Cheaters Never Prosper

Jim Johns opened his Looky-Here app, eager to promote his upcoming fight for the Punisher Series Middleweight Championship, and found a message from his opponent, Grant Fletchling. 

It said: “You’re a fucking cheater, and you know it. You better not try any of that dirty shit with me.”

As early as Jim could remember, he competed by the motto: If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’. Whether slinking around after being “frozen” in a game of freeze tag during recess, syphoning money from the till while acting as the banker in Monopoly, or slugging it out in a cage with men of equal weight, winning was at all costs.

Pundits online—Jim called them keyboard warriors—noted the repeated barrage fouls early on, which he brushed off as haters. The tone was much different when, eventually, those within his community—other fighters, fans, and even some teammates—scrutinized his sporting etiquette.

Several of Jim’s previous dance partners had their careers stalled, or even ruined, because of Jim’s antics, playing fast and loose with a set of guidelines that are minimal to begin with. 

Hector Villanueva, a veteran journeyman with a swarming fanbase in every corner of California, suffered the most tragic fate at the hands—or more specifically: finger—of Jim; he was forced to retire when an extended digit stabbed him in the eye, detaching the retina—only thirty percent of his vision would return. 

Another unfortunate victim of Jim’s masquerade as a martial artist was Trent “Do Something” Dixon. While the round’s end alerts those in the cage to disengage, the advice, recycled since MMA’s inception, never let your guard down is there for a reason. Dixon recalled hearing the horn and wondering what advice his coach would have for him. As Dixon turned toward his corner, Jim launched a concussive right hand into his temple. Jim was disqualified—rightfully so—and Dixon, sadly, has still yet to be medically cleared for any level of physical contact. All seven of Jim’s bouts have involved an eye poke—though none as consequential as Villanueva’s—a fence grab or two, and countless warnings with multiple deductions of points. 

A nasty reputation on the regional circuit began surrounding Jim, and few would roll the dice against someone who made the already dangerous sport an even riskier proposition. The only reason Grant Fletchling accepted the bout to face Jim was because he was nearing an exit from the local scene and onto the global stage; he needed this.

Before the hum of the opening bell disappeared into space, Jim’s fingers swung like flesh swords at Fletchling’s eyes. The ref, keen to how Jim played the game, dished out a stern warning to close his fist. Fletchling spent the remaining two-minutes and twenty-seconds using Jim’s face as target practice with pristine boxing; the round finished without any further fishy-business. 

Midway through the second frame, Fletchling, as instructed by his corner, attempted a takedown. He stapled Jim to the fence, shooting for his midsection as a linebacker making a tackle in the open field. With an explosive twist of his hips, the two would topple to the canvas, where Fletchling would land in side control and deliver some brain-bashing elbows. In a transition so seamless it, at first glance, seemed legal, Jim drew the advantage. By interlocking his toes into the cage and wrenching for a takedown of his own, the maneuver granted Jim the necessary leverage, knocking Fletchling off balance and bringing him to his back. 

Some heavy ground-and-pound, a stoppage soon thereafter, and nobody questioned whether or not it was an honest win. In fact, proceeded along: Jim filled the winner’s circle, surrounded with love and admiration—instead of question marks, and Fletchling was sent back to the drawing board, though the unrealistic strength of Jim’s takedown gnawed at his craw incessantly. 

Fletchling and his team reviewed the tape—over and over and over again. Finally, the son of Fletchling’s Jiu-Jitsu Coach, Anthony, was able to zoom in and slow down the footage for a more detailed analysis. Sure enough, there it was—plain as day; Jim’s toes cinching hold of the steel exterior. An appeal to the California State Athletic Commission was filed immediately.

Following an arduous process, Fletchling’s loss was overturned. Consequently, when the end of the year arrived and it was time for Jim to renew his professional fighting license, CSAC denied the renewal based on the layers of problems proving he was a liability.

