I don’t know what it is about flying to Europe and crappy in flight movies.
Right now I’m being tortured by Kate Hudson and some stupid movie about her
sister or friend or whatever cheating with her fiancé. Crap, crap, crap.
At least its dinner time and here comes food! A transatlantic flight is
nowhere to be for a heavyweight who forgot to bring his snacks. The smell of
dinner drives me wild. I finally get mine. Pasta. Some kind of cheese filled
one, pretty good too, but it’s down in about 5 bites and I’m still hungry.
Should ‘a packed some snacks.
I ask the stewardess for another round and she says “Sure!” Ask and you shall
Now that I’ve finally got some food in me I can almost endure the awful
movies. It’s just as well though. I’ve been ornery most of the flight and could
use some sleep. Somehow I seem to remember the planes being bigger and the
movies being better.
I’m a simple man though. What do I know? I get more pleasure out of lifting
heavy rocks and strangling people than I do watching any slew of movies on this
plane. I’ve been a little lighter and it’s made me more edgy lately. I changed
up a few things since trials and I think I’ll have more gas in the tank.
It’s Dad’s birthday today too. I love my dad. He’s such a great dad. It made
me happy that he came with me to World Team Trials. We got to talk a lot. Funny
how we don’t say a whole lot most of the time but on that trip we got to talk a
lot. I will always look back at that trip as one of my best and favorite trips
with my dad.
September 27, 2011
After cramps and cricks all night I’m awake again (not like I was ever really
asleep). I put in my eyeballs and drain a 1.5 liter water bottle back in the
galley. Breakfast is making its way around. The in flight programming still
sucks and now instead of sucky movies it’s sucky TV shows.
Why are we so easily distracted and afraid of quiet thought? The TV has been
on all night. It is a boring flight but at the same time a person could really
work through some stuff with all this time. I work through some of my
pre-competition worksheet and game plan. It’s something I’ve been using to help
me win since 2005 when I met and worked with Joey Johnson. It helped me win at
the 2011 Grappling World Team Trials. I’ve learned a lot since working with Joey
in his Worthy to Win program. I’ve been reading his book, Worthy to Win, since I
won WTT. Funny but I thought winning WTT would have been a relief but really it
was the beginning.
As soon as I got back home Worlds was all I could think about. I adjusted my
training for more conditioning. At work I would bring workout gear and go
condition for an hour a couple times a week. I ran parking lot stairs, ran
sprints, went to the downtown city park and watched pimps, ho’s, and drug
dealers and addicts hanging around while I did pull-ups and calisthenics at the
playground. In between sets I make sure to keep track of where everyone is. I
don’t need to get stabbed or mistaken for an undercover cop.
Reading Joey’s book, Worthy to Win, helped me a lot. It helped me keep
perspective. There is a lot to deal with leading up to a world championship.
Training is the easy part. It’s like hitting a button and it just goes. It’s all
the details that get sticky. Like the fact that this year it’s a self funded
trip to Serbia. I looked for sponsorship from some companies I thought would
help but nothing happened.
I can’t tell you how hellishly frustrating it is to win a WTT, look for
sponsors and get nothing. On top of it all people who find out you are paying
your own way say things like; “You should look for some sponsors.” Or, “Hey why
don’t you get sponsored?” Really? No crap…I just thought I would run up my
credit card, drain my savings and pay for the whole thing myself. What the heck
ya know? I love getting to choose between a house down payment or a trip to
Serbia. Yeah…freaking awesome.
If you want to be an athlete and a shot at being the best get ready for some
sacrifices. If you’re married you better make dang sure your wife is on board or
you won’t be married for long.
I’ve been sponsored before but it took so much work to get it to happen I
figured it was easier to work full time. If I were a fighter and had some cash
coming at the end I might have done it different.
In the end my family (Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma) pitched in and helped
lessen the load. My instructor Jeff Kunze also pledged some cash.
It’s funny how everyone thinks there is all this money in MMA and Grappling.
In reality there is a lot less than people think. Especially in grappling.
People ask “So if you win worlds what happens next?” I become a world champion!
What else do you think is supposed to happen? This is it. This is the top. There
isn’t anything else after this. Unless you count all the other tournaments that
will happen after this one…which of course I will want to compete in too.
One time I was in Las Vegas competing and I saw one of those “How to tell if
you’re addicted to gambling” pamphlets. Surprisingly enough as I answered the
questions from an athlete’s perspective I concluded that I have an addiction to
competition. Whether it is ‘healthy’ or not wasn’t something I wanted to think
about at the time because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answer.
Almost time to land in Paris and then on to Belgrade, Serbia.
BTW if anyone wants to get some advertising from my YouTube channel or
websites I am currently available for sponsorship opportunities.
October 1, 2011
Things I learned in Serbia at FILA Grappling World Championships
• Referees make calls. You must compete.
• Your opponent has
studied and scouted and planned for opponents and situations. Use your Strategy
and never show all your cards.
• There is always a BIGGER
• Enjoy it! Appreciate it! – Jeff Funicello “See more than just the
• Mike Kelly – Gave a second chance. Won 3rd place in Absolute.
