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The Three Most Important Years of My Life by Sinjen Smith

I have been thinking how to start this off for the POL/\RITY community and concluded I will share the story detailing who I am today and how the last three years are the most important years of my life.

It is December 2016, I just passed my three-year mark with a phenