I flew to Russia last week for my first ever MMA fight outside of the country. I competed against a Spetsnaz (Russian military special ops), and it just so happened to be military appreciation night. I thought for sure that the crowd would hate me.
Before I hopped on the plane, I downed a few beers with my coach since I was doing well on my weight cut and we took off for the 12-plus hour flight to Sochi. When we landed, I immediately started weighing myself, and I was 17 pounds over, which was seven pounds heavier than I thought I would be. I had a little bit of a freakout, but I had a few more days before I needed to worry.
The city of Sochi was excellent. We had a hotel right on the Black Sea, and I went on a run through the city and the parks to take in some of the town.
On one of the days, the promotion took a bunch of us fighters out to do some promo shots at a gym about an hour drive from our hotel, and then later to do some outdoor interviews. I was never in a van with my opponent, but I did see him a few times at the hotel. I was the only American on the card, but there were some fighters from Portugal and Brazil that I met that were pretty cool.
I was still a bit heavier than I wanted to be going into weigh-ins, but then one morning I woke up and I was totally fine. That excess weight was gone. I'd been told that flying can make you retain water, so I assume that's what happened. That's something I will remember the next time I travel for a fight.
After I weighed in (on weight) my coach and I went out to dinner and enjoyed a beer and some Russian pizza. It's an after weigh-in tradition to eat pizza, and the one I had in Sochi was definitely in my top-five favorites. I even had a few shots of vodka and absinthe cocktails (c'mon, when in Russia...).
When I was on my run, I happened to see the venue we'd be fighting at and noticed that it was outdoors. It had a roof, but no sides, and when I left the warm-up room to walk out I could see my breath. It was a cold, rainy night in Sochi and the people in the stands were wearing heavy jackets and mittens.
Going into the fight I knew that my opponent would gas, I had watched some tape of his last fight, and he lost a lot of steam in the second and third round, so my game plan was to tire him out and then finish in the later rounds. When I saw him, I noticed that he looked a lot bigger than the previous fight, and he was a lot harder to put away than I thought he would be.
I was able to pick him apart a bit, but I wasn't able to land the punches in bunches as I am used to, and despite being in the best shape of my life, I gassed a bit too. I really thought I was going to finish him at one point, but his mouth guard flew out and the ref stopped my momentum to let him put it back in.
We went to decision, somewhere I didn't want to go — especially in Russia, against a Russian. I knew I had won, no doubt about that, but I was still nervous about the hometown advantage. Luckily, I was told that there were two judges from outside of Russia and I was granted the unanimous decision victory.
I'm happy about the win, but I'm really disappointed I couldn't finish him.
This fight was also the first time I had fought professionally in a ring (rather than a cage) and I loved it. I loved the give that the ropes had and I felt like it was beneficial in defending the takedowns.
I never spoke to my opponent, I tried, but he didn't speak English so I just gave him a hug (that I could sense he didn't want) and shook his hand.
The crowd loved me, I never heard any boos, and they clapped when I did my post-fight interview. Overall, the Russian crowd was pretty amazing, they were a lot like the Japanese crowd — mostly silent. There was a drum too, which I thought was the coolest thing ever.
Everyone probably assumes that I went out and celebrated in some crazy Russian bar, but I walked back to the hotel (in the rain and slightly limping) so we could catch a 3 A.M. flight. I was ready to come home.
I'm told that my next fight will be in Finland in August, but I have not been given an opponent yet, so you'll have to stay tuned for that.