“The Hero’s Journey”: in narratology and comparative mythology, the hero’s journey, or the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.” –Wikipedia
Hero’s Journey – The Ordinary World
Earth. 1995-ish. Esteemed president Bill Clinton was tirelessly orchestrating strategic oil imports and backroom blowjobs, and carelessly wasting marijuana with his rudely inefficient “no-inhale” protocol. Sports-wise, it was the era of Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and Joe Montana. Trumping all that was the invention of Toaster Strudel. Fashion and clothing trends were in a neutral and uncertain state – the only agreeable directive was to evolve from the humongous hair and obscenely loud 80s attire, like The Cosby sweater, all of which was seemingly manufactured with Jackson Pollock stationed at the end of the assembly line, spewing rainbow vomit in clever patterns upon the final product before packaging.
Approaching the dawn of a new millennium, as ridiculous as it sounds today, there were genuine concerns that the world would simply end at 11:59 pm on December 31st, or, best-case scenario, all of our time-programmed electronic devices would merely implode on account of some Mayan-calendar curse.
A few years out of high school, having regrettably turned down a handful of basketball scholarships and fizzling out of community college after being booted from my creative writing class for some obscenely stringent attendance policy, I was halfheartedly working – nay, meandering – my way up the corporate ladder of the locally thriving industrial playground.
Hero’s Journey – The Call to Adventure
I was first enticed by the seminal UFC lure in the mid-90s after seeing UFC 1 advertised on pay-per-view in a Detroit hotel while gathering required weaponry for my hero’s quest. I’d commandeered the company truck for an overnight trip to haul back my first grown-up toy: a 1993 Honda CBR 600 drenched in patriotic colors.
Motivation was as follows: my inner circle of meat-heads adamantly attested that it’d been scientifically proven that women were attracted to men on motorcycles, and there was no higher priority or grander goal in this stage of premature existence. Therefore I was convinced that this type of motorcycle was affectionately deemed a “crotch rocket” because it would vault my loins into at least local if not statewide stardom, and I assured my worried mother that if I did indeed perish in a fiery highway death, at least a bunch of hot chicks would probably be watching. Inexplicably, this did little to alleviate her matriarchal concerns.
Hero’s Journey – Refusal of the Call
While I was definitely intrigued by the commercial for UFC 1, I firmly resisted the alluring advertisement. Funds were thin and any extras were already reserved for Spectravision. Just like Luke Skywalker was fretting over scoring some power converters for the moisture farm when first propositioned by Obi Wan to learn the force and overthrow the galactic empire, undeterred, I was deeply immersed in thoughts of pulling high-speed wheelies and how to get this damn bike in the back of the truck sans catastrophe or paint scratches.
However, a week or so later when a fairly trustworthy amigo urged me to watch “that ultimate fighting shit” at all costs with sincere mysticism beaming from his eyes, I cat-walked my meticulously polished loins-launcher out of the driveway and stormed the local Blockbuster Video to rent a VHS tape of the event, astutely noting that UFC 2 was resting beside it. After I acclimated to the shock and sheer excitement of witnessing the exhilarating spectacle that was UFC 1, I called that same friend back to stammer an energetic thank you and his response would resonate to this day: “I didn’t want to spoil it for you, but … yeah! The skinny guy in the bathrobe beats everybody!?!?!”
Wisely anticipating the potential explosion of this brash and violent underground trend in a pre-internet universe, Blockbuster gradually expanded their collection, eventually allotting an entire shelf to steadily ongoing UFC events released post-facto on VHS. I became a dedicated regular with a relationship to Blockbuster employees stretching far beyond the standard first-name basis. “Well, Todd, thank you for decoding the perplexing mystery of why the Insane Clown Posse keisters and, when called to action, brandishes 2-liters of soda to threaten opps with a maliciously carbonated stream of Faygo, but I’m here to ask if UFC 13 is in stock yet.”
Hero’s Journey – Crossing the Threshold
Yearning for a MMA-abundant and Todd-less alternative, my degree of interest needled toward obsessive when I discovered The Underground Forum on mma.tv in the embryonic “a/s/l?” era of the worldwide web. Metaphorically, discovering The UG and scrolling through the topics was equivalent to Luke Skywalker strolling into the ruffian-filled dive bar on Mos Eisley – the “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more” moment.
First, the guy in the bathrobe actually posted and interacted with fans on occasion. I could ask what shootfighting was and receive a reputable answer, possibly even from an employee or team member of Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den; the facility churning out said shootfighters. And screen names like “Art Jimmerson’s Glove” or “Teila Tuli’s Tooth” – I got those references! – assured me that this strange and unsettling new place could be my home.
This path forever lifted my MMA binders, exposing me to the likes of Pride Fighting Championships, the remarkable run of Kazushi Sakuraba and why he was called “The Gracie Hunter”, the very essence of Vale Tudo, overseas organizations like Rings, Pancrase, Shooto and more, and stateside iterations like King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge. Dojo storms. Challenge matches. Rickson by armbar. Marco Ruas, “King of the Streets,” and his crippling leg kicks. K-1 kickboxing. Muay Thai and why it’s known as “The Art of 8 Limbs.” Dudes my age in Thailand were kicking trees to condition their shins. These are just a few noteworthy chapters in the voluminous history of combat sports that sucked me in.
