I Got Brutally Knocked Out—And It Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
My K.O made me the person I am today.
When I was twenty years old, I got brutally knocked out in front of my friends and family.
Let me take you back to the worst night of my life. The year was June 2016, and I was in the Air Force. I was working an eight-to-five job as a storeman, but my real passion was mixed-martial arts. I had spent most of my teenage years in a grungy fight gym learning The Way of the Fist, and by the time my twenties rolled around, I was already an accomplished amateur fighter with a record of three wins and no losses. I was an undefeated rising star poised to take the pugilistic world by storm. My confidence was at an all-time high.
So when a promoter offered me a fight in my hometown of Singapore, the first thought that sprang into my young mind was, “Why the hell not? Sign me up bro, it’s time to improve that record to four-and-ohhhhhh!” Maybe I should’ve read some Milton before mouthing off, because my pride was very the trait that led to my fall.
My opponent, I thought, was decidedly unspectacular. I knew of him. I had already met and defeated him years ago in a Jiu-Jitsu match. I was the superior fighter—or so I thought. So being the cocky twenty-year-old I was, I made sure to take to social media and tell the world exactly that. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
“Going to war this coming Friday. I finally had a full training camp! I’m fighting a guy I vaguely know from another local gym. We competed against each other twice in Jiu-Jitsu and I ended up winning both matches decisively. Since then he and I have both tried our hands at MMA, and are 2–0 and 3–0 respectively.
But while I have fought dangerous, solid opponents, his opposition has been…. sub par at best. Going up against me is a whole nother ball game.
I want to stay undefeated, climb up the ranks and clinch some amateur belt in the near future. He’ll be looking to stop me. Buy some tickets and turn up on June 10th to see it all go down!
My God, you have no idea how hard I am cringing right now.
Yes, I was trying to sell tickets, and yes, I was influenced by a then up-and-coming superstar called Conor McGregor. I wanted to put on a show, I wanted to be an entertainer both inside the ring and outside of it, but in attempting to play promoter I had inadvertently crossed the fine line between confidence and arrogance.
And I would pay a steep price for this mistake.
The Fight That Changed The Course of My Life
I remember being unusually nervous during the day of the fight.
Part of it stemmed from the fact that it was my first time competing in my hometown. I had, for the first time, friends and family in attendance, and I did not want to let them down.
I remember that night clearly. I remember that the ring was located in the middle of a large, dim, air-conditioned hall. I remember walking towards that ring, accompanied by the sound of hard rock blaring from cheap speakers. Most of all, I remember climbing into it, and the way the inhuman roar of the crowd blended with the rock music to form a cocktail of heady madness. Bread, beer, and blood. That's what the crowd had come for. Bread, beer, and blood. And now that they were well-fed and mostly drunk, they were clamoring for the freak show to begin.
My opponent stepped into the ring after me, and when I saw him I had a brief moment of surprise. "Damn, he looks a lot bigger than he was before," I thought. He looked ripped. He looked like he had been lifting weights and chugging protein shakes, and more than that he looked calm, poised, and ready—ready to take my head off. We stood calmly across each other, facing each other, and when I looked into his eyes I knew then and there that this would not be an easy fight. An icicle of uncertainty ran down the length of my spine.
Then came a moment of crystal clarity. It must have lasted only a few seconds, yet to me, it seemed to drag on for a lifetime. The world looked like it had been cut out of glass. Every detail of every moment was exquisitely etched in the recesses of my mind. I could see every pore on my opponent's body, I could hear every bated breath of the crowd. It seemed to me like they were waiting for something to happen, something that had been going on for millennia.
The ringing of the ringside bell snapped me out of my reverie. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! It was the sound of flying sweat and legal violence, and it was music to my ears. My opponent and I march to the center of the ring and touch gloves — and he pressures me from the get-go.
I hate going up against guys who fight coming forward.
It makes everything sloppier, less of a dance and more of a brawl. His stance is southpaw, left-handed, and he opens the round by flicking out powerless punches, trying to back me up against the ropes. The game is on. He plays the bull, and I take on the role of the matador.
I make my first mistake of the night. I throw a fast right hand but my opponent was faster still. He ducks and counters me with a vicious left straight to my sternum. The punch connects.
Pain rips through my body and I struggle not to breathe hard, not to show it. I check his forward momentum with a kick then pivot off, buying myself some time to think.
There was a lull in the action; I break it by launching my second mistake of the night: a sharp, karate-style right front kick with plenty of torque behind it but little in the way of set-up. He caught my kick and returned fire by push-kicking me in the chest. I bounced off the ropes, gliding out at an angle to avoid further blows. It swiftly became apparent to me what his game-plan was: to come forward and throw hard shots to my body. As game plans go, it was brutally simple — and brutally effective.
The round ends. My coach sits me down on a stool. He gives me water and stays calm and positive, telling me, “Alvin, that was a close round. How confident are you about taking this guy down?” I’ve always been a slick, cerebral fighter. My grappling, specifically my Jiu-Jitsu, is my best weapon. My coach was asking me to use it.
“No!” I spat back. I was royally pissed off. The guy I thought I was going to walk over was embarrassing me — scratch that, he was actually hurting me. I wanted to stand with him, to punch him in the face, to beat him at his own game. I didn’t know it back then, but by thinking this, I have just made the biggest blunder of my pugilistic career. I let my emotions get the better of me — a deadly mistake.
The second round starts. I threw several hard kicks. They landed. He winced them off and kept marching forward like a deranged zombie. I backed away from him. I was moving my head, shuffling my feet, looking for opportunities to counter. I rarely found any. There can be no denying it: I was getting desperate.
