FloCombat Road Trip (#FCRoadTrip) -- West Coast

FC Road Trip: Once More to the Edge

FC Road Trip: Once More to the Edge

FloCombat Senior Editor Duane Finley recaps the road journal and takes a look at passion in MMA.

Feb 27, 2017 by Duane Finley
FC Road Trip: Once More to the Edge
The calm of the desert at night is as disturbing as it is peaceful.

Those elements, while juxtaposing and existing at the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, combine for such a unique sensation it's difficult to put a finger on. Looking out into the vast expanse becomes unsettling as so much uncertainty exists just 20 yards from where you stand.

Gazing outward, the unknown becomes a literal object as what lurks and waits out there evokes visions of something terrifying and vicious. Oh, how the human mind works.

Standing in the same place on the globe during daylight hours brings an entirely different perspective. The pitch black uncertainty and fear of not knowing what challenges await is suddenly replaced by the reality of just how much distance sits between you and everything else you want in life.

The desert: a place where metaphors become real...

There are no comforts to be found in the barren wasteland, and this is a crucial part of the soul-searching experience. This is especially true standing 133 miles Northeast of the furthest point west old Hollywood used to be able to travel.

And if Palm Springs was once the epitome of luxury, everything else out in the Mojave is meant to be everything else, but somehow at the same time nothing at all.


For the past eight years I'd been searching for some deeper meaning in the fight game, and depending on the project, I'd found a bit of it. Yet, much in the same way a deep sea salvage company uncovers one small discovery after the next until the Titanic is found, I'd been piecing together experiences.

I began to use each late night conversation or training camp project to get me to the next deep dive on my journey. At every stop a fighter would field my questions as I attempted to decipher the reason for my fascination with them, and then in turn I would do my damndest to share those experiences with you. And while the nonstop grind of the machine requires a pound of flesh per offering, the connection and knowing I'd told an honest account of my experience became payment in full.

And while I remained at the cutting edge of innovation for storytelling in mixed martial arts, I was simply tapping into the same romanticism that has always existed between artists and combat sports. Simon and Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan (twice) and the list goes on and on.

There's no presumption I exist in the same space as those legends, but the struggle captured in "The Boxer" and "The Hitter" are prominent cases of the aforementioned romanticism. It is also the same reason Hollywood continues to chase fighter biopics or fight-themed films because the much needed drama and arcs come pre-packaged.

Hell...I wouldn't even feel comfortable being mentioned in the same sentence as Bruce's second cousin Tim Springsteen, but career pipefitters are basically artists in their own right. 

The #FCRoadTrip project was not only the next extension of my efforts but the last time I would hit the road in that fashion.  So we rolled out westward and Hellbound, determined to break new ground in the realm of MMA storytelling.


What we found along the way was more than I'd ever hoped for. Not only were the interviews all on point and each interaction genuine and sharp in the moment, but they all became top-down, free-wheeling exchanges. So much in fact they were no longer interviews at all.

Formal sitdowns transformed into conversations and discussions, and in doing so, the line between interviewer and subject dissolved into two human beings talking.

While each fighter had their own points of emphasis, they also had something to add to the greater search. In the early stages of the trip my trusty sidekick Hunter S. Glowson and I recognized passion was the common thread running through combat sports.

Devotion is the tie that binds every man and woman competing in MMA, as the sacrifices made to succeed are only something a fellow fighter can understand. That's what makes the fastest growing sport in the world such a tiny, insulated bubble.

Perception becomes deception when reflection unfolds. Shit like this is proof a small part of my sanity was lost in the desert and is currently whipping through the tumble brush and thicket that coats the desert floor.


We arrived in Albuquerque with backpacks filled with equipment and headspaces swimming with ideas. There was no set plan for anything other than knowing we had 10 days to bring the first leg of the project to completion, and the quicker we set this thing in motion, the easier to generate momentum.

All we needed was the right personality to put passion, confidence and inspiration on display. Enter Diego Sanchez.

