"Wow, what a nice picture of you Chike" I know. It's easy to find a good picture of me when all black people look the same. *awkward silence* (I can feel eyes longing to make the moment less weird... not happening buddy.) No, that's not me in the picture. To find out why, we travel back to San Fransisco.
The year was 2007. The opponent, Kevin Ross. Apparently the doctor I gave my forms to in order to get my medical stuff for the fight thought that my cholesterol level was what the California State Athletic Commission really needed to know about to determine whether it was acceptable to let me fight. aids? hepatitis? who cares... long story short: the fight didn't happen. After the fights I see my trainer, Khunpon, sitting with this guy named B Jon looking at the poster you see now. "Matee to fight this guy? My guy just beat him." My fight right before that one had been with Mukai Maromo (the guy on the poster). I won a decision against him. It was closer than I would have liked. He was one tough dude. ...very skilled too. So i don't know what the official story was, but through some shady shit B John replaced Mukai with me because I was a cheaper plane ticket and because I already had most of my medical stuff taken care of for the San Fran fight that never happened.
So who's Matee?
So Matee is a bad ass. I'm not going to beat around the bush about it. He's a legend in the sport with close to 200 fights on his record and in his prime was one of the superstars of Lumpinee stadium. One nice thing was to find out was that he actually won this IMTO world title just the year before we fought by beating dutch fighter, Youseff Ahknikh. That lets me know that he still had skills and wasn't totally out of practice. (Youseff actually fought Buakaw too, so that guy's not exactly a total bum either.)
On to the fight...
This was pretty interesting. I was flown out to lose. Everyone knows it. My trainer told me that win or lose this would be a great fight for me because of the caliber of opponent: the experience I would gain from fighting someone with that much skill would be invaluable and the recognition I could get from just doing well could make me more visible in the fight world. So for most of the time that I thought about the fight, I thought about doing my best. 30 min before the fight I changed my mind. I said "fuck my best... i'm gonna win."
Round 1: I know that Thais usually start slow. If you go apeshit within reason (not actually apeshit, just the pace you would go in rounds 2 or 3) you generally have a chance of taking them out of their comfort zone and doing better against them than you should. I kept my movement but I didn't really start too fast. A part of me didn't want to take advantage of winning that way even though it's not really a dirty strategy. Matee's nickname is "Dragon Leg" for his powerful and fast kicks --especially his left kick. I knew my best bet would be to use fast straight punching and push kicks to keep him in a bad place. First round was a close feeling out round with me asserting myself as the puncher and him as the kicker. The only dramatic action was one brief moment where we played a game of chicken. His left kick vs. my straight right hand. I got there first and sent him halfway across the ring since he was on one leg. The contact felt so good I thought for sure he'd be cross eyed. I step forward ready to jump on him, look in his eyes, and see nothing. No cloudiness, no dizziness, no nothing. He look like I just gave him shrimp puff instead of a punch. Cool. Better this way. He'll pick up the pace and then we can get into this with nobody getting caught sleeping.
Round 2: Another close round. same thing, faster pace. I punch while he kicks. My straight punching slips through, while I manage to block most of his kicks. I make him miss about 2 kicks and he starts faking high to score low. Good shit. He really sold it... made it hard to read what was really going where. But I hit him a little more than he hit me and I narrowly win that round.
Round 3: Very similar to round two. At one point I sink a hard right kick on him that I can tell hurt him. One thing to note is he kept switching from southpaw to orthodox. I suspect he came into the fight with his left leg a little hurt and switched to try to avoid the having to throw the left nonstop. I only landed that kick so cleanly because I caught him switching to orthodox. Another thing to note is that he did throw the left kick a shit ton and he was throwing so many elbows on me I thought I was in a 90s rap video. Made me feel proud. Like he felt like he couldn't hold anything back while we were fighting.
Round 4: Matee was the star this round. It was fairly close. He starts taking more advantage of making his low kicks look high. I throw a push kick recklessly and not as sharp as i could. He grabs it and pushes me backward off balance. As I start hopping backward off balance he sinks a flying knee in my stomach. It looked picture perfect and I went through the ropes a little. Kind of embarrassing. I get up and immediately we play another game of chicken: my high kick vs. his low kick. surprise, surprise. it works out better for him and I get swept big time. Bell rings. "Ok, i'm up 3 to 1. just gotta fight hard the last round and win it so I don't fall victim to a home town decision." (It wasn't really his home town, but they loved him in Fresno so much it might as well have been.)
Round 5: Again I'm sticking to fast straight punching and push kicks to keep him in a bad place. Matee's sticking hard and fast to that left kick and left elbow. ...so many elbows. This round I shine. In close I land a short left hook. Contact feels great, but it felt great in the first round too. I see him stumble. "Off balance, he'll catch himself." He hits the floor. "He's fine he'll just pop back up un-phased and it won't even be a knockdown cause of the warrior spirit rule." I look in his eyes and he looks confused. "holy shit." I run to the neutral corner and see Matee rise to obviously wobbly legs. Fight continues after eight. He goes back to elbows a ton. I'm moving and throwing and covering up defending the monster elbows. After a while I'm thinking, "that's probably gonna be the elbow that breaks the camels back. How about I throw that hook again to back him off." He drops again. tenderrrr. The round coasts out and I start dong the math; Rounds 1 through 3: narrow wins -- three 10-9 rounds, Round 4: lost it 10-9 (hometown might make it 10-8), Round 5: won it 10-8. holy shit. I just beat Matee for a world title. It felt like a crazy dream. It feels even more like a crazy dream several months later when there is absolutely no word on the internet about the fight even taking place, and there is no video of the fight except some amateur footage of a few select fighters taken by loved ones and friends.
They bring us to the center, and call out my name as the winner. Then they put the most beautiful belt I've ever seen around my waist. (Zoom in on the picture and you might learn how to love again too.) We take a couple pics and then Khunpon reminds me that I have to give the belt back. Each belt is a commemoration of the fight it was earned in. The belt that was brought to the ring was made for the fight between Matee and Youseff and is rightfully Matee's regardless of whether he still holds the title. So they said the promoter, B John, would make me a new belt for the fight between Matee and I. We go back to the locker room and take one final pic before giving it back. Wow, did giving that thing up suck. I couldn't help but feel like I got a glimmer of what it might be like to be a surrogate. "Thanks for all that work delivering that baby. I'll just take that... and give you this pat on the back ...cause that's pretty much just as good right?" But B John's gonna give me a new belt. ...And its gonna be so shiny and pretty ...and invisible. Nine months later and still no belt. I guess shipping's a bitch, huh B John? B John, It's not that I have hard feelings, I just want things to be like they used to be between us. Like when I used to call and you'd pick up the phone. Anyway this post isn't about B John. So let me do my best not to let this degenerate into a rant. In closing I'd like to end on a hopeful note: a prayer. Please please please let there be somebody who knows were I can get the video of that fight (Warrior's Challenge at Chukchansi park in Fresno, CA on Nov 10, 2007). Also, please let there be somebody out there dating B John willing to break up with him in a kind of uncool way just because it might make me feel better.