Then came an instance of hope.
It came when my opponent had me backed up against the ring. I was trapped, yes, he had the superior position, yes, but I was the more experienced fighter. When he flung a flurry of expected punches at my face I channeled the spirit of Muhammad Ali and leaned back against the ropes. This allowed me to dodge most of his punches. I deflected some of his blows on my shoulders—then used his forward momentum to fire back with a 1-2 salvo of my own.
My combination detonated dead on his chin.
He ate my shots like a cookie and kept coming grimly forward.
A barrage of strikes came flying at my face like mad hornets on the hunt. None of them were concussive blows, but they served their purpose nonetheless. They were stinging shots I had to address. I addressed them by ignoring my coach’s pleas to take him down, opting to fire back instead. It would be my final mistake.
He blocked my blows to land the coup-de-grace, the killing blow he had been setting up all night: a left hook to the body that whooshed the air out of my lungs. I made a sound like weeping and collapsed while clutching my liver. He marched off while roaring, hands aloft in victory.
My friends and family had come to see me lose.
Laying Down the Sword…and Picking Up the Pen
My opponent and I shook hands after the fight.
I was dejected but tried my very best to be a good sport. His coach climbed into the ring and clapped me on the back. He said, “Good job, man. You really lit a fire under him.” His eyes locked with mine and I knew what he meant. He was giving me respect where respect was due, but the rules of the game were, “Talk shit, get hit.” And I had talked some mad shit.
The months after the loss were some of the worst in my life. I had somehow managed to hurt my shoulder during the fight, so I was forced to take some time off from the gym. And like any serious athlete will tell you, the days after a loss are the days of hunger, the days where you rare to train the most. And I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t.
Forget training for a fight; I couldn’t even do a pushup. Even everyday tasks like opening the door were a struggle. My shoulder would give out whenever the slightest pressure was applied. So I spent most of my purgatory in my Air Force base, nursing my broken body and wounded pride. For the first time in my adult life, I had nothing to do, no athletic goal to strive for. I was alone with my mind.
And my mind ate me alive.
I was thrown into an existential crisis, flung into a black ocean upon which there was no shore in sight. I asked myself questions such as, “Who am I without martial arts?” If that sounds corny, please understand that fighting was my life. I was a child who had come from a broken home, the kind of kid described in school as smart-but-could-never-apply-himself. But when I discovered the wild world of unarmed combat, I found that I could apply myself. Winning fights and medals gave my life meaning.
In that camp in the middle of nowhere, I was forced to confront the realities of fighting, the reality of why I fought. I realized that fighting, for me, was a means of escape.
I was trying to out-exercise my demons by playing status games.
I was using fame and attention as a crutch to nurse my insecure ego and soul.
It was fine and dandy now that I’m young, but what would happen when I grew too old to fight? What would happen when Father Time, that undefeated son of a gun, forced me to retire? It was then that I came to the stark realization that if I didn’t seek to grow myself as a person outside of martial arts, I would be, in the end, left alone with my mind again, a single-dimensional being banished back to square one.
So I sought to grow. I, in a bid to still feel close to the martial arts, volunteered to work at a local tournament on the weekends. I did odd jobs for them, the important but dirty work that is oh so essential but nobody wanted to do. I was a timekeeper, a scorekeeper, and a referee. I was paid very little but I worked very hard.
I spent my nights in the camp. And there, I would read. And read. And read. I discovered the horrific magic of Stephen King, and through him, would graduate to reading the fantastic and fantastical works of Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, and G.R.R Martin. And when I wanted to return to the real world, I found rough-hewn works left behind by dubious gentlemen such as Hemingway, Bukowski and Fante. Reading these old masters had a profound effect on me. At a time when I needed to escape the most, their words took me out of my mind and into a different world. Their words made me feel less alone.
And it was through reading that an idea came unbidden to me, the idea that although athletics comes with an age limit, a great writer, like fine wine, can only become better with age…
Life After Fighting
It’s been almost six years since I got knocked out in that ring, in front of my friends and family, in a most brutal and embarrassing manner.
And I’ve never been happier in my life.
I am now an entrepreneur. The experience I earned from helping out at that local tournament gave me sufficient industry knowledge to start my own sports event business. And although business has been slow due to the pandemic, we’re still here. We’re still running. A couple of months ago, I even got to star on the latest season of “The Apprentice.” It was a mind-blowing experience, one that I would’ve never got to taste if I was just a fighter.
Oh, and I have also become a writer. This last incarnation makes me the proudest.
Like Dickens wrote, “Those were the best of times, those were the worst of times.” That knockout was the most embarrassing thing to happen to me — but being embarrassed also forced me into a period of deep introspection. And this enforced introspection would change the trajectory of my life forever.
If there's one lesson that I learned from my transformation from a twenty-year-old boy-fighter to a young-adult businessman slash writer, it would be this: life is a series of state shifts. Everything is forever in flux. So don't hold on too tightly to that which cannot be held. This includes how you perceive your Self.
If I had doggedly held on to my dream of becoming a professional fighter, I would have never become the entrepreneur and writer that I am today. I would've remained the same old, single-minded pugilist fighting for fame and recognition and often for free, walking down the sad, well-traveled path that so many broke and brain-damaged fighters took before me.
Like a caterpillar that must strain, struggle and eventually change the very core of its being to become a butterfly, so then must we be open to radical transformation in order to become who we were always meant to be.
We are ever-shifting gods in the chrysalis, waiting to go on to the next chapter, waiting to grow wings.