Sobriety Fighter

Follow one writer's experiment to spend one year as a full-time fighter, while also embracing his first year of sobriety.

Must Read: I’m an Alcoholic Dude With an Eating Disorder. Hi.

“I want you to know it’s going to be okay. You aren’t dumb. You have a problem. And there is nothing tough about suffering in silence.”

 

An amazing read – something we can all relate to and grow from. Thanks, Jezebel.

Proudly Presenting: UFC Veteran Drew Fickett Talks his First Year of Sobriety

I know it’s strange to read a blurb from a person who covers fights about who his favorite fighter is – even though everyone knows writers are just human we’re supposed to pretend we don’t have favorites – but I’m going to kick this off by writing that over the course of the past year, Drew Fickett has become my favorite fighter.

Even before I started living a clean lifestyle, I was drawn to Drew Fickett. Drew was always portrayed as a talented, yet underachieving addict; something I related to more than I wanted to admit. Before beginning my own journey with sobriety, I would sympathize with Drew’s struggles. Throughout his career, Drew’s “personal demons” took a lot away from him – an arrest kept him off of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, he was fired from the UFC and he showed up to a fight against Shannon Ritch too drunk to compete.

But then Drew tried to get clean. Though I initially dismissed his efforts, I paid close attention. As time went on – time he managed to stay clean through despite plenty of problems – I became a big fan of his. I won’t get too mushy here, but I will say that it’s impossible to overstate how much I look up to “Nightrider,” even if I’m not “supposed” to admit it.

Drew recently celebrated an entire year of sobriety, and took the time to speak with me about the experience. I am proudly posting the resulting interview today, and hopefully will be bringing more interviews with clean and sober athletes to this site in the future. Hope you enjoy:

(SF) First of all, thank you for making time for me, and congratulations on an entire year of sobriety. How does it feel to get that first year under your belt?

(Drew Fickett) It feels natural. I don’t even think about it anymore. It just feels healthy. Every day I wake up and once in a while I think about how nice it is to be one with my lord and maker and free from the temptation of drinking. I am very grateful.

I remember reading that roughly around the time you hit forty days, you were homeless. What was that experience like, and what did you learn from it?

It was a pretty drastic change going from the comfort of Tucson, where I could always get a drink or find someone to drink with, and going to Florida where I spent some time being homeless and standing in line at the soup kitchen in Ft. Lauderdale. It makes me grateful for what I have now. Trying to sleep in the woods outside of ATT, sleeping and living in the humid summer heat of Florida was a very maturing experience for me. It made me appreciate my sobriety now and gave me a purpose and sense of direction towards my goals at the time, which I wouldn’t have had if God didn’t create these obstacles for me.

During this time I really strengthened my faith visiting a local Christian Church by the name of Greater Macedonia and came to understand that every obstacle in my life is simply an opportunity from the kingdom of heaven.

Are you affiliated with a Twelve-Step Program? 

At the center I was staying at we completed an intense daily 12 step program.  

Do you have a sponsor?

Yes. I had a sponsor in Florida, but now I simply attend local groups as desired in Tucson. I have a very strong foundation at my church that I go to twice a week. It’s called Covenant Generations in Tucson and it is the most open minded, non-judgmental church I have ever experienced.  

I find it fascinating that – unlike most addicts – you didn’t necessarily start at a young age. You didn’t drink during high school, although your devotion to martial arts, in retrospect, could have been considered a red-flag that you’re an addict. Do you feel that addicts are naturally drawn to the competitive nature of sports?

Being an addict. This is a very philosophical question. I mean aren’t we all addicts in one way or another?

Back then seeing that I was a very intense young individual highly committed to taking my fighting skills to another level even at that age I guess you could make an argument for me possibly being “addicted” to a substance later on, but I think addiction is an epidemic in our contemporary world that effects everyone in our country. People that need help with their drug and alcohol dependency have usually taken their abuse to a level that was so severe that they need outside help. These individuals are usually good athletes yes, because they are adamant and predisposed to pushing themselves to another level. Can be a good thing if one’s pursuits are in a positive direction.

So, walk me through your first drink. Do you still remember what it was? Why did you pick it up, and how was your first experience?  

My mother died when I was in the Marine Corp at age 18. When I got back on leave it was during Christmas and used beer to escape the pain I felt from the loss. There was nothing especially memorable about the experience, just that I used alcohol to cope with the loss of my Mom during a hard time. Other times I would just drink to “have a good time” with friends or girls so it wasn’t like every time I drank I used it to escape my feelings of sadness or at least that’s what I thought.

