About a week before my first professional fight I was riding home from practice on the back of Ben’s motorcycle. We stopped at an intersection that we crossed every day. It was the sort of mayhem you find only in Lima. There was a stop light but it didn’t seem to mean anything. Cars crossed whenever they could find an opening.
As we sat there waiting, my brain started wandering. “I hope we get in a crash and I get hurt, then I won’t have to fight next week,” I thought. “Nothing too serious, but a serious abrasion would be enough. Maybe a broken bone at worst.”
“But wait, that’s crazy,” another voice in my head popped in. “Ben is on the bike and he has to fight also. I don’t want him to get hurt, just me.”
After we got home, I reflected on the idiocy of my thoughts. A motorcycle crash would be worse than anything that could possibly happen to me in the cage. Was the pressure getting to me? But I had been competing in high pressure matches since I was seven – this feeling was different. I had never felt such terror.
No matter how I tried to rationalize my way out of it, the cloud hung over my head. I was paralyzed with fear. I started to doubt all the decisions that had led up to this point. Everyone else had freaked out when I decided to leave my job and move to Peru, but I never really did. I never really had an oh fuck moment. But now I was having it for the first time. What had I done?
I pulled myself together and a week later I stepped in the cage. It wasn’t until after the fight that I mentioned it to Ben one day. “Yeah man, the mind plays some nasty tricks on you before a fight,” he chuckled.
In college, sometimes I would wish my opponent didn’t make weight or that he would get hurt. But there was always a tougher opponent the following week anyway. The Sword of Damocles dangled over my head the whole season. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait until I finish wrestling, then I won’t have to feel like this anymore.” I came to regret those words for more than one reason.
I was surprised that the feeling didn’t go away when I started working. On my way to work in the morning, I would be glued to my BlackBerry. What did I miss overnight? How did Asia trade? I had to know what was going on at all times. At first, even just punching trades into the system was nerve-racking. A small misstep could have an enormous impact, and trust me, I made a few. I was on the phone all day throwing around big numbers in rapid succession and sometimes it felt like I was drowning. Older traders talked about sleepless nights worrying about the risk in their books. It seemed to never end.
Maybe I wasn’t cut out for that. Maybe I just wanted to work a nine-to-five job, I sometimes thought. But when I left, I found myself in Lima, praying to get thrown from a moving motorcycle. I hadn’t lost that feeling, I had run right back into it. Why?
I’ve always joked that I’m not happy unless I’m miserable. I don’t know if miserable is the right word though. What I mean is that I hate when things are calm and I don’t have a major hardship to overcome; to the point where I put myself in situations beyond what I can handle. Over the years I’ve realized one thing: I couldn’t live without that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve almost become addicted to it.
People ask how I had the courage to move to South America to fight in a cage. But it really wasn’t scary at all, it was fun and exciting. What really scares the shit out of me is waking up when I’m forty, driving the kids home from soccer practice in a minivan and having weekend barbeques full of small talk over lawn care.
That, is my deepest fear.