TJ De Santis
I started watching mixed martial arts in 2002. In 2004, I was covering it for fun, and by 2007, MMA allowed me to pay my bills and some of the debt I’d incurred while messing around. Since that time, the sport has gone from a novelty to a subject I hear people talking about every day.
As a fan in 2002, I used to set my alarm so I could wake up at 4 a.m. because I heard that an old fight was going to pop up on some obscure satellite television station. Now, I sometimes have to turn the channel to get away from MMA. How can you not love that?
I love it because MMA is a sport which truly deserves to be showcased at the highest levels. It also helps that the money I make doing my MMA job keeps my internet up and running. But, the explosion of mixed martial arts has caused a lot of other things happen, this promotion being one of them.
Yes, we are doing this as a promotional vehicle for EA Sports MMA, but this ad campaign has changed the lives of eight fighters forever: my guy, Gegard Mousasi, plus Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Jason Miller, Luke Rockhold and especially their proteges. Everyone has learned something about themselves, and their fighters, too.
Max Martyniouk was sprung upon me at the last possible minute. I woke up in San Jose, Calif., to get some breakfast one morning with a Strikeforce show that night. I knew it was going to be a long day. My radio colleague, Jeff Sherwood, walked in and said, “You know your guy is out right?” At Sherdog, we like to kid around, so I fired back, “Shut up.”
15 minutes later, I was calling some guy named Max “Payne” to write up a bio for the site.
One thing I can honestly say about Max is that he refuses to think negatively. He told me on the phone, and repeatedly during the first couple of days, that he was a positive thinker. What people say and what they do are two completely different things, but, true to his words, Max didn’t complain to me once during this trip. Yes, he was sore, and yes, he lamented about some of the wear and tear on his body, but he never stopped, never quit, and never gave up. Max will not be a world champion this year or next, but for two weeks, he trained with people who have stood atop of the mountain. If Martyniouk wants to get to the top of that mountain, he has very little to change in terms of his work ethic.
If you’re reading this, Max, keep your head right and your heart strong. If you fall down, get back up. You have the heart of a champion. Be smart in your journey and something great will happen to you.
It’s impossible to wrap this thing up with talking about the brothers Mousasi. The moment I met them, I knew we were going to get along. We were running late with videos for the site, and someone had told Gegard and Gewik that they could go eat before they needed to do their interviews. Well, that wasn’t the case. They were about two blocks down from me, and I needed to run.
Already prepped for Strikeforce, I was wearing dress shoes. As a member of the Sherdog team, you’ve perhaps already surmised that I am not fleet of foot. I hustled my best and finally caught up to them. The two guys were hungry, having just arrived on an international flight. Gewik asked if they could do the interviews later. Panting, I told them no.
“Okay, no problem,” Gegard replied.
Throughout our road trips and training days, I learned a lot about the brothers. They act no differently than any pair of young boys who’ve grown up together. Despite the fact that they’re in their mid-20s, the two men are close-knit and have fun on a level that you have to see to believe. No offense to the other teams, but I think we were blessed with the best group.
The trip is winding down. I interview Gegard and Max for the final times. It’s very bittersweet asking questions of about the experience as it comes to an end. MMA is still a small community. The odds of me never talking to Gegard again are nearly non-existent. But, will we ever be on the same level? I can only hope.
I honestly hope that this experience was as good for Gegard, Gewik, Max and Dave as it was for me. I made some fantastic friends whom I hope never to lose contact with. Some people may say that this was just an ad campaign, but it was one that changed my life forever.