Negative. My victory in the cage against Andre Winner is by far my greatest achievement thus far in my carrier in the sport of Mixed Martial arts. Thank you God!

[Note: Drew lost a unanimous decision to Winner on June 29, but almost earned a rear-naked choke victory in the second round.]

How do you feel that the lifestyle of a professional fighter has enabled your addiction? 

I started fighting during the first broadcast of the Ultimate Fighter and remember seeing Chris Leben getting drunk and being stupid and then going in and training balls the next day hung over. I glorified that. Being able to fight hard and party hard. Train hard even when drunk and hung over appealed to my vikingesque nature. Pretty soon I developed a name in the sport for being a bad ass drunk who could fight.  

I could fight and drink and even though it was very taxing I could pull it off and loved the type of image it gave me. I thought it was so cool. I used to associate airports and flying with drinking and pretty soon I couldn’t fly if I wasn’t tore up from the floor up. I don’t even understand how I would manage to make it from point a to point b, but I remember many flights missing my plane and ending up back at the airport pub for another Guinness or shot of Jack.  I can really relate to Josh Hamilton’s story because of our obvious similarities.

Do you feel that the lifestyle is why so many athletes struggle with addiction?

Yeah I would say the lifestyle of a professional athlete is why so many struggle with addiction. The travel, the publicity and notoriety. The girls and parties and social buzz. A lot of fighters are introverts and very deep artistic thinkers. This does not adapt well to the high paced MTV bulb flashing decor of a lifestyle that just gets more and more attention the better you get. I know a lot of fighters that have to resort to drug and alcohol abuse just to function normally with all the social requirements the fast growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts now curtails.

If you can, describe the famous “Octagon Jitters.”

Trying to focus while Fear, anxiety and excitement is trying to rip you from the driver’s seat.

What went through your mind when Dana White cut you from the UFC over your behavior outside the cage? Did you try to get sober after that experience?

I thought, “Man, I need a drink.”

I felt pretty upset that were singling me out after an incident that was simply getting kicked out of a bar for not having a collared shirt. I felt like a victim ’cause guys like Junie Brownie and Jesse Taylor were given several chances to clean up their act – even commended for their actions which brought great ratings to the show – but you know it really just comes to taking responsibility for my actions and realizing life isn’t fair. And the more powerful and influential you become, the more unfair it’s gonna seem, and the more people are gonna try to tear you from your perch.  

Are you still in touch with Dana White? How supportive has he been of you during your sobriety?

I am not in touch with Dana. Dana is a businessman. That’s as far as that goes.

I know your fight against Shannon Ritch was cancelled because you showed up drunk, but have you ever managed to fight while drunk? If so, what was the outcome?

No comment.

Would you consider the Ritch fight your “Rock Bottom,” or was there a different incident that comes to mind?

Absolutely not. That was a rough weekend.

What comes to mind: Checking out of the psyche ward for a suicide attempt just to go into a bender in an apartment where I was partying for four days straight with a schizophrenic Vietnam vet who suffers from severe PTSD. I woke up laying in my own shit, vomit and piss. My hand was terribly cut open and my blood was everywhere. The smell was so unbearable that my bum friend Sergeant Steen couldn’t even stick around. I had to be admitted into the hospital because I had a severe Mersa infection in my hand where the doctors talked to me about possible amputation.

Step Nine involves making amends with those you have hurt because of your addiction. Have you ever gotten to make amends to everyone in the MMA industry?  Do you feel that there are some people in this business who you don’t owe an apology to?

The first people that I made amends to were my very close friends and family. I’m sure there still remain people that are upset at me for one thing or another. It’s very likely that there are things that I’ve done that I can’t even remember, so if you are listening to this and you still hold resentment towards me, I am truly sorry. Blessings be upon you and I pray that Jesus Christ should enter your life and take all of your disdain and contempt, turning you into a loving grateful individual.

Who do you feel that the most talented prospect you’ve fought since leaving the UFC has been?

Andre Winner. Dude’s a technician and has great cardio.

If you had the opportunity to undo one mistake from your past, would you do it? Why or why not, and how do you feel that your life would be different?

I wouldn’t undo anything in my life. My tragedies and successes alike have shaped my epic life into something very memorable and giving me a warrior’s character and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

What advice would you give to an aspiring fighter, in regards to dealing with alcohol and any other temptations that lie outside the ring?

Lose whatever glorified image you have of the party scene inside and outside of the fight world. There is no place for drugs and alcohol in a true fighter’s lifestyle.

So what’s next for Drew Fickett at this point? How many more fights do you feel that you have in you?