Hero’s Journey – Innermost Cave, Tests/Ordeals
Neck-deep in novels of self-righteous fanboyism on the UG, I underwent back surgery at an early age but, ever the optimist, I capitalized on my time off from work and general immobility by posting on The UG with unbridled availability and enthusiasm.
My live-in girlfriend at the time was an art student and I’d been absorbing drawing tips, so, exceptionally hopped up on strong painkillers, I experimented with sketching as a medium to appease my growing fascination with electric Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi. And despite being nervous and insecure about it, I decided to put myself out there and post the garish rendering. I’d approached the mouth of my innermost cave, the entrance swathed in inky darkness and mystery, and courageously entered, ready to do battle with whatever horrors awaited.
Throughout the opening days and first few pages of the now-legendary thread, of which time-ravaged fragments still exist, the result was intense embarrassment and regret. They were laughing at me. Any modicum of respect or recognition I’d gained on the forum was instantly obliterated; washed out by a few sloppy, sweeping motions with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil that I now wanted to stab myself with. Exhausting research was conducted on relocation, a new identity, or, since Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” was still in fashion, just what sort of devious federal crime must be stoically committed or mafia connections required to qualify for the witness protection program.
Hero’s Journey – Meeting the Mentor
Perhaps struck by sympathy for the way I took the scorching criticism square on the chin, or my inherent gift of making fun of myself more viciously and unabashedly than anyone else ever could, the tide shifted. Gomi Head was first received as an unadulterated coil of steaming, fly-swarmed dog shit – but, as the kindhearted and encouraging comments became more prominent, it was inevitably lauded as a can’t-miss, well-intentioned and downright hilarious pile of dog shit. While many may have higher standards of aspiration, I was quite content with the unexpected transformation.
Thus, Gomi Head materialized and was cemented as my mentor, my Saturday morning cartoon Dungeon Master, my Obi Wan, a symbol of fears conquered and trials passed to illuminate the pathway before me.
Hero’s Journey – The Reward (Pulling the Sword from the Stone)
A brief but coinciding tangent: my childhood dream of being a writer also fueled my two-decade, heroin-esque MMA bender. I’ve aspired to be a writer since grade school, but not journalism or even sports writing – I mean, like … books and poems and shit, because I obviously have a way with words.
In fact, the nom de plume comes from being moved by The Outsiders – the first elementary-school-assigned book to not only hold my attention, but captivate me – then the Coppola film based on it. In 5th grade I vowed that anything I dribbled out even vaguely resembling writing would be under the Dallas Winston handle after learning that S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders, was a pen name for Susan Hinton; a strategic alteration due to concerns that a testosterone-laced street-gang saga would not be well received from a feminine voice.
Casual and comedic remarks on The UG shifted to analytical and technical perspectives, propelled by my expanding knowledge of and, now, firsthand experience with training in a few different martial arts (along with, admittedly, just replicating the moves I’d seen on half-lucid friends over a few drinks by the campfire). The forum interaction was decent and I actually learned and grew from the feedback, so it became a thing to drone on about the key match-up characteristics for the next big upcoming fight. The contemporary MMA media typically offered up a paragraph or two as a match-up analysis when, conversely, I spent more than two paragraphs describing the risk of Randy Couture’s predictable head position on clinch takedowns.
I was flatteringly propositioned by a few hardcore fellow UG’ers over the next few years to actually have a quasi-career in MMA: first The Garv.com, then part-time gigs with Cage Potato and Fighters Only, and eventually a full-time position with Bloody Elbow, which spanned almost 10 years. And for the last two years before my departure, I joined the Bellator production team to conduct pre-fight interviews with every main-card competitor on the Spike TV broadcast. While it’s nowhere close to the pinnacle of fame and glory, or the pinnacle of anything for that matter, this was farther than I ever expected to go in the world of MMA.
Hero’s Journey – Death and Resurrection
“When it rains, it pours.”
A litany of life’s unforeseen projectiles would topple me from this hard-earned perch. Among those suitable for print: the reputable Scott Coker took over Bellator and my excitement for the new ownership ceased when his tried and proven Production team accompanied him.
Personally, my 13-year relationship ended. Badly. Especially for me. I lost a loved one, and my dog, my truly beloved companion, died later that summer. I was truly devastated beyond words. These calamities coincided with an offer to return to my old job and, craving a change and a few more dollars, my MMA identity died in 2017.
Which brings us to the present day of my combat-sports resurrection. To show my humility, I will begrudgingly admit my return is probably less profound than Jesus’s, because he has that whole book that’s really popular. On a serious note, I never thought I was somebody in the MMA landscape, but I was happy to be anybody in that field, and that hasn’t changed.
Hero’s Journey – Attaining the Sacred Elixir
This step of the journey is the only one not relegated to the past. It is before me, and the sacred elixir is you, dear readers. I do not aspire to be known, considered the best or even mentioned as potentially one of the best. My goal is the same it was when I started writing fight analysis on The UG – to merely represent a viable opinion worth considering.
And only you and how you receive my presence will dictate whether I return gracefully with an ornately corked bottle of sacred elixir, or quite awkwardly with a helplessly flat and stale 2-liter of Faygo.
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