After losing my pro MMA debut I was in two minds about about continuing in MMA or just focusing on the safer option of competing in BJJ and Grappling.
I continued training hard and also around the same time became very interested in the mental and psychological side of fighting, how to control my nerves and adrenaline before a fight or a match, visualising what I'm going to do and how I'm going to feel and also avoiding the dangerous feeling of 'I just want to get this over with'. I spent a lot of time researching and reading about sports psychology and mental preparation and tried out everything I learned in local grappling tournaments.
Towards the end of 2003 I got another opportunity to fight in MMA. This time the fight would take place in Italy. About a month before this fight I had started a new job at an advertising company right in the centre of London and was also in the early stages of studying for my chartered accountancy qualification, this meant I was very limited on time so I had to fly to Italy on the morning of the event, fight in the evening and then fly home the next morning. Also, as previously mentioned MMA was an unknown sport back then, I couldn't really tell my employers I was going to overseas for a no rules fight at the weekend so I just said it was a martial arts event.
The fight in Italy was pretty tough. I had no idea who I would be fighting until I got into the ring. There was no weigh in and my opponent seemed to have a considerable weight advantage over me. I could tell i was in better condition though and I could see that he was getting tired halfway through the first round so it was just a matter of hanging in there, not getting hurt and waiting for my opportunity. By the start of the second round I could tell that he was done so I got my takedown and won by armlock.
This fight was a great experience because I overcame adversity. I always preferred the fights where I was losing at the beginning and manage to come back and overcome the opponent rather than fights where I had everything my own way.
One of the biggest lessons that I learned from my fighting career is the importance of having a coach, and particularly a coach who is experienced, who cares and is invested in you. Throughout all of my MMA career I had good friends and training partners who would help corner me but I never had a coach who had actually fought and could tell me exactly what to do. Advice such as how to train, how to prepare for a fight, which fights to accept and which to turn down. I pretty much did all of this on my own but in the long term I feel it was beneficial because I've been able to pass on the lessons I've learned to my students and fighters since then.