An amazing person.
• Competition = True Worlds = As competitive as
FS/GR. Former Nat’l team members in Judo and Wrestling. Former Olympian(s?)
competed. Sambo champions competed. ADCC, Grapplers Quest and NAGA competitors
• No points allowed on me!
• Mat B – “B” is for
• France refereed my finals match.
• Appreciate it! – I
shook hands with every single referee (all that I could find) and told them
“Thank you for the work you do for us”. Give thanks to those who put time in to
support events and allow us to compete…even if you may disagree with some of
• Responsibility – Ultimate responsibility for scoring
and performing is on the athlete. When we win we say “I did it!” When we lose do
we say “It was ref/coach’s fault that I lost”? This mentality does not help. It
is trying to find a way out of dealing with the realities and pressures of
performance. You can’t blame refs/coaches for you not scoring or winning. You
have to make the adjustments during the match. The constant is change, or
rather, making the current situation align with your game plan and vice versa.
Your game plan should include adverse condition scenarios and your
pre-determined response. Adaptability is easier to accomplish if it is
acknowledged and planned for before the actual situation arises. Few understand
this. Once you accept this you can follow your plan and the
adaptations/adjustments to it during your match are not as threatening (usually)
and also become less complicated. It is better to create a good plan and
strategy that can be adjusted and tweaked in small ways than to have little to
no game plan that has big sways and shifts in the heat of battle. This is why
the best athletes are more consistent.
October 2, 2011
I’m on the last leg of my flight home and I’m savoring my experience. I’m
coming home as a FILA Grappling World Champion! Thursday was a great day for me!
I was so excited and happy after I won. Besides getting married and the birth of
my children it was probably one of my best days ever. Definitely my finest
moment (so far) as an athlete. After I won I laughed, I cried, I did cart
wheels. It was just awesome! It had been the culmination of years of effort and
trying for this title. In 2008 & 2009 I won silver at the worlds (no small
feat) and in 2010 didn’t have the opportunity. But this year was my time. I
appreciate this win more because of losing before. I’ve always been pleased with
my overall past performances and grateful for those experiences, but never
I think too many athletes forget to savor the experiences and opportunities
of world competition because they are so wrapped up in winning. The matches and
results are such a small piece of the experience. Your attitude of how it all
fits into your life and how you’ll look back on it make all the difference. I’ve
seen so many athletes disregard their world team experience or their
world/Olympic medal because it was the wrong color. I understand wanting to win.
But I disagree with thinking so little of ‘once in a life time’ opportunities.
It was great having Jeff Funicello as one of the coaches. His experience
gives him such a great insight. We were team members on the 2004 Pan Am
Championships Greco Roman Wrestling Team and we’ve been friends since then. We
took a nice site seeing venture Wednesday before weigh ins. We saw the Belgrade
Fortress and Military Museum and a prince’s palace. It was great. Jeff talked a
lot about enjoying the journey and the moment. “Some guys never see anything but
the venue. You’ve got to enjoy the experience.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Although I was pretty focused and was there with one purpose in mind I trusted
myself as an athlete and trusted my game plan enough that I wasn’t worried about
Learning to trust oneself as an athlete is exceedingly difficult. The sooner
you master it the sooner you will have success. You need to do things that will
help you be balanced as an athlete and that will help give you a sense of
appreciation to your experience whatever it may be for you. Some guys like
staying loose. Some guys like to stay edgy. You have to develop your plan for
Back to Thursday…As I was receiving my medal on the podium I thought about
how much it meant to me and how much my wife and family had sacrificed right
along with me. When they played the national anthem the guys who raised the
flags apparently thought they were done and didn’t raise them for my weight
class. It didn’t bother me too much because I found the U.S. flag hanging on the
wall between all the others and tried to keep my tear filled eyes on it as much
as I could. I sang along to the music but kept getting choked up by my tears and
blood that still was in my nose and throat. I couldn’t have been happier.
I had been imagining that moment for years. Every time I hear the Star
Spangled Banner I have put my hand on my heart and closed my eyes imagining
being at the world championships and being the champion. I felt the emotion (as
much as I could project anyway…the real thing is better). I imagined the feel of
the gold medal and its ribbon under my hand and wrist. I imagined being up on
the podium. At 2009 FILA worlds when I lost to U.S. team mate Kelly Anundson I
closed my eyes and projected myself into the future as the champion. At every
ball game, every church service, every public event where the national anthem
was played I imagined my time on the podium. I didn’t know when or how. I just
imagined it. On Thursday September 29, 2011 at about 10:30 pm Serbian time I
finally stood on the podium with my eyes wide open.
The next day of competition (Friday) I had been scheduled to compete in the
Absolute (open weight) division. After I won the gold I felt so drained
emotionally and physically that I decided to withdraw and give the opportunity
to my team mate and roommate for the trip, Mike Kelly. Mike had been on every
grappling world team since 2007. I felt mixed emotions later as I realized that
I had foregone another opportunity at a world medal and maybe even championship.