Upon entering the world-renowned Jackson/Winkeljohn facility Monday morning, we were greeted a collection of familiar faces. Cowboy Cerrone threw out a quick fist bump and mentioned grabbing a cold beer later on in the day, John Dodson offered a greeting of his own before smashing a mitt session inside and Michelle Waterson paused for a few quick words before rejoining the small camera crew following her around for an upcoming project she's shooting.

Although early in the morning, the hustle and bustle was in full swing, and from out of the white noise of mitts cracking and bodies rolling around on wrestling mats, Sanchez emerged like a mountain lion.

"What's up, D?" he said enthusiastically.

After returning pleasantries I introduced the original winner of The Ultimate Fighter to Glow and watched as a strange sense of excitement became plastered across Hunter's face.

"This right here is my boy," Sanchez emoted while slapping me on the shoulder. "He's one of the few guys who tells my story right."

There is a natural intensity to Sanchez, and he brought our moods up a few pegs upon stepping into our bubbles. While he wasn't working out on the day, we were told our presence and the road trip we were on inspired and motivated him to get involved.

"I want to do anything I can to help you out on this trip, D," Sanchez said as his intensity levels lowered. "Let's do an interview."

I immediately obliged him and signaled Glow to grab the equipment, but in that moment Sanchez pumped the brakes. "Let's hit it first thing tomorrow morning. There is a place to get coffee right around the corner."

"Sounds awesome," I answered. "Let's do it."

"I know right?" Sanchez returned but did so using the mystic magic only Diego could use that somehow made a statement into a question but was still grammatically correct from either perspective.

Upon leaving Jackson/Wink we scurried about the ABQ doing interviews and catching up with old friends. We made a quick stop at Elevate PHW to see strength and conditioning guru Adrian Gonzalez, and walking into the building, a text from Sanchez came through my phone.

"Get your questions ready because I'm ready to talk!"

For those who may not be exactly in the know, Sanchez isn't a fighter who gives all too many interviews. Granted, if he's at an event and is required by the UFC to do the fight week media grind he'll participate, but anything outside of obligations, Sanchez pretty much keeps to himself.

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I'd made numerous trips to Albuquerque on fight-related business, and aside from a few pieces of Zuffa-assigned work back in my freelancing days never much sat down for anything on the record. After reading the text he sent and the next two after the original my brain began jumping to grand visions of the "EPIC" and "AWESOME" interview he had in mind.

Walking through the doors of Elevate, I saw Adrian, and after a brief greeting, he informed me there was someone working out in the back who wanted to say hi to me. Still reeling from the Sanchez texts I couldn't place just who that would be, but once I walked through the double doors and into the weight room and performance center, my eyes spied a familiar beast slamming a 10-pound medicine ball off a concrete wall in the distance.

Even in a zone of mental zen, every movement Carlos Condit makes is laced with violence, rage and humility.

It had been a while since Condit and I had chopped up a solid conversation. Since the in-depth project we did in the lead up his welterweight title bout against Robbie Lawler at UFC 195, "The Natural Born Killer' and I had remained close friends throughout. The performance he gave that night was truly something special, but a storybook ending it was not.

Although the two warriors engaged in a back-and-forth battle for the ages, and many had Condit winning three rounds to two, the judges sitting cageside saw the fight in favor of the champion. The capacity crowd in attendance voiced their disbelief, and social media platforms like Twitter exploded with 140 character missiles, but the battered and blood-soaked challenger offered up a wry smile.

In my time getting to know the depths of Condit, the one thing that resonates above all else is his natural attraction to the path of most resistance. His is a mind where it needs to be extremely difficult for his best to come front and center, and there's been no tougher fight in the welterweight division over the past four years than the man they call "Ruthless."

Ultimately Condit would have to exit the Octagon without the strap on his waist, but he knew he created something everlasting. He knew he'd give his faithful fans the fight of a lifetime, and even the ones who hadn't supported him something they can put in their memories forever and recall at every watercooler argument each time someone questions the most badass fight they'd ever seen.

