Several weeks after I watched a rerun of Kevin Randleman beating the crap out of some guy, I walked into a MMA gym for the first time. A fellow named John Laing gave me a bloody nose in my first class at the Canadian Martial Arts Centre, but it didn’t stop me from coming back. A year and a half later, I’d have my first mixed martial arts fight.
I was nervous as all hell. Looking back, my opponent was laughable—lacking anything resembling muscle tone or self-confidence. He was type of guy who I would look at now and have to force myself to keep from clowning around while I beat him.
At the time, of course, I was shaking in my boots. “He looks like a wrestler!” I’d say to my training partners and corner men. My friend Andrew Turner, always overwhelmingly more confident than I, looked at me like I was high on something.
“Are you kidding me, Chase? I wish I was fighting that guy. You’re going to crush him.”
Me, I was not so sure about that. I’d been training for a little over a year and the guys I thought of as fighters—my coach Trevor Hardy, my training partners Victor Day Chief, Terry Salloum, & Seven Quesnelle all seemed like they were just way better than I was. If Trevor hadn’t asked me to fight, I’m not sure if I ever would have thought I was ready.
But here I was, weighed in, hands taped, and moments away from my first fight. The venue had to be the dirtiest night club in Saskatoon, which remains one of the toughest cities in Canada. My entrance music, chosen for me by the promoter, was “I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem,” by the Offspring. Nothing could be more fitting.
I walked out to the ring, stepped in. My opponent stood across from me. My coach, Trevor, said something that I’m sure was very inspirational. I’ll never remember what it was. It’s funny, once you’re in the ring there’s no fear, not anymore. You are so focussed, and yet everything seems so distant at the same time.
We touched gloves, the referee asked us if we were ready, and just like that, the fight was on.
If I remember correctly, I threw a jab right off the bat, and my opponent immediately dove for my ankles. My current wrestling coach would no doubt be disgusted had he seen my complete lack of takedown defense. Once on my back, I attempted to grab a guillotine choke. I didn’t get it, but I was able to use the position to transition to what some jiu jitsu practitioners might refer to as a rainbow sweep.
This “sweep” put me on top, in a mounted position over my opponent. I immediately began raining down punches onto my opponent’s face. It took some doing, but eventually I hit my opponent enough times that the referee felt he had to step in.
Just like that, I had won my first mma fight. A minute and a half into the first round. I was elated. It was the start of something that would change my life.
“Face an Icon on your First Day… it’s no big deal”
Let’s take a step back to where it all started. You see, I was a hockey player. I even managed to hoodwink a few poor misguided saps into thinking that I was good. These saps included my father, my trainer Trevor Hardy, a number of junior hockey scouts, and even a few innocent bystanders. I would say that I’m sure these poor deluded fellows probably lost their jobs because of my failure as a hockey player, but I really wasn’t that big of a deal.
In any case, after I made the decision to quit hockey, I found myself in the same situation as many other competitive athletes—I was bored. When you’re a competitive athlete, sport dominates your life. Doesn’t matter if its hockey, football, basketball, soccer, wrestling, whatever, the result is the same. During the season, you practice every day during the week, and play your games on the weekend. In the offseason, you work out, in the hopes that you can get bigger, stronger, faster, and in better shape for the next season, which in theory, will lead to better results.
So after I quit hockey, I went from having one sport dominate my life, to... nothing. So I was eighteen years old, and bored out of my mind. I played a lot of video games. And drank a lot—like most eighteen year olds do in Alberta.
That all changed in September of 2004. I was sitting in my close friend Graham Duke’s basement. He was flipping through channels, and just like that he stopped at a sports channel that just happened to be playing a rerun of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event. This was the first time I had ever seen or been exposed to mixed martial arts.
So we watched Kevin “the Monster” Randleman fight some other guy. Graham, as I recall, was pretty pumped about watching Randleman fight. Randleman was and is an athletic beast. At some point, Graham said to me, “Man, it would be really cool to go to a gym and try this.”
I said, “Yah, it really would.” (Mind blowing conversation, I know) At any rate, when I got home, I mentioned it my father. The next day, he brought home a brochure advertising the Canadian Martial Arts Centre, located right there in Lethbridge, just a ten minute drive from our house.
