I know, I know, I know.
Rule number 1 & 2 of fight club, “You do not talk about fight club.”
I agree, and I’ll get into that later. First, how I ended up at a fight club, never having been in an actual fight in my life, is quite the story.
Plot twist: I haven’t missed a week since my first night, and my kids come, too.
Years ago, as the self-anointed mascot of Mdrive, the guys at the office tasked me with managing a few ambassadors and sponsorship opportunities. Around 2019, I stumbled upon a rising star in the UFC who happened to love our products. Jordan Johnson won four straight fights in the UFC Light Heavyweight division, only to make the unprecedented move to another league, leaving the top echelon of mixed martial arts. This is precisely the time I met Jordan “Big Swingin” Johnson.
I reached out and introduced myself to Jordan to interview him for The Driven. After my initial conversation with him, I was already in his corner. We bonded over recently becoming fathers, both of us are young driven dads who literally fight every day to provide for their families. His job has a few minor differences in risk assessment, but besides that we were just two hard working Midwest dudes, who dropped everything we knew to follow a dream in Arizona (you can catch up on my journey here). After traveling across the country, sleeping at gyms and being homeless for months, he finally made it to the UFC… only to leave for a smaller, lesser-known organization called the Professional Fighters League (PFL).
So I asked, “Jordan, I’ve never personally known anyone who can get in a cage like that. I have to ask, what drives you… what are you fighting for?”
“My son. This sport is dangerous and there are repercussions to it. I can’t do it forever. That’s why I left the UFC to join the PFL, they’re offering $1,000,000 to the winner of a grand prix tournament, and I’m going to win that for him.”
Before I finish Jordan’s story, and how he would have to win back-to-back fights in one night to potentially move on to the $1,000,000 fight, I wanted to share a bit of context. Jordan unfortunately lost his debut fight in the PFL to Maxim Grishin, leaving him with only two short months to prepare for the tournament. A tournament he had to move up an entire weight division for, and one he would likely have to face the man he just got beat by, Grishin.
“I’m just not going to be that guy. Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. But I’ve stood in front of the cameras every time I’ve won. I’m not going to be any different, I’m Jordan Johnson. Win, lose, I gave it my all. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about that… I just wish I hit the gas pedal harder.”
I wanted to finish my interview and write his story, but this wasn’t the time. I decided to push that interview back. Maybe I’d tell his story after he potentially makes a remarkable comeback journey to victory in the upcoming $1,000,000 tournament.
A remarkable comeback journey it was, he beat Sigi Pesaleli 10-1 in the first round of the grand-prix style tournament. One month later, he got his redemption by moving past Grishin. Hours after that, after battling a fresh fighter, Rashid Yusupov, Jordan’s hand was raised, and he had made it to the $1,000,000 championship round in NYC at Madison Square Garden on NYE.
Jordan didn’t get his hand raised in Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t know anything about MMA, I had never really watched it, but I know people. People seem to gravitate to your corner when the lights are shining bright, but not so much when you’re facing the darkness alone. I hesitated to bother him, but I called Jordan a few days after losing the last fight. I’m glad I did. “You’re the first person to call me to check in. I appreciate you, Taylor.” We’ve been great friends ever since and I’m still in his corner, even when he asks me to come to a new club he’s starting. Fight Club.
I’m a 170-pound, middle-aged runner, and the only fighting I do is fighting off my dad bod. If God equipped me with any super power in life, it’s to get along with anyone and everyone. I’m not a fighter. But, if you say you have your buddy’s back when they need you, and you don’t actually show up, do you really have their back?
So there I was, getting ready for whatever “Fight Club” is, texting Jordan “What do I bring?” only to see the chat bubbles pop up revealing “Mouthguard. Workout clothes.” Yikes, what was I getting myself into?
With anxiety flowing through my veins, I pulled into the dimly lit parking lot to what seemed to be an auto repair shop. As I parked, I saw glimpses of Viking-like figures warming up on wrestling mats through the open garage door. Neat.
From the moment I walked in through that large overhead garage door, I felt surprisingly welcomed. I was shocked, it was kind of a family event, these guys all brought their kids to play around together while we trained. I quickly put together that everyone here belonged, and they were carefully invited by other members. I felt extremely honored Jordan welcomed me into his group and trusted that I would add, and not take, from this community.
Of the group of 6 guys, each of them had about 50 pounds on me. One of my biggest fears coming into this was finding myself in a position where I couldn’t control the outcome especially if “fight club” ramped up its intensity too quickly. That never happened. These guys were patient and even slowed the pace to teach me the subtle, yet powerful, nuances of this new and complicated art form.
Much of the time at Fight Club is spent practicing throwing punch combinations with a partner and then switching to allow them their turn. This is where I learned one of my own very important lessons of Fight Club, or joining any new group for that matter: give what you want to get.
After about an hour of training, I felt comfortable enough to ask a very important question to the guys as we caught our breath and grabbed some water. “As a new guy coming into someone else’s world, their home, I’m super careful of not breaking any of the unspoken rules. You know, like, I don’t want to be ‘that guy.’ Are there any unspoken rules I should know?” I asked. They surprisingly all had two similar answers: Give what you want to get, and stay humble.
I suppose this is critical when practicing a rear naked guillotine with someone who apparently has a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu. Give respect and get respect. Got it.
As I’m practicing choke holds on the mat with my partner, I am astonished at the comradery and bonding found in what is, at it’s core, an adversarial battle for life. My “opponent” casually stops me, mid-hold, to kindly explain how to better leverage my elbow for a deeper and tighter grip to increase the pressure I have on HIS neck.
When practicing or sparring with a partner there is this everchanging balance of trust and vulnerability. Every hold and every punch thrown communicates the level of intensity and the level of respect you are showing, and your partner will have a choice how to match it. Give what you want to get. I think I’m fitting in at Fight Club? I like these guys!
When I see people running, it’s so easy to judge or feel inclined to show off how good or superior I might be. My wife always reminds me to be humble and welcoming to those curiously showing interest in my sport of running. These guys were both.
It takes bravery to be vulnerable enough to step into someone else’s world, and we should match their bravery with humility. If these guys knocked or choked me out to flex their superior martial arts skills, how many guys would be joining fight club or coming back in the future?
Initially when I agreed to join Jordan for Fight Club, I did it to support him and figured I would put together what his mission was later. I get it now, by diving in blind and being initiated into the club. Jordan and I both left everything we knew and moved to Arizona alone; we didn’t have a network or community to lean on. We had to build and find our own.
Guys are the worst at talking about their health and feelings. The past few years only exacerbated that loneliness; compounding some of those scars and memories etched throughout a lifetime of potential hardships and trauma. Jordan wanted to build a community for men to learn, grow and find comradery a few nights a week.
We talk about Fight Club for the same reason I checked in with Jordan days after his devastating loss: you never know if someone is feeling defeated or alone and in need of community.
Fight Club isn’t about fighting as much as it is about building a community, growing and healing. Mentally, and maybe physically from a few of these leg kicks and body slams.
MMA isn’t for everyone, I certainly never thought it would be for me, but I want to challenge you:
Talk about your Fight Club, whatever it is, and reach out to someone you think may need an outlet.
If you are feeling alone, find your Fight Club, enter with humility, and give what you want to get, and you’ll find your community.
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