Nevertheless, a long time has passed between that glorious night of ruckus, and sense of calm seemed to have returned to him. That was good to see. When you dive to the depths Condit and I did to tell the most honest story imaginable in an ever-changing environment a bond is formed.

Seeing Condit, a man who represented a high-stakes case where the dice were rolled and the end result was so right, served as an optimistic omen that could things were to come.


Making calls on the fly is what life on the road is all about.

Famed author and legendary rambler Jack Kerouac and his beatnik crew of geniuses knocked about the west on their search for post-war idealism, but did so without racing a clock. Glow Ginsberg and I didn't have the same luxury.

Everything stop and stay were measured, and nowhere was that rat race felt more than our mad dash out of Albuquerque.

We had decided to stick around a few extra hours because that's what you do when Diego Sanchez promises something "Epic." Glow and I's respective excitement meters were on full tilt driving down to meet "The Nightmare," and the legendary brawler did not disappoint.

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From the jump soled shoes to the intense outbursts of enthusiasm, Sanchez was in his indestructible form during our sitdown. The entire concept of the road trip was to do nonconventional interviews and the Albuquerque native set the tone. We sat down to make magic and 28 minutes in change after Glow hit the record button, we were confident said magic had been captured.

In one rapid-fire spill Sanchez hit a wide variety of topics, and with each mention hammered home his point. Whether talking about the Illuminati, giving financial advice to young fighters or cutting a promo about the power of self-belief and the laws of attraction, Diego was Diego in full.

The energy in that final Albuquerque interview powered our drive out of town and into the far reaches of the west. There would be a brief stop in Gila Bend, Arizona before hitting the golden shores of San Diego, but the motivational coffers continued to runneth over.

The universe had us on a path of discovery of both the figurative and literal varieties, and every interview and conversation logged fueled the fire. One step led to the next, ever stop and city pushed ahead more than the last, and somewhere outside of San Diego the FloCharger morphed into the bus driven by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

And while it wasn't acid or LSD carrying our emotions or inspirations, we certainly shared the concept of going further.


Going into interviews without preset questions or parameters could have certainly backfired, but it worked in so many ways. The fighters were all loose, and most downright happy to be there which is a drastic change from most media situations. Confirmation of this notion was written all over their faces, and the passionate MMA fan base immediately made this connection.

Phil Davis and Dominick Cruz showed their razor-sharp intellects while remaining hilarious in the moment. Kelvin Gastelum kept his natural ease in addition to being incredibly insightful on the broader scope of the fight game.
And while every stop had sentimental appeal to Glow and I, the biggest change in an individual I personally gained was in the appearance of Cat Zingano.

The last time I saw "Alpha Cat" was in the lead in to her bout with Ronda Rousey. She was still feeling the effects of a terrible personal tragedy, but was trying to embrace the biggest opportunity and moment of her professional career. I remember speaking with her and the absence being palpable.

The woman I saw in San Diego was an entirely different human being, and she admitted as much.

While it still takes work to keep her smile intact at all times, the darkness breaks through less and less these days. Cat was fun, engaging and a bit of wild card, which is the genre of music we prefer.

"I have my days but it's getting better," Zingano said. "I'm really happy here in San Diego. How can't you be? Do you see that sun shining? You can smell the ocean from here and it's just good for the soul you know?"

Yes indeed Ms. Zingano. We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt.


Ask anyone who works full time in MMA and they will tell you it's an all encompassing job where very little thrives beyond that focus. It takes strong relationships to tolerate and support those entrenched in this career, and even stronger ties to love those who are driven to push even harder to find something special.

And in that, Glow and I are grateful to have the amazing women we do, because if that weren't the case, so much beauty witnessed and shared would have been lost.

There wouldn't have been electric yellow streaks and shimmering silver of the sun reflecting off the rare thunderhead rolling into Southern California. The neon pink explosion ripping across a bruised purple horizon and how that looks hovering over the red rocks and mesas of western Arizona.