Prompted from the Word of the Day Challenge at:

Prompted from Fandango’s One Word Challenge at:

Sweet Chin Music

When Michael told his parents the big news, he knew they would not share in his joy.

It was best to tell them now, so they could begin moving forward—with Michael, as his parents always did—instead of lying, which he briefly debated, and filling his journey with more emotional angst than necessary.

Michael’s words floated into the living room’s air like a butterfly and stung like a vicious uppercut, “I’ve decided, for now, to leave school and turn pro. I already have a fight lined up next month.”

The “for now” Michael inserted didn’t soften the blow. His parents’ facial expressions bounced between disappointment and horror; he received similar looks after he announced his interest in competing as an amateur mixed martial artist last year. They assumed Michael was just going through a phase—much like his wild craze of collecting baseball cards as a young boy.

His parents believed: a full slate of classes and first-seat in the college’s symphony would distract Michael from training. Wrong.

Truth be known, Michael was an artist—mixed, martial, or otherwise. Anything creative he approached with curiosity—from the strings on a violin to the chins of opponents—hummed in perfect harmony. Michael’s mother signed him up for violin lessons at the age of four, and his father enrolled him in Jiu-Jitsu at eight; both, he grew to believe, were as vital to his survival as oxygen—until he scratched the itch he got for cage fighting.

Once Michael’s instructor, and owner of Deadbolt Jiu-Jitsu, added a beginner’s MMA class to the weekly schedule, it spawned his intrigue in the sport. Much like his violin teacher noted a prodigious talent early on, the MMA coach coaxed Michael into planting his green, though lush with confidence, skillset inside a cage.

Michael was hooked at the sound of the bell—the crowd, the noise, the rush. A close decision loss only poured gasoline at the thoughts sparking in Michael’s mind: How far could a cage fighter travel in their career? Could they even have a career to begin with? 

During the last couple months of high school—when Michael was to be applying for colleges—his attention to the strings had snapped. He didn’t hate the violin; he’d just fallen in love with orchestrating violence. Where Michael’s effort toward filling out applications wained, his mother picked up the slack, and he was accepted, along with a generous scholarship, to Long Beach State’s music program.

“Good,” was Michael’s response every time his parent asked how things were going. 

He didn’t want to tell them that he had won five straight fights, or his grades had settled on a losing record. Following Michael’s most recent victory—a slick triangle submission over an undefeated prospect on everyone’s radar—several managers and promoters informed the blossoming up-and-comer that they could increase the value of his stock if he chose to go pro. 

Michael showed his parents some footage from his latest outing, hinting at an imminent return, while home for the summer from his freshman year. Dad was visibly impressed when the referee forced Michael to unlock his stranglehold, and Mom covered her face and watched through the small cracks between her fingers.

“I don’t know what you get out that,” she’d say. She said the same thing, however, when Michael competed in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments as a white belt; however, by the time he was a purple belt, she was the loudest voice in the venue.

Two weeks before the fall semester drew students back to the campus, Michael delivered the direction of his new dream—one of four-ounce gloves, face-punching, ring card girls, bundles of cash, and the allure of championships—would be taking him.

As if in a game of musical chairs, there was only one seat left, and it belonged to MMA.

Prompted from Fandango’s Word of the Day Challenge at:

All or Nothing

Garret Hills hadn’t attended a single Jiu-Jitsu class in over a month; his longest break since walking through the doors of Ronaldo Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy about a decade ago.

“Sensei Baca was asking about you again yesterday,” Tommy Jacobson informed when he finally caught up to Garret.

“Tell him I’m fine.”

“He’s sure you’re fine,” Tommy responded. “He just misses you on the mats.” When Tommy, a fellow brown belt who rose the ranks alongside Garret, realized the two were nearing the edge of the high school’s campus—and the lunch break was almost over—he asked, “Where are you going?”

Garret explained, “My parents still don’t know I’m training MMA. If I spend the last month of the school year leaving during lunch once or twice a week, I can make it Downtown, spar with some high-level dudes near my weight, and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll graduate.”

