Typically Mixed Martial Arts journalists are labeled as little more than “keyboard warriors” – individuals who talk about the sport without having any real understanding of what fighters go through in and out of the cage. While in many if not most cases that may be true but when it comes to writer Matthew Polly such a label couldn’t be further from the truth.
Polly, an accomplished author, recently wrote a book called Tapped Out where he documented his experiences traveling to a variety of notable gyms, working his tail off, and ultimately taking to the cage despite being 36 years old and having no previous training.
A familiar face at MMA events still, Polly recently took some time to chat with Five Ounces of Pain about his journey from writer to fighter including his family’s reaction to the decision, what got him through the tough times, and what he learned about himself in the process.
Where did your initial motivation come from to not only cover the subject matter you did but also put yourself through such a physically demanding journey?
It was the same reason most men put themselves in dangerous situations – I was trying to impress a girl. When my girlfriend’s male cousins found out I had written a book, American Shaolin, about the two years I had spent training kung fu with the Shaolin monks in China, they asked if I would fight Chuck Liddell for a million dollars. With false bravado I said I’d do it for a lot less than that. So when my editor suggested that my next book should not only be an investigation of MMA but also involve me training for a MMA fight, I realized I had talked myself into a corner. My ego had written a check my body would have to cash.
Did you run into a lot of resistance from friends/family/colleagues based on the health risk involved?
At the time I was 36-years-old, weighed 250 pounds, and hadn’t done any martial arts training in fifteen years. When my mother heard what I planned to do, she cried. My father tried to talk me out of it saying, “Son, I know I didn’t give you much of a body, but I did give you a pretty good brain. Why risk one for the other?” Only my girlfriend was positive about the idea. She said, “Given long term health considerations, a broken nose is better than a beer gut.”
What were some of the major differences you noticed between training in the various locales you did? For example, a place in Russia to one in Las Vegas.
I trained in New York City, Bangkok, Rio, St. Petersburg (Russia), and Las Vegas. The biggest difference is the UFC has its headquarters in Las Vegas, so it is the center of the MMA universe. It was like being on Broadway as compared to doing dinner theater in Orlando. The fighters in Vegas are like rock stars. When I trained other places, it still felt like an underground activity.
How close did you come to quitting? What kept you going?
The most embarrassing moment happened during one of my first jiu jitsu classes. I ended up paired with a hefty female. She shifted to a north south position and then sat up, smothering me with her ample backside. For a moment as I was thrashing, unable to breathe, I thought to myself, “My God, what are they going to write for my obituary.” After I finally threw her off, I started laughing. My sense of humor kept me going.
How would you say you’ve changed as a result of writing this book and enduring/experiencing what you have?
I got my swagger back. I dropped 65 pounds and fought at 185. In the process I regained a great deal of confidence I had lost over the years. That’s the thing about putting yourself through something incredibly difficult. When it is over, other life challenges seem much easier to handle.
What did you learn about yourself after the entire process?
I learned that I’m a gamer. I wasn’t always the best in practice. I had many bad days. I was often a nervous wreck right before a match began. But when it came time to step into the ring, I always calmed down and gave my peak performance.
Based on your experience, what one piece of core advice would you give readers who might be interested in giving martial arts training a shot (albeit not in the same manner as you did)?
For casual fans interested in learning a little MMA, the best advice is just find a local gym, go easy, and have fun. It is one of the best ways to get back into shape and gain self-confidence. For serious athletes who are hoping for a career in MMA, I would advise them to go train at one of the top flight gyms producing UFC stars: Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, NM; American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, CA; American Top Team in south Florida; Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, NV; TriStar in Montreal, Canada. It is the best way to gauge your potential and learn what you need to compete at the highest levels.
Finally, is there any sort of pride in knowing you are one of the very few MMA writers who can actually say they know what it’s like to be in an actual sanctioned fight?
I was honored that the other MMA fighters at Xtreme Couture treated me like a junior member of the team after I fought and won my first MMA fight. Before I was just this overweight, middle-aged writer hanging around the gym, but afterwards Randy Couture told some local reporters, “Polly earned my respect. He’s got a ton of heart. He did the work and played the part.” It put a big old smile on my face when I read that.
Tapped Out can be found at any number of major retailers including Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
PHOTO CREDIT – MATTPOLLY.COM