I’m just getting started. I’ve fought 68 times and I can fight 68 more.

I’d like to thank Dr. Eric at The Spot Chiropractic, Coach Brad at Neutral Corner Gym, Covenant Generations Church and My cornerman Jesus “The Nazarene”  Christ.

Nightrider out.

I hope it was as motivational for you to read as it was for me to put together. Be sure to like Drew on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. Thanks, and good luck on your journey.

Seven-ish months!

I’ve been so busy with writing/work/training that it completely slipped my mind that I have a little over seven months to date. I’ll just take this time to once again thank you for your continued support. I have big ideas that I’m working on, hopefully I can share the details with you soon.

 

Thanks!

New Job in New Orleans

Miss me?

I haven’t updated this in way too long. Long enough that a few of my friends actually checked to make sure I was okay. Sorry about that.

It would probably make a good story if I wasn’t okay, but honestly, I’ve been perfectly fine. I moved to New Orleans recently, and I work a side job on Bourbon Street as a bartender. Before you point out the obvious conflict of interest, it’s really not tempting at all once you’re constantly surrounded by the most annoying amateurs, lightweights and tourists that the world has to offer.

My personal favorite line most of them use is “Listen, bro, I’ve been drinking since 5 PM,” or some other time that in any other city might be an accomplishment. I usually just tell them ‘You’re in New Orleans, that makes you a lightweight.” I want to tell them “I used to keep a bottle of vodka in my bed so I wouldn’t have to get out of it to drink. Do you really think I’m impressed with your efforts to wear the big boy panties?”

I have a good gym, and good training partners, and honestly, everything else has been fine. I actually feel creative again (I guess it takes six months before your brain starts to work, go figure), and will probably be updating this far more often in the future.

Until then…

Sad Update of the Day: Allen Iverson Is Too Broke to Buy a Cheeseburger

Iverson was one of my favorite athletes growing up. Both on and off the court, he was always ahead of everyone else. But then he started to decline, and the rest of the league caught up with him. He retired as a total nobody, and went to Europe to try to rebuild himself.

If you’ve followed his post-NBA career at all, you know how broke he has been. Actually, you don’t. It’s much worse than you thought it was. I leave you with this article I’ve copied and pasted from “bossip,” because that site is almost as tragic as what it’s covering. Enjoy:

 

 

 

Allen Iverson is in bad shape. Not, bad meaning “good”, but “bad” meaning bad. According to a new piece in the Washington Post the iconic NBA baller “has hit rock bottom” and there are many people who love him, and are concerned about him.

Via Washington Post

Three years after Iverson’s last NBA game, the spotlight has shifted from his play to his flaws. His refusal back then to play by society’s rules was seen as an independent player’s quirks, part of the character and the brand, same as his cornrows and tattoos.

Practicing with hangovers added to the legend. Skipping team functions and refusing to obey the league’s dress code was a man who wouldn’t be held down. And embarrassing defenders on the way to the basket, in the NBA and before that at Georgetown, was a nightly statement by the 6-foot, 165-pound guard: If a man, no matter his size, is determined enough, he can get the better of giants.

But Iverson isn’t a basketball player anymore. This is something most everyone but Iverson has accepted, and for years a question worried those closest to him: What happens when the most important part of a man’s identity, the beam supporting the other unstable matter, is no longer there?

For the past three years, as Iverson chased an NBA comeback, his marriage fell apart and much of his fortune – he earned more than $150 million in salary alone during his career – dissolved. Now, those who once ignored past signals have recognized that basketball may have been the only thing holding Iverson’s life together.

“He has hit rock bottom, and he just hasn’t accepted it yet,” says former Philadelphia teammate Roshown McLeod.

As sad as that sounds, nothing can compare to the scene described during Iverson’s divorce trial in 2012.

Iverson stood during a divorce proceeding in Atlanta in 2012 and pulled out his pants pockets. “I don’t even have money for a cheeseburger,” he shouted toward his estranged wife, Tawanna, who then handed him $61.

To make matters worse, alcholism has been said to be a major contributor to A.I.’s spiraling struggle.

Tawanna testified that during a 2009 family vacation in Orlando, Iverson spent evenings with a friend while his family made plans without him. On the day they were to fly home, Iverson nursed a hangover in a van, lying on the floor with a foot draped on the seat. While their children saw a movie, Tawanna sat for hours with her husband, afraid if he was left alone the driver would take photographs.

Hopefully someone can reach out to Allen to help him get his life together. Despite how bad his situation is, there is a silver lining in Iverson’s playbook.

