In a world full of able-bodied alpha males, you can't help come from a different angle in mixed martial arts when you have a limb-difference. I hate to sound cliché, but with the facets of mastery you see in each contest, there are always doubts about your abilities and it's always pretty awe-striking when you show what you can do.
As a lot of you may know, I've been born and raised in MMA. My father owns an MMA gym and my brother used to compete at a very strong level. Uncommon, right?
Because of my hand, I know I have to work harder than most. When most are putting 100%, you have to adapt on the spot and put more than 100% just to keep up. Note: this far from a sympathy plea. It is a mere indication into what it's like to be in such a physical outlet having a rather surprising condition.
In a fighting sport, the reach of a combatant tends to say who will control the pace and pressure of the bout. Clearly, reach isn't often on my side, therefore adaptation comes into play. For instance, being left handed, I should naturally pose a southpaw. However I cannot rely on my club hand to threaten with a strong jab. If I threw such a jab with my right hand, it would render me vulnerable due to its technique.
So, I'm an adopted orthodox who uses his left hand as a jab and primarily can switch between stances to deliver fitting combinations. I mean, I kind of have to. It's been almost five years since I began training properly under my father's tutelage and I still experiment and adapt on the spot in just about every session.
This is why, personally, I concentrate on my footwork. I may have to step in further to throw a right hook with my club hand, but I need to know how to avert danger in the process.
I know it brings attention and I know people look and wonder, especially at shows when warming up backstage with a teammate who's competing later that night. I get it; it's not something you see every day and that's what motivates me to be my best.
Another example: jiu jitsu. Ground games are just as, if not more important, than the striking facets. Just a few adaptations include submissions like keylocks, kimura, hammerlocks and even the standard-yet-vital wrist control. What comes to others easily can require a step-by-step breakdown in the mind of a limb-different practitioner. At the same time however, this can provide an advantage for people like me.
We adapt, therefore we must think more and having to think more provides ways to both attack and defend successfully. Not only that, but a limb-difference can stump able-bodied athletes on how to manoeuvre a technique. Some aren't sure where to grip and sometimes your limb-difference provides a smaller gap of entry for your opponent.
So much of mixed martial arts relies on length of reach and quick reactions. Whether it be the reach of a jab, ability to control a double-leg takedown with one arm shorter than the other or in submitting the opposition, one must improvise, adapt and overcome. Having to do this throughout my life and in a game like MMA, you see things differently and it creates a stronger mind to go along with a big showing of heart.
With some stereotyping or just the way the world is, I'm sure some would give me credit just for trying something completely out of the ordinary and I'm sure there's some who don't take guys like me seriously in training, but that's not what it's about. This isn't something I'd be doing if I didn't truly enjoy it.
A common question with people is if I have ever fought. Ironically, it's not my hand that stops me competing. It's actually a neck condition where six of my eight neck discs are fused together; leaving only two to work. In theory, if I was to be either slammed really hard or knocked out and my head bounced off the mat, theoretically speaking it would shock my remaining discs and paralyse me neck-down. It sounds scary, but I'm safer than you'd think. I still have my tough sparring sessions and I still leave the gym humbled each and every time.
Sure, I'd love to have that one bout, but there's many proponents to it; the main being quality of life should an accident occur. Until some miraculous procedure can come around, it will always be an itch and I'm fine with that. But then you may ask what exactly do I get out of it? What I get out of it is taking my itch and instilling it in making the most of my training partners and posing all kinds of challenges unto them as they do unto me – and I'm happy with that.
This may sound contradictory to my previous points, but it's hard being limb-different in a world full of strong able-bodied MMA fighters. There are so many variables to consider, but through MMA I have the self-confidence, encouragement and backbone that many everyday able-bodied humans do not. Mixed martial arts has provided me with an outlet, a place to answer questions and it's given me a home. It's humbling and just like life, there's good days and bad days, but one thing I know for sure is that you always come back stronger.