t have asked for better training leading in. I was pulling off a lot of really good stuff in the fight, I felt like I was really close 4 or 5 times to hitting Ben in the head. the scores however told a different story. I was down a significant amount. In the third round Ben started landing double roundhouse kicks on me so hard that I was actually hurt. Fighting hurts, but sometimes when people score on you, you don’t really take notice of the impact your body took. This was something I hadn’t experienced before. He was really, really hurting me. I lost the match by about 7 points. A pretty big gap in Taekwondo. I was really torn up about it.

I started really doubting myself after that. How could I have gone to South Korea, spent all that money to train and prepare for this comp and then be battered in the first round? It made no sense to me. To get over it I entered the upcoming Victorian Championships, a competition I have won more than 10 times. I thought getting a few wins would make me feel better. In my first fight I took control straight away, landing a clean head kick within 10 seconds. However, thirty seconds after that I broke my toe when my foot clashed with his shin. I couldn’t kick with my left foot for the rest of the fight, he realized it and began to thoroughly smash me on the side I couldn’t defend for the remaining 2 and a half rounds. I was wearing an Australian Team uniform, I was in front of my old coaches, usually my Mum is too scared of me getting hurt to watch me fight but this time she came. And I got wrecked. I have never been more embarrassed in my life.

I couldn’t walk properly or train for 6 weeks. So I stewed on it. I came into the next Victorian Championships raring to prove that I was still a force to be reckoned with. I fought the Team AUS Heavyweight Dylan in the first fight, he kicked me in the head but I felt like I was gaining momentum in the last round. I was popping him underneath his arm in the clinch and was catching up. Then I blocked another head kick attempt and when I looked down my ring finger was pointing the wrong way. Two fights in a row I had broken a bone.

Only elite athletes can understand truly what it feels like to be losing like this, to sacrifice years of your life for no reward. I felt that I had spent 6 years of my life for nothing. I felt like I was getting no where. My finger required surgery and I spent 12 weeks unable to train, unable to get my heart rate up without it throbbing. One night I was in a really bad mood so I started watching a movie and I laughed so hard my heart rate rose and my fingers started hurting. I couldn’t sleep with the metal and elastic warping my finger back into position. If it was hot in the room my finger would throb and wake me up. The pins would cut up my other fingers and stab the side of my body in my sleep. In all honesty some nights I would wake up in pain and just cry.

I decided that I couldn’t live like that. It was October and I had spent 5 months out of 10 in pain. My pins came out and I started Physiotherapy, trying to regain the ability to use my left hand. To this day, I am unable to make a complete fist. In October I rejoined a BJJ club I had trained at in 2013 as a means of cross training. In 2013 I was training at Westside MMA in Caroline Springs, a truly elite training facility. They had an affiliation at the time with the Australian Elite Team so when I wanted to start up again I went straight back to the AET. Over the next few months I made myself a promise.

If I couldn’t make the National Team in time for Rio I would make the complete transfer to MMA and try and make the UFC. I am competing for that National Team spot in exactly one month.

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How I Got Here: Part 2

I started Taekwondo in early 2009 and I was really bad at patterns. I was worried I wasn’t going to grade to Yellow Belt so I worked as hard as I could to learn Basic Pattern. Looking back on that time is funny to me now, I am so comfortable with my patterns and have even entered and won a couple of competitions (something my fighting teammates made fun of at the time). This memory is what is driving me forwards with my UFC Dream. I may not have the best boxing in the world now and I am not a Black Belt in BJJ (I’m a White Belt) but that doesn’t mean I never will be, not being good at something straight away isn’t important, in fighting and in life. What’s important is how we handle that adversity.

I graded to Yellow Belt and entered the Sparring Program at Halls Taekwondo. I was lucky enough to be mentored by some amazing coaches while I was there. Zoran, Ross and Jerry were my weekly coaches for years. Zoran’s first lesson to me was that I should never talk back to the referee when given a warning, I’ve fought guys who would be so frustrated with what the ref was doing they lost all sight of what I was going to do to them. They were all always very strict with me about closing my hands but to this day I can’t grasp the habit even after 3 broken hands and 4 broken fingers. (Sorry guys).