Two weeks later, I went and tried my first mixed martial arts class. I actually, (with no idea what I was doing) sparred with a fellow named John Laing that night. He bloodied my nose, but I loved every second of it.
I kept going, every day, taking kickboxing and jiu jitsu classes from Justin Tavernini, and Jeet Kune Do from Jesse Bongfeldt. I wrestled, I sparred, I learned, and I loved it. After just three months of training, I entered my first grappling tournament.
I showed up the day of the tournament, happy and excited to try it out. I talked to some of my gym mates, who were all discussing a fellow named Nick Ring. Now, Nick is well known both for his appearances on the Ultimate Fighter, and his fights in the UFC itself. At the time, however, he was still young, a prospect with a 4-0 record. Outside of Alberta, I doubt many people knew his name. But everyone involved in Alberta Mixed Martial Arts knew who he was. He was spoken of in reverential tones, a champion kickboxer who had trained in wrestling and jiu jitsu to the point where he was spectacular at those too. He was quite simply a scary, scary, dude.
I walked over to see the tournament match schedule. I found my name quickly. First fight in my weight class. When I saw my opponent’s name my jaw dropped. It was Nick Ring.
I remember my pre-fight pep talk that day quite clearly, because it was probably quite unlike any other pre-fight pep talk that has ever been given. My teammates told me, “Don’t try to take him down, he’s going to take you down. Don’t try to submit him, he will submit you. If he gets you in a submission, don’t try to be a hero. Tap out. And oh, yeah, don’t do anything stupid, and he won’t hurt you.”
I would love to write some kind of heroic, ridiculous underdog story and say that in spite of nearly insurmountable odds, I whipped Nick Ring’s lily ass. But the truth is a lot simpler. In fact, it went pretty much exactly how my cornerman’s speech predicted it would.
I did not take Nick Ring down. He took me down. Once on the ground, he proceeded to switch from submission to submission, toying with me in a similar manner to what a cat might to a mouse. He was quite obviously taking it easy on me, as he kept switching as soon as I defended, in spite of the fact he easily could’ve gotten any of the holds he went for. Eventually, he transitioned to a submission that I didn’t know how to defend (or even what it was—I now know it was an omoplata). Seeing that I didn’t defend, he slowly and kindly cranked on my shoulder, at which point I wisely tapped out.
I would say that it was a learning experience, but I really had no idea what had even happened. It was a fast placed and uncomfortable blur ending in a submission that I didn’t even know existed. Still, I had fought someone legendary with only three months of training, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Besides, I still had three other matches to fight in!
My next match was against a muscular, athletic looking black fellow. I can’t for the life of me remember his name. I do remember that I pretty much screwed him over. You see, none of us really had any chance of beating Nick, so the tournament was all about who came in second place. And there was no point system at the tournament, so the only way to win was by submission.
This monster that I was fighting was quite clearly the second best grappler in the tournament, and he absolutely dummied me. He took me down, and immediately began working for a head and arm choke. He had the position tight, but not quite tight enough to get me to tap. After some time, he transitioned to a north south choke. This was basically the entire match—him moving from one choke to the next, and me defending just well enough to slip tiny amounts of oxygen into my brain, and refusing to tap out.
Because I never tapped, our match was ruled a draw. My next match was against one of my teammates, an extremely large fellow. He managed to get an armbar on my extremely tired body, forcing me to tap. I had one more match with another fellow, who also was able to beat me. I just didn’t have enough juice left to avoid submissions after spending an entire seven minute grappling round getting choked.
So the end result was, the giant fellow who was second best, didn’t actually place second. He beat every other guy on points, but he didn’t get the finish. So he finished fourth, one point above guess who. That’s right, I had the dubious honour of finishing in last place.
Still, it was my first grappling tournament and with only three months training, I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, my coaches and training partners thought I had done well. In fact, my coach at the time, Lee Mein, would say something that always stuck with me.
“That was awesome. Once you actually know some stuff, you’ll kill guys.”
He was right.
written by Chase F. Degenhardt