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The blurred-eyes that come with zipping down the long black ribbon, out in the deep of the abyss and feeling as if you're on an entirely different planet. Then leaning over to ask your best friend, protege and brother in arms in this chaotic fight game if he can take the wheel for a bit.

Because while mixed martial arts is an individualistic sport, no one gets where they are going alone.
And that was the education received on the first leg of this epic endeavor.

While it takes drive and passion to push through the rigors of training and the Groundhog Day repetition of camp, it ultimately takes a team to bring out the best one has to give. It takes mutual sacrifice, belief in the process of progress for a fighter to truly flourish, and there is no better example of this ideology than the MMA Lab in Glendale, AZ.

Benson Henderson told me long ago the entire foundation of his team is that every man and woman helps the next man and woman. If a fighter helped you prepare for your fight then you damn sure better be back in that gym when they need you to prepare for theirs. In that system everyone is accountable, a different type of bond is bred because of it.

"It doesn't matter if you are a champion or an up and comer," hard-hitting prospect Tim Welch said. "Giving back to the people who gave to you is how things are done around here, and we've become a family because of it. We all win together and lose together as well. If you aren't showing up for practice Benson will call you and hound you because we don't do excuses at this gym. If you are healthy...your ass better be in this gym giving back."

The scrappy red head's words hung with me throughout the day and echoed with each and every Lab fighter we interviewed. Benson Henderson, his wife Mariah and grappling wizard John Crouch have built a versatile and talented team at the art desert outpost they call home, but more importantly, they've created a family with deep bonds a collective future so bright it's visible far beyond the reaches of the greater Phoenix area.


Mackenzie Dern is a name to know. Luke Sanders is a name to know. Drakkar Klose is a name to know. There are so many fighters ready to shine it's no wonder the Glow walked out of the facility with a tan. And for a skyscraper Ginger lacking pigment and a soul, that's just further proof of the incredible amount of goodness rising to the surface at the MMA Lab.

After wrapping up one final interview with Henderson, my trusty sidekick and I packed up the Dodge Charger one last time and set our course east. We had 430 miles to put beneath the tires and we would once again do so under the cover of darkness.

With the cruise control set at 85 mph, the headlights cut through the velvet of the night as our minds replayed one epic stop after the next. Throughout the trip there had been no need for radio or music because continuous conversation carried the time between, and even though there wasn't much chatter to be had on our final drive, the silence, who'd become the third passenger, was welcome as we reflected on a fantastic adventure.

As the windows came down and the warm desert air whipped through the car Glow and I nodded at one another in silent satisfaction. It was a job well done, and in that moment, we allowed ourselves to feel the reward of so many discoveries made.

Shortly after crossing through Flagstaff we took one final moment to stop the car and examine the desert at night.

My previous observation was one of fear and uncertainty as the vast unknown rolled out before us. Standing there in that moment I realized there is no juxtaposition at all, and the true culprit behind those emotions was absence.

The absence of light created the uncertainty, just as the absence of a path made the vast expanse overwhelming to navigate. With the new understanding acquired and perspective gained, the answer to the mystery that launched the entire project began to answer itself.

When passion is present the fires of self-belief are lit and the light created illuminates the unknown. When the drive to succeed is engaged and determination drives you forward then the distance of wide open spaces simply becomes more miles to travel before goals are achieved and destinations are reached.

The fight game is filled with struggles at every turn, and it takes a combination of elements to find success. Over the course of 10 days on the road we'd witnessed a wide variety of methods and motivations that not only helped us go further, but inspired us to take our own journey to a place never before traveled.

To blaze a trail where nothing existed previously. That's the true essence of the fight game.

That's the true definition of the road.


But the journey doesn't end here. Stay tuned for the second leg of the #FCRoadTrip project. Follow @FloCombat on Twitter for dates, cities and the list of fighters who will be featured on the next run. The adventure continues. Let's go!