As I am sitting in an airport for another ½ day layover, I remember the most dreadful part of traveling to Thailand is the trip there. It is horrible.
You cannot get a direct flight to Phuket from the U. S., so you will have at least two, if not 3 lengthy layovers in addition to the long flight. I am currently on a 3-day sojourn after having to get up at 4:00 am to begin my first leg.
I don’t like to dwell on negative thoughts, so I decided to write a bit about how lucky I am just to be here, and how grateful I am for the opportunity.
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to train and fight in Thailand. Three years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to dream anymore… I was going to start DOING. A few short months later, I was in Thailand training.
Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I showed up out of shape, thinking I would get in shape in Thailand. That was a big mistake. I spent most of my first-month training, picking myself up off the mat. When Thai trainers see weakness, they exploit it. I literally got my ass kicked every day, but have never had so much fun in my life.
Eventually, I got to where I was doing as much knocking people on their asses as I was getting knocked on mine. I got to the point that I felt I was ready for a fight.
I got lined up against an Australian kid that was half my age and twice my size. (In truth he only had a little bit of a size advantage, but he was young and in good shape.) I ended up winning, but that did nothing more than make me want to push things a bit further.
It had been years since I had competed, and I started to wonder if I could get back to the level I was at when I was younger. I wanted another fight. This time, I had to fight a Thai.
Having been knocked out by a Thai when I was just getting started in the fight game, I felt I had to avenge that loss. I have had several Muay Thai fights in my career, but I only fought a Thai opponent that one time. I will never forget how amazingly strong he was in the clinch. How devastatingly hard he hit, and how durable he was. I couldn’t hurt this kid.
I set a new goal for myself, and that was to fight in Thailand, against a Thai opponent. I have attended dozens of Thai fights in Thailand. They are ALL amazing at Muay Thai. Even the ones that you laugh at as they enter the ring because they look overweight, or super scrawny end up being stone-cold killers. Even the older ones that you can tell their skill set isn’t what it once was, are still tougher than nails, and give you NOTHING. You have to earn a victory in Thailand.
I came home more determined than ever to get to their level. I started training like I hadn’t in years, and when I returned to Thailand, I was ready for the regiment this time. I showed up in shape, and I was ready to train. The camp went amazingly well. I could not have felt more prepared as I entered the ring for my fight against a Thai opponent. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel the same way. He didn’t show up. I never got to the bottom of why he wasn’t there, but I literally stepped into the ring, only to have the promoter tell me my opponent wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I had scheduled my flight for the last weekend I was to be in Thailand, so I went home feeling like a bride that had been left at the altar (No honeymoon either).
Not to be deterred, I immediately began planning my return to finish what I started. I came back to Thailand with several people from my gym. I was super excited to have them all there to see me fight. We had some amazing training, and I got lined up with an opponent for a fight. Shortly after scheduling it, however, I sustained an injury to my knee during a pretty heated sparring session with a Russian student that was training there as well. (Russian fighters are famous for thinking every sparring session is for the world title. They have no control and go balls to the wall. Their technique isn’t that great, they are just maniacs in sparring.)
I ultimately had to back out of the fight, and return home for knee surgery. I had a torn ACL, and some other damage to my knee, and there was just no way I could have fought on it. I literally couldn’t push off my left leg.
My 50th birthday is creeping up on me, so my window is closing. Before I even scheduled my surgery, I purchased my ticket to return to Thailand for this fight. I was coming back no matter what.
My wife once said to me that she wished she had OCD so she could get stuff done. That statement isn’t entirely off base. I probably would have given up on this pipe dream of having a final fight in Thailand if I weren’t obsessive, compulsive. I probably would have listened to my body, and my mind, and common sense, and thrown in the towel. I’m just not wired that way.
After my surgery, my knee never really recovered. A nerve was damaged during the surgery that caused my quadriceps not to fire. I have no upper leg muscle to stabilize my left leg. I still have an 85% tear in my rotator cuff, and oh yeah… I turn 50 in 2 months. I don’t even like mentioning these things because it sounds to me like I am pre-framing an excuse for a loss I might incur. I am not. I will win, and if not, I will try again until I do.
I have had to change my approach to fighting in some pretty drastic ways. I am WAY off my game physically, but I am also WAY smarter and WAY more laser-focused. They say fighting is a ‘Tough guys’ sport. I would argue that, for the good ones, it is a thinking man’s game. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be physically able to withstand the rigors of fighting, but learning how to minimize those rigors, and how to maximize your strengths is also something lost among many younger fighters. This is not a young man’s sport, but it would benefit any young fighter to have the wisdom of an older fighter.
Keeping things in perspective. I am not fighting for a world title. I am not fighting for any title actually. I am fighting for ME, and only me. I am fighting because it is what makes me happy. I am fighting because it has helped keep me young. I am fighting because it is in my DNA.
It’s been a long road coming back from my injury. As I sit in this airport, I cannot help but reflect on just how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. I have an amazing support system. My wife has unwaveringly supported this endeavor. She has pushed me when I have gotten down and refused to let me give up.
If I can survive the next 3 days traveling to Thailand, I will be back where I am the happiest. I will embrace the journey, and I will finish what I set out to do. Many thanks to all of those who have offered words of support, and lots of love to those who will soon be punching me in my face.
Mike Stidham currently owns Ultimate Combat Training Center (UCTC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. UCTC offers courses in Boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts, as well as Self-defense courses for women. http://www.UltimateCombat.com