But as the day went on I was extremely glad that I had given Mike a second
chance. He had competed well but lost in the 90 kg division. Getting another
shot for him was like a breath of fresh air.
Physically I was ready for the end, emotionally and mentally even more so and
Mike deserved another shot. He made me proud with his effort and his outcome.
Mike went on to win tough matches on his way to the bronze medal. I was so happy
for him because I knew he truly appreciated that opportunity. Had it not been
for that second chance he would’ve missed out on that medal.
Later that night as I learned more about Mike and all that he does for others
in his community the happier I was that I had passed along my spot in the
Absolute. Mike and his wife do so much for children in their area that I found
myself wishing I could do better at giving back to others. It makes me feel good
that we will always have that connection because of the decision I made to
Those are the kinds of moments and memories that last. As I watched the rest
of the Friday events unfold I couldn’t help but realize that this was it. I was
leaving tomorrow and I would soon be on my way back to ‘normalcy’ and the same
I realized that once I stepped out of that venue I would never see it again.
The tournament set up would all get put away along with all the flags, mats and
podium. All the athletes would be gone and friends that I had made from around
the world might not be seen again in this lifetime.
As awards were being presented I made my way down to Mat B where I had fought
all of my matches. I took pictures. I sat down. I tried to absorb and
internalize everything I could for one last time. Waves of emotion;
satisfaction, joy, sorrow, longing, thankfulness, all washed over me as I sat
there curled up in the center of the mat.
Before I left I made sure to thank those who make it possible. I tried to
find every referee that I could and shake their hand and say thank you for their
efforts. It is a hard and thankless job and they do it because they love it and
without them we couldn’t do what we do as athletes. I genuinely appreciate those
people willing to do that work on our behalf. I also found the FILA tournament
director and shook her hand. Without all of her work the tournament wouldn’t
have been possible either.
It truly is amazing the power that sport has. Nelson Mandela once said;
“Sport has the power to change the world.” I truly believe that. To me athletes
are better representatives of their respective countries than any
politician. Most athletes come from the working class. Most understand the
meaning of sacrifice, hard work, fair play and sportsmanship.
What makes a group of guys and girls from all over the world decide they
should all get together under one roof and one set of rules and allow each other
the opportunity to manipulate and twist each other without any major incident?
We all trusted each other with our lives and our physical well being. I may not
know them well, I may not speak their language but I have a brother in Canada,
in Russia, in Brazil and in Sweden who all trusted me enough to let me test
myself against them. They trusted that I would obey the rules and that I would
respect them as people and as athletes.
In sport we do this every day. In politics show me when this happens? Show me
the brave politician who would volunteer to go to war for his “just cause”
rather than send another in his place to be put in harm’s way? And what for in
the end? Failed policy?!? No. Sport is a much more powerful medium for peace
than politics will ever be.
Sharing this opportunity with other athletes is so much of what makes
international events special. I love seeing all the flags lined next to each
other and seeing all the athletes present to compete.
I think about grappling and its recent surge to prominence over the past 20
years. I think about Helio Gracie and his contribution to the world because of
how he played a game, because of how he fought. Even though FILA is not
connected to the IBJJF or the Gracie’s it is without a doubt that we would not
be here grappling without the influence of this man in the world.
I never met him, but I certainly hope to be on the mats until the day I die
like he was. Besides my family, wrestling (grappling or BJJ, I call it all
wrestling) is the one thing I hope exists in heaven. It has been a journey since
the day I stepped into the Taylorsville high school wrestling room 20 years
I have had so many great coaches over the years but there are two who have
stood out the most for me. The first is Sheldon Marr of Grappler’s Edge (now
Edge MMA & Fitness) in Denver Colorado. Sheldon has been a great coach and
friend since 2004. Under Sheldon I was able to make my biggest improvements and
achievements in grappling. He always tried to get me to the best competitions an
always looked out for me like one of his star athletes. That always meant a lot
to me. I never would have competed in grappling if he hadn’t called me up in
2004 to compete as his heavyweight at the Pancrase Submission Wrestling National
Championships. Sheldon has stood by me through highs and lows and I am truly
grateful for his mentorship.
Next is Joey Johnson who has been a huge influence and other than God and my
wife one of the most important keys to my success. After going through Joey’s
Worthy to Win program and continuing to use it I have literally become one of
the best in the world.
I have also been extremely fortunate to
have a great student and training partner in Koffi Adzitso. He is young, hungry
and willing to do whatever is asked of him. I have been blessed to have him and
to be able to be a part of his molding and success as well.
Ultimately my family are the ones who help me the most and without the
support of my wife and kids none of this would mean anything. Without the love,
support and belief that my wife had in me I sincerely doubt I would have made
the journey to Serbia. It is with great love and respect that I thank her for
all she does for me every day. My parents, grandparents and brothers have also
given a lot of financial and moral support over the years and I thank them as
This truly is fulfilling one of my dreams. I am so happy I had the experience
of the journey and the chance to reach the top of the mountain.