The ninety-minutes one way to Dangerous Minds MMA offered Garret more knowledge about playing punchy-face than the resources his hick, podunk town had available. Those whom studied under Baca were blessed to have a championship-caliber Jiu-Jitsu player in their backyard, but there were only a handful of people Garret was aware of who even knew what MMA was; most seemed to think it was a caged rendition of professional wrestling. A tactical offense on the ground wouldn’t be enough for success in the game on inches; Garret additionally required: wrestling, for dragging a foe into his domain; an ability to serve—and eat—some punishment on the feet; and an even blending of all these facets into a hitman for hire. Garret, a freshly minted eighteen-year-old with aspirations of superstardom under bright spotlights, believed he had outgrown the comfort of his Gi as a child leaves their favorite blanket in the rearview mirror by adolescence. 

Garret sharpened the techniques he acquired from those at Dangerous Minds MMA with Josh Harvey, a recent dropout who mirrored Garret’s passion for MMA. Josh figured: if his brain could fend off books, maybe it would work similarly against hooks. Though Harvey’s athleticism wasn’t polished with potential, the twenty-pounds of mass he owned over Garret, along with a grit that pushed him to never quit, made him, what Garret dubbed, “a flesh Kong toy”—mobile and difficult to destroy.

The pair of rogue training partners had scheduled their debuts, six-weeks from the present, at Danger Zone 45, a promotion that hosted an event each month in Downtown’s Tower Theatre. Both Garret and Josh absorbed the energy resonating—affirming their new career path—throughout the venue from Danger Zone’s previous show, and Garret left, fully invested, with premonitions of his hand raised in the promotion’s ill-constructed cage. 

While Garret and Josh expanded their gas tanks, pounding semi-paved, gravel, and dirt roads around their quaint town as the beginning of summer—and their first step toward the end of a rainbow shaded in bruises and blood—drew near, Sensei Baca pulled alongside the two in his silver Nissan Sentra. It had been a couple months since he’d seen Garret, and the string bean with incredible dexterity he remembered had added several layers of hardened muscle to his exterior.

“Come see me at the academy soon, Porra!” The Brazilian’s infectious smile was the exact same as the last interaction shared with Garret.

“Will do, sir.”

The next day, before Garret’s afternoon escape across county lines, he stopped at Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Baca approached Garret with the same wide, toothy grin flashed from the previous day. With each step, it registered to Garret: one of his hands is behind his back. He readied himself for one of his instructor’s infamous, random tests—a pop quiz for combat.

When Baca’s missing hand came into view, so did a small box, which he handed to his student. Garret lifted its lid. Inside was a yellow and blue—the colors of Baca’s school—rash guard. In white lettering—across the front and back—were the words “All or Nothing.” 

Garret repeated, “very cool,” several times as he examined each side of the rash guard, hoping some further explanation would better steer his reaction.

 “Porra, I’m expanding my academy; I will offer No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.” Baca continued, “My cousin, Paulo, is a three-time gold medalist in the No-Gi Global Jiu-Jitsu Games, and a friend of mine, Bak Ken, has told me his willingness to pass a rich education of stand up down to my students.”

“This is fantastic!” Garret brought the rash guard back into view and asked, “What does any of that have to do with this?”

“That’s now your nickname, Porra. There is no gray with you, it’s either black or white. If I didn’t add some training other than Gi Jiu-Jitsu, I’d probably never see you again,” Baca chuckled. “It’s important you continue commuting—until our classes grow—Downtown for the time being, but maybe you can talk some of their guys into the quiet life and they could teach a seminar here.”

Sensei Baca’s support fueled Garret with the confidence to dismantle his upcoming opponent and march through every warm body placed before him.

Garret bowed at his Sensei, tightened the imaginary belt around his waist, and thanked him with a gracious, “Oss!”

Prompted from Fantango’s One Word Challenge: