Ninety-five seconds was all I needed. In less than two minutes, my mindset changed completely. I was no longer just a wrestler and a grappler. I became a mixed martial artist.
Back in 2009, I was having trouble finding a fight.
I was already training with my head coach Ray Longo and Matt Serra at the time, and even though I had no amateur or pro MMA experience, I still couldn’t find an opponent. I guess word got out about my jiu jitsu skills and my collegiate wrestling credentials.
Actually, the New Jersey Athletic Commission event stopped some of the fights. I had no fights on my record and the commission wouldn’t let me fight a guy that was 6-0 as an amateur. They said I needed to fight guys that were a black belt in jiu jitsu; it was weird how they did it, but finally I got to fight Rubem Lopes, and in my mind I was just wasn’t gonna lose.
Going into the fight, in my mind, I was addressing the fight as if I was addressing a wrestling match. I was very much just a wrestler in my mind, and I had a wrestler’s mindset. I didn’t want to make it like it was anything different, just stay relaxed, go out there confident, work hard, and look for a finish.
To be honest, in terms of talent, Lopes wasn’t even on the same level as the guys I’d been competing against in my whole athletic wrestling career. Before I knew it, I took him down, and easily dominated him on the ground. The Kimura can soon after.
When you’re a wrestler and you win a match, not too many people know about it when you come back home. But, when I won that small Ring of Combat fight, I had so many Facebook requests, and friends and new fans reaching out. The video was getting posted online, and people were so excited about it. I never had that many people reach out to me.
I had been wrestling my whole life, and I never felt so much respect. It was odd almost that I got so much love for beating a guy that it wouldn’t have been a big deal at all if I beat him in wrestling.
It was definitely an amazing moment.