Early in the morning of Christmas Eve in 2010, I walked into the cold, empty hanger Fight Club 29 trained in and climbed up onto the pull up bars.  It can be easy to forget how cold winter mornings in the desert can be, but I still distinctly recall the stiffness in my muscles, the empty feeling in my stomach… the general shittiness of the endeavor.

Cutting from 215 to 185 for a fight isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but doing it over the holidays was a recipe for a special brand of misery.  As I watched my friends celebrate Christmas’s arrival, I carefully portioned out my boneless, skinless chicken breast.  As my neighbors decorated the tree with their loved ones, I did two-a-days to maintain the caloric deficit I needed to stay on schedule.  While my wife sat at home on Christmas Eve, wondering why she’d married a Marine and moved across the country, I started doing pull ups to warm up my achy body.

Being a fighter is never really about having fun.  It’s about winning fights.

I did make weight for that fight, in fact, I came in a full pound under.  My opponent, however, never showed up.  Fortunately for me, someone else’s opponent failed to make it to the fight as well, so a promoter approached my coach and I to ask if I’d take a different fight.  My new opponent wasn’t in the same weight class of course, and after I celebrated Christmas and New Years eating ice chips, I was now being bumped up to the 205 class.  All the cutting… all the misery… for nothing.

Of course, it wasn’t for nothing. I won that fight, the second of my career, though telling it like that isn’t quite fair… If that fight had been in a bar or an ally, I may not have won.  My opponent wasn’t only bigger than me, he was pretty damn good.  My saving grace was only that he tired himself out kicking the shit out of me in the first round, allowing me to set to work scoring point after point in the subsequent ones.  When we were done, he and I both lowered our heads in defeat… and I was utterly surprised to feel the ref raise my hand into the air.  I may have scored more points, but I’m pretty sure I took the bigger beating.

You can even SEE in the newspaper photo that we both thought we’d lost this fight.

In hindsight, it was the cutting, the cardio, the misery that WON that fight.  It wasn’t my skill as a fighter, it wasn’t the strategy my coach and I had developed in the ring, and it certainly wasn’t that I was the better man: that fight was won on Christmas Eve; when I was still working, building up that gas tank, and everyone else was busy celebrating.

You might not have a fight coming up, but we’re all still training.  Don’t spend your Christmas angrily chewing on ice chips between wind sprints like I did, but don’t lose sight of your goals either.  Remember that Christmas is a day for celebration, but the fights we face, in the ring, on the street, in our cubicles, will still be there on December 26th.  Treat yourself, enjoy your family, but don’t forget to get out there and get your blood pumping a bit.

Every step you take, every rep under weights or deep stretch toward your toes, brings you that much closer to a victory you may not be able to predict.  Discipline wins fights weeks before they begin.