Basketball was Iverson’s sanctuary, and he signed huge contracts: a six-year deal in 1999 worth $70.9 million and, four years later, a new agreement worth $76.7 million. Reebok signed him to a huge endorsement deal, including a deferred trust worth more than $30 million, a lump sum he can’t touch until he turns 55.

It’s a LONG time to wait, but if the braided-baller can hold on just 18 more years, there just might be some hope.

As bad as many people feel for A.I. it appears that all his wounds are self-inflicted. Iverson’s ignorance, lack of responsibility, and a general I-don’t-give-a-fawk demeanor makes it hard to feel too bad for him. That said, Iverson was one of the greatest basketball players that most of us have ever seen grace the court, it’s a shame that won’t be the way we remember him.

 

My Own McDojo Disaster

In case you haven’t checked, there’s a great piece on CagePotato.com today about Brian D’Souza’s experience with a McDojo in Canada. A McDojo is, simply put, a school that either values earning money/protecting their egos/declaring their style “the best”/etc. over the content that they’re actually teaching. This isn’t to say that making money isn’t important for a martial arts school to stay open, but rather, the instructor values making a hefty profit/being the best fighter in the gym/etc. to the point where the quality of the school’s curriculum suffers.

McDojo is not to be confused with Bullshido – a term used for fraudulent/exaggerated claims and/or lineage in martial arts (ie. a blue belt opens his own school claiming to be a black belt, or that friend we all have who claims to be an “undefeated MMA fighter,” yet no one can find any proof that he’s ever trained before) – although the two are often connected. I’m willing to bet that if your instructor is guilty of Bullshido, he or she is running a McDojo. I’m strictly basing this off of the logic that if you’re lying about your rank or experience in order to open a martial arts school, odds are you’re either doing it to make money, or some psychologist/comedian could have a field day picking apart your massive ego.

What I really enjoyed about this piece was the fact that I could relate to Brian’s story. Yes, I too once trained at a McDojo. In fact, the first MMA gym I ever trained at was a pretty blatant McDojo in retrospect.

The identity of the school is not important, but I’ll try to describe it so that anyone who knew the local MMA scene at the time or had the misfortune of training here themselves would know exactly where I’m talking about. Also, for what it’s worth the school’s website is still up and running, and much of the awful McDojoness I’m about to write about can easily be verified. Simply put, I won’t mention them by name, but yes, the school that gives out crazy McDojo vibes is a fucking gigantic McDojo.

Anyways, I found said school in the heart of the major Mid-Atlantic city I had been living in at the time (If you know me, you know which one). I was fresh out of high school, and looking to actually learn the ins-and-outs of MMA. I had some combat sports experience, but I knew next to nothing about jiu-jitsu, except for the fact that if I wanted to trane PRIDE (I didn’t want to “trane UFC, bro,” I wanted to do this to people), I needed to know it. So I did a basic Google search, and found my McDojo. Sure, the website looked more like an infomercial than any gym website I’ve seen, but the instructor was a well-known black belt with a verifiable lineage and numerous NAGA and Grappler’s Quest medals. Surely, this man was not Bullshido, so sure, enroll me into a two year contract with no way out except for injury or moving more than fifty miles away. And I’ll gladly sign this covenant not to compete (Yes, as in business-wise, not fighting) in order to actually fight for your gym. WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!

Now, the owner’s instruction was pretty good when he was actually teaching. He was usually more like a marketer and accountant than teacher, but for the one class a week he actually taught, I learned a lot. The problem was that his “assistant instructor” taught most of the classes – despite being blatantly unqualified to do so – and the owner never really spoke up unless the assistant forgot to demonstrate something to us or didn’t know how to answer a question. When I write that his assistant was unqualified, this isn’t just sour grapes from a guy who feels he spent a lot of money on a relatively worthless gym membership. The guy was a blue belt who was pretty much honorarily promoted to purple belt; he was promoted during a “private session” that was closed off to the rest of the gym (and possibly never happened). He was a decent enough guy, but he was convinced he knew how to be an MMA fighter because he took home a few medals in the intermediate divisions of local grappling tournaments. After my fifth month of training at this place, he took over designing the curriculum and teaching classes by himself. The owner? We rarely saw him in gym clothes – let alone training – after this.

