I’ve been a martial artist for a long, long time. More than two decades of my life has been dedicated to practicing various disciplines; jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing and karate. I’ve been competing since I was a teenager and have won some titles along the way.
My MMA career started in earnest more than 12 years ago, and I’ve dreamed of winning UFC gold that entire time—well before I ever signed on to do The Ultimate Fighter. Having my dream recognized in such a big way, and so definitively, is something I still find myself marveling over, almost a month later.
Immediately following the fight, I had some media obligations, so I wasn’t able to get back to England until this past week for a victory tour with the belt. The UFC organized it, and it was an amazing trip. It felt great to be able to bring that victory to the fans in my home country.
I spent a few days in Manchester, which was fantastic. Going back there as the world champion … there’s nothing like that feeling. I went to the Trafford Centre, which is a big shopping mall. I used to go there with my wife back when she was my girlfriend. We would always go shopping there when we were kids, so to do an appearance there, with the belt, was an incredible experience.
I was kind of embarrassed, to be honest, because I felt that I was just one of the average guys there, but the turnout was absolutely insane. It was jam-packed, so I was completely blown away by it all. So many people came up to me and had the nicest things to say. There were people telling me that they cried when I won the belt, which I just couldn’t believe. It blew my mind that people were so emotionally invested like that.
From there, I went home to the small town where I’m from, which is just outside of Manchester. I went there to see my mom, and brought the belt to show her, and she was very, very proud.
There’s a castle there, Clitheroe Castle, and when I was a kid, I used to sprint up and down the steps there, dreaming of being a professional fighter. So I went up to the castle and took a quick couple of pictures.
That was a very special moment for me, to be honest, because when you’re a kid dreaming of stuff like that, and then you get to go back there as the UFC champion, and take some pictures at the top of the castle … for me, it was kind of a personal moment. Going back there to where it all started was pretty special. I sprinted those steps so many times as a kid, and on most days as an adult up until I moved away.
Then we went down to London. Again, it was more press and nonstop television stuff and interviews galore. It was a crazy whirlwind tour. It was the same stuff in New York, and then I made my way back home to California.
So, now I’m home, and it’s been great, because I’m actually getting a few days to sit and relax and just enjoy some time with my family. I’m sitting out in the garden right now, having an icy cold Stella Artois. We just barbecued some steaks and the kids are roasting marshmallows. What more could anyone ask for? Life isn’t just good. It’s fantastic.
(Header image via MMAWeekly.com)