There Will Be Blood

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

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There are these moments, man, when things just change. You know? It’s like there’s everything before that moment…. and then there’s everything after. When I think about my career — not my life, my career — there’s a fight I always go back to. 

April 2019 in Atlanta. Kelvin Gastelum.

The middleweight belt was on the line and I knew it was a big opportunity. I could feel that pressure….. and I loved it. My career up to this point had been good. Ups, downs. But good. I felt like I was growing as a fighter, as a person. This fight, though, it was different. And I knew it had to require something different. It was bloody, man. It was brutal. We were going back and forth. After the fourth round it was pretty close, I can’t lie. I felt like I had an edge but I had to get to another level.

Then the fifth round is about to start, and I start lookin’ across the cage at him. And I just feel this, like … WAVE wash over me. 

Suddenly I get in this zone.

I look at him and I say, “You’re not going to beat me. I’m prepared to die.”

And I’ll tell you what: I meant that sh*t.

I signed my life away in that moment. People think it was for the cameras or whatever?? Nah, bro. Nah. That moment, I forgot about everything else. It was just me and him for five more minutes. I was going to do whatever it took. I didn’t care about my health or his health or nothing. I felt like, if I was prepared to die … then I was prepared to kill. 

In the end, that was the difference.

And since then, I’ve known that’s the difference between me and these other dudes. Everyone else, they think they’re a savage. Me? I know I’m a savage. With my LIFE on the line, I’ve seen it. I became who I wanted to be — in the deepest water, in the biggest moment. And I know that if someone tries to take me there again … man, if they make me go back in those waters … I will thrive. And I will drown them.

I know I’m fighting Alex on Saturday, and people want to bring up his kickboxing wins against me. I get that. But people are going to be reminded real quick who I am. And I’m talking who I am now. I’m not the same guy I was five years ago. If Alex doesn’t know that, he’s going to find out the hard way — I promise you.

I think that what people don’t realize is, the guy I was back then … I wasn’t just fighting opponents. I was fighting my mind. I would get frustrated during fights, and I’d force myself into mistakes, just because of my thoughts. I didn’t have that pure focus. I learned that from my losses to Alex. Back then, I could fight, believe me. I had him where I wanted a couple of times. But when I couldn’t finish him, my mind got caught up in it. It would just race ahead of my body, you know what I’m saying? And then I’d slip up.

That’s where I’m different now.

Jackson Krule/The Players' Tribune

My team and I, we had an incredible camp. People say that all the time, I know. But for real — we were focused up. We were honest. That’s one of those things that separates us. We’re not afraid to look at ourselves and be real, and ask those tough questions.

What are we not good at?

What are we afraid of?

How do we get better today?

That’s hard to do. A lot of people think they can do it … but they can’t, man. You need to know yourself. That’s how you improve.

And once we ask those questions, we get to work. No B.S., straight to it. We been in the trenches the last few months. That’s the sh*t that excites me now. Not the hype — the grind. That type of grind where you’re so deep in it, you HAVE to love it. There’s nothing that’s as good as being in the gym, me and my guys, and I’m putting my gloves on, I’m looking around, and I’m just like, F*ck!! We really out here. We really gladiators.

We really DO this.

And I know all this stuff doesn’t last forever. I’ll have to stop fighting one day. That’s why I’m working as hard as I can. That’s why this fight means so much to me. Not just because it’s Alex. Because it’s what’s right now.

Focus on the right now — that’s what me and my possibility manager have been working on. She doesn’t like the word “therapist,” she gave that all up a while ago. So we go with “PM.” She’s helped me a lot, though. She’s helped me learn how to react to everything around me. As a fighter, you’ve always got people trying to make you react. In the media, in the ring, wherever. And in the past, I struggled with that. But now I own it. I assess the situation, I take my time…. and I respond when the moment is right.

On Saturday, I’m responding with violence.

People keep asking how this fight came to be. Yeah, it has to do with our story. That stuff happened. He wrote the first few chapters of the book. It’s all good. But I’ve been writing that sh*t since. And now he’s coming back?? Trying to take everything I’ve earned?? It’s like that quote: Fear the man who has nothing to lose. And maybe that means I should have fear.

Except for one thing: I been that man. Brother, I’ve had nothing to lose. The moment I looked Kelvin in the eye, back in 2019 … I been that guy. So no one can ever flip it on me.

When you’ve been prepared to die, you keep that forever.

This fight, it’s a part of my past. I’m not trying to rewrite the past, though. He beat me a few times — O.K. And if you want some sh*t from five years ago, you can go watch that on YouTube. But that’s history

We here NOW, bro. 

And it’s time to finish this book. It’s time for me to write the final chapter. It’s going to be a f*cking horror story, I’ll tell you that much. It’s going to be Izzy walking into MSG and whooping this dude’s ass. I don’t care how long that sh*t take, either — we can go the whole five rounds. But the end is the same: beautiful and bloody. It’s about to be my masterpiece.

See you Saturday.