I fought my first match at the Victorian Team Selections, I was nervous all day and at a lot of points felt like pulling out, or faking sick. I was coached that day by Rob Dullard another great coach at Halls. I stepped on the court and looked across at my opponent, he was a little shorter than me (most guys I fight are) but he looked like a caged animal, ready to tear me to pieces. I had a day-dream of him being a black belt just wearing a yellow belt for the day and I got even more scared. This is the first time outside of Junior Football that I had been in a fight. The match started and he lunged at me, he was punching me in the body over and over and I froze before I remembered I was allowed to hit him back.

I started kicking him really hard and he was getting tired, by the third round I was up 9-4, I decided I wouldn’t risk getting hurt and tried to stay away from him, but he was losing so he kept on attacking, I kept on clinching him and he was getting really mad. With about 10 seconds left on the clock he lunged in again and punched me hard, I punched him away from me and threw the hardest roundhouse kick I could, I didn’t think about his head but my instinct took it there, my foot collected his jaw, it sounded like someone had hit a desk with a plastic ruler. I saw him go down and I saw Rob jump out of his chair, excited. He got up after a brief pause and walked diagonally across the mat. The ref waved it off and I had won my first match, by knockout.

I had qualified for Nationals and I was really excited. The day before Nationals it was announced that the 2016 Olympics were in Rio. I was hoping for Chicago, but you don’t always get what you want. At the Nationals I won my first match by DQ after a boy from Samoa punched me in the eye and I couldn’t see. In the final I got tore apart by a guy from NSW. Losing teaches you something very important, it teaches you how to be humble. After the KO win I was thinking that I could beat anyone, I was wrong. I underestimated my opponent and after that day I never did it again. That was my only loss between October 2009 and October 2011.

In October 2011 Ben Hartmann from QLD beat the absolute shit out of me at the Australian Open. It was my first Black Belt match and I couldn’t believe that I lost it after winning about 20 fights in a row. In the coming years I would lose a lot of matches like all Black Belts do. But I won heaps of matches too. I was determined to make the Olympic Team. But reality has to set in for everyone, at some point.

 

How I Got Here: PART 1

To really understand why I am trying to make a transfer to MMA you have to go back to 2009. Like thousands of others I was first introduced to the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter. I was sitting in the living room with my Mum flicking channels when we find two guys hitting each other it seemed they were doing some kickboxing sparring. We had just finished watching the Sylvester Stallone show The Contender so we thought it was a new season we hadn’t heard about. So we start watching and they are sparring in a huge matted area, all of a sudden one of them gets double legged. A smooth shoot to a good take down and I perked up in my chair, you can’t wrestle in Kickboxing. So we wait for the show to be over, we see Chris Leben kicking down doors, everyone in the house except Nate Quarry is drunk as hell and at the end of the show we find out its called The Ultimate Fighter.

All I knew about the sport was that two guys could fight in a cage, I didn’t really know the rules, I didn’t know what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was and I had a sudden thirst to find out more. I did a lot of reading over the next few days, I learnt all about the rules, I watched the first couple UFC events when Royce Gracie steamrolled everyone and I found out a lot of the higher level guys had Black Belts in something. Most of them had multiple Black Belts. Anderson Silva was Middleweight Champion at the time and I saw he had a Black Belt in Judo, BJJ and in Taekwondo. He was an all around monster.

From that point on I devoured MMA, I watched loads of PRIDE events, and I watched all of the UFC events I could. In 2009 I was already a few seasons behind on The Ultimate Fighter so I caught up on all of them. I had already been doing Muay Thai for 18 months, I was 17 Years old and I felt that I needed to get a Black Belt to be in the UFC. I thought BJJ would be a good idea but by chance a Halls Taekwondo booth had been set up at the local shopping centre. I remembered Anderson Silva had a Black Belt in Taekwondo so after school one day I spoke to one of my first Taekwondo Instructors Leanne and I signed up.

I had started Taekwondo to get a Black Belt and heighten my chances of making the UFC. Then something strange happened, I was really good at Taekwondo.

(6 Years later and I challenge you to show me a Mum in her 40’s who has seen more episodes of The Ultimate Fighter/UFC Fights than my Mum)