Fight Night: Through the Eyes of the Champ

On February 27, 2015,  Liam McGeary fought Emanuel Newton for the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight title. The Players’ Tribune asked both fighters to document their thoughts in the hours leading up to and immediately after the conclusion of the fight.

Before the Fight


In MMA, there should be a saying: more anger, more problems.

I don’t fight angry.

But I used to. I tried it out when I was younger. I’d go into a fight with a lot of animosity, then I’d lose. I’d try having a big ego and talking a lot, then I’d lose. I’d try to pump my chest and scream God from the mountaintop, then I’d lose. Or maybe I’d win, but it’d be an ugly fight.

Fighting is spiritual. It’s the most spiritual thing I do. The cage is a spiritual place. Size and speed matter, but to be great, you have to discipline your mind and your heart as well. Everything in the ring won’t come at pace you want it to, but that’s true for life, too. Sometimes, when you want something so bad, when it comes it destroys you.

Back in the day, I got into street fights. This was when MMA was still underground. I’d be up against maybe three or four guys. They would be all emotion — no heart, no brains, no understanding of technique. They’d be bigger, and they’d come flying in from all directions, but they didn’t know how to throw a proper punch. They’d get caught. Even outnumbered, I’d beat the crap out of them.

It was like the universe was teaching them a lesson. I think of myself as a vessel for spiritual lessons.

Reach. Teach.

Those streetscrappers never stood a chance against me because I was channeling the spirit of an ancient practice. Their energy wasn’t right. Their preparation wasn’t right. Their spirit wasn’t strong. When you fight angry, all your technique goes out the window. Your head is full of frivolous thoughts. You’re going to lose every time. Even if you happen to win, you still lose, because you’re not evolving as a fighter.

Anyone who’s ever talked to me knows that I’m a deeply spiritual person. I didn’t choose fighting — the universe brought fighting to me. My name is Emanuel, which means God is with us, so that’s something that I connect to. I’m not a follower of any religion, though I’m man on my own spiritual journey, but I borrow from religious teachings when they speak to me. My spiritual task is to connect with my inner self, my inner being.

In martial arts, it’s well-known that the fight is already over when the match begins. Whether it’s a business deal or a paper in school, before you do it, you do the hard work, the battle with yourself, the rituals, the preparation. It’s all a lead up to the big task. When your mind is at its strongest, the knockout will come. That’s the universe speaking to you.

Liam McGeary is known for knockouts. I won’t let that happen tonight. For me, it’s all about movement. He’s lanky and long (6’6”), so I have to stay active. I have to be all the way out, or all the way in. When you’re fighting a taller, longer opponent, he’s gonna cover a lot more space with his steps, but at the same time he’s gonna be crowding himself. So tonight I have to be either all the way out, so he’s reaching, or all the way in, so he’s pawing at my head and all jammed up. I’m going to keep my distance when I need to keep my distance, and then close the gap when I can.

I’ll use my foundation in Greco-style wrestling to beat him on the ground, where I have an advantage. Liam can grapple a bit, but his strength is striking. Yes, he is known for quick KOs. But Liam has never fought anybody like me — he’s never been in the ring with anybody like me. I’m constantly evolving: spiritually, mentally, physically. So no matter where he takes me or where I take him, I’ll be prepared to end up coming out on top.

I was blessed to be able to fight Linton Vassell recently, and it really prepared me for being ready to fight against Liam. Look at Linton, he’s a buff dude.

I thank the universe for that preparation. Linton is tall like Liam, but stronger, more muscular, and more explosive. Liam isn’t going to be strong like that. I can shake a guy’s hand and know, he’s gonna be a strong dude. If I can pick Linton Vassell up over my head and slam him, Liam’s not gonna be a problem.

And yes, I might throw my spinning backfist, the move I’m known for. Here it is catching Joey Beltran off-guard. It looks like a flashy move, but I only bring it out when it’s the right time.

A win would mean I keep my belt, something I’ve been working half my life for. Anger? No, I’m going to have a controlled aggression. I’ll set up a combo and I’ll throw it with everything I have from the heart.

Reach. Teach.

The Fight

After the Fight

You gotta beat the champ. I don’t think he did that tonight.

He was going for submissions, but I had him on his back all night. There were times he was punching me in the head, and I was like, Keep punching me. That’s not working. But it probably racked up points with the judges, so maybe that was a mistake. You know, he’s had a KO or TKO every fight, but not tonight. It wasn’t like he whooped my ass. My bell was never rung. In the end, we went the distance and it was for the judges to decide.

So maybe I could have played to the judges more. But I believe everything happens for a reason. This is a wake-up call for me. There are things I need to change about my training. I was world champion and maybe I let up a little bit in my training. Maybe I didn’t go as hard as I should have in the last month or two. I know I can bring up my power and strength more than it is now. Because if you’re going to be the champ, you have to train like the champ.

I’m still in my prime. I want another shot at him. I know the fans want to see it. And I’m going to be back in the gym right away.

Click here to read Liam McGeary’s perspective on the fight.