by Don Heatrick

Nearly ten years ago now, at the age of 39, I returned to the ring after a two year layoff.

I was matched against Mike Clarke, an undefeated fighter in his prime from Tobin’s Gym, with a bad habit of stopping his opponents within a few rounds.

At the time, his record stood at 19 fights, 19 wins, 16 by KO.

To be honest, it wasn’t a good choice for a comeback fight in the slightest!

Clarke fought in a heavier weight class than me, and I was 15 years his senior.

I’m sure this fight was purely seen as preparation for Clarke’s ISKA British title fight 2 months later (which he went on to win by TKO).

The script read, that I’d be dispatched within two rounds.

And it very nearly went to script…

The first round saw Clarke going straight to work, imposing his size advantage, regularly unbalancing me.

And in round 2, he trapped me in a corner and landed a succession of his trademark body shots.

I remember thinking, “Shit, that hurt… So did that… And that…”

And for the first time ever, the thought came into my head, “Am I done?”

But immediately, my self-talk switched…

“You’ve never been stopped yet, don’t quit, it’s not your decision to end it. It’s the referee’s.”

I rallied back, and began to give Clarke trouble.

Not enough trouble to win the decision, but enough for him to begin looking to his corner for some inspiration for just how to deal with me.

Round after round, he took me down… But I jumped straight back up.

I went the distance, backing Clarke up, taking him to the canvas, and continuing to threaten him for the remainder of the fight…

He beat me, but I didn’t feel beaten.

I lost the fight, but I won the respect of everyone at the event.

I remember Clarke’s coach Mike Tobin, speaking to the show promoter Peter Spensley as we climbed out of the ring…

“The next time you have one of your bright ideas, you can f*** off!”

And despite not winning, I felt proud.

Looking back, I realise pride was the reason I managed to take those hurtful body shots and continue in the fight.

It was the reason I felt, “I’m not dead yet. Keep fighting.”

Pride is an incredibly strong emotion for a fighter, with both upsides and downsides…

We can all find our pride to stops us getting started on something, because we believe we first need to build up to it.

It’s especially true of public actions…

“I need to get fitter first, before I start Muay Thai”

“I need to do more research before starting my S&C program”

“Although my coach thinks I’m ready, I need to be better at sparring before I take my first fight.”

I could have bottled out of taking the fight with Mike Clarke because of all the reasons why it wasn’t a good choice of comeback fight.

But we need to be honest with ourselves, these are delay tactics…

When in fact, we just need to take the first step, instead of inventing a half step.

I believe a different mindset helps here…

Don’t feel you need to be the “best”, instead aim to be the “most improved”.

Then, the more you suck at the start, the more easily you can improve!

Just start. Set your current benchmark, and prepare for gains!

Learn to use your pride in a productive way, that both boosts your own motivation, and celebrates the hard work and achievement of others.

Emotions create memories

Ten years after I fought Mike Clarke on Peter Spensley’s show in Barnsley, I recently bumped into Peter again at Yokkao 49 & 50 in Bolton.

I approached him to collect my press pass for the event, not expecting him to remember me – I had some hair ten years ago!

On hearing my name, Peter did a double-take…

“You fought Mike Clarke on my show!”

He congratulated me again on a great fight. And I was proud that he remembered me, even despite me losing.

My fight days are long gone, but my drive is still 100% intact.

It’s who I am.

I’m able to maintain my training discipline and habits because pride is such a strong motivator, and one I believe I’ve learned to wield effectively…

It can trigger action instead of procrastination.

And action compounds, building the momentum to climb much higher.

You’ll be amazed how far that momentum will ultimately take you.

And as a coach, I love to see that in action for those I work with…

That makes me proud too!

Seeing others achieve their goals and more, is as much as a buzz for me as fighting ever was.

You’re less fragile than you think, both physically and emotionally.

I challenge you to find out what you’re really made of.

Remember, flow state expert Steven Kotler says, you’ll hit flow when the challenge is about 4% greater than your current ability level.

That state of your absolute peak performance lies just beyond what you can currently cope with.

Do yourself proud. Go find it.

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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