If there was any doubt that the instruction would suffer once the owner was no longer responsible for it, it was immediately squashed during my first class under the assistant. He began with shadowboxing, where he stopped the clock to correct everyone for not assuming a Western Boxing stance during MMA shadowboxing. During kick drills, he taught axe kicks; not as a stretch, but as a practical kick to use in an actual fight. Also, the first punch we went over under him? A spinning backfist, the bread-and-butter of every successful fighter, apparently. At least you’d assume that if your only knowledge of fighting came from his class and cheesy kung-fu movies. In terms that those of you who don’t follow combat sports will understand: Going into a fight with nothing but an axe kick and a spinning backfist in your arsenal is pretty much admitting to the world that you get off to being beaten and humiliated.

Unfortunately, this story gets even better – for whatever reason, Wingus had an assistant, Dingus, who somehow knew even less about MMA than he did (although Dingus had some bitchin’ face tattoos, I’ll admit that). The first class he takes part in (I think third class under the assistant’s instruction), he yells at me for not throwing a jab correctly. So I throw another. No instruction, other than “You’re doing this wrong!” And another. Still no advice of any kind. Once Mr. People Skills realizes that confusing the hell out of me isn’t a good way to coach, he stands next to me and throws a jab with his elbows sticking out, and rotating his fist so his pinky knuckle (that’s a body part, right?) is on top. Anyone who has ever boxed knows why this is incredibly wrong, so I ask him what he wants me to correct, and he simply yells “JAB!” We repeated the entire sequence from the beginning four times before FINALLY he said – I shit you not – “Oh…you’re right-handed.”

At that point, I seriously considered taking a dive next time we sparred, and then immediately going to an ER to plead with them to give me a fake X-Ray so I could get out of my contract.

What finally made me go through with my scandal was an incident that took place the next month, just after Christmas. Before the holiday, my mom none-too-subtly asked me if I needed to buy a new “karate uniform.” I laughed, and explained to her that there I don’t need a Gi for MMA or Muay Thai. Considering that my mom reacted to “Muay Thai” the way that I puppy would react to hearing a Charles Mingus song, I figured I’d explain to her what Muay Thai shorts were. Only an idiot would be surprised to open up Muay Thai shorts on Christmas morning after this encounter – which explains how well my mother knows her son, because I royally geeked out.

So now I’m ready to walk into the gym with my all-black Everlast trunks on – JUST LIKE MIKE TYSON USED TO WEAR!!!1!one!1!!eleven!! – when I get stopped by a concerned student. “Bro, you better get changed before Wingus and Dingus see you. You didn’t earn that rank!” Now, had I walked into the gym with a black belt wrapped around my Gi, I’d fully expect an ass beating. But I was wearing Under Armour and my shorts. What “rank” could he possibly be talking about?

I assumed most people wore MMA trunks to our Muay Thai practice because it was right before jiu-jitsu. Sure, one or two people wore Muay Thai shorts, but they also sucked at grappling, so I thought nothing of it. Turns out, this was actually because in order to wear Muay Thai shorts to our fucking Muay Thai practice, you had to drop one hundred bucks on a “Shorts test,” which was a three mile run, five rounds of pad work and five rounds of sparring. In other words, it was essentially what anyone serious about their training was already doing.

If you happen to know nothing about fighting, this is as ludicrous as making a boxer pay for the right to wear boxing trunks. There is absolutely no “rank” in either sport, other than championship belts won from combat. But don’t worry, there wasn’t just one “Shorts test,” either. Beginner students earned the right to wear solid color trunks (except for black), Intermediate students ran an extra two miles for the right to wear shorts with a black waistband, and Advanced students added a few rounds of jump rope and shadowboxing in order to wear black shorts. Naturally, each test was $50 more expensive than the last one, because if you’re going to milk people out of money, then milk those fuckers dry.

I had my MMA shorts in my gym bag, so I went to my car and got changed. I then confirmed everything I heard with Wingus and Dingus, and skipped class to lift weights. I then called the owner and told him that I was moving out of state and therefore needed to cancel my contract. I cooked up a fake lease with the help of a college buddy whose parents lived in Vermont (we used his home address on the lease and told his family to play along if the owner called), and spent the next few months avoiding that part of the city at all costs, training with some guys in my dorm who trained out of a rival gym (that was equally McDojo, judging by all the patches they had on their Gis).

It’d make for a good ending if I wrote that the gym has gone out of business, but I’m pretty sure it’s thriving. All of the “real” fighters who trained while I was there either left of quit MMA shortly after I did. A big part of this is because – surprise, surprise – our guys started getting their asses kicked once the owner stopped giving a shit. Maybe the gym wised up and hired someone competent to train everyone, who knows? But I’m willing to bet that Purple Belt Wingus is still teaching classes. And that his classes are just as worthless as they were the last time I trained with him.

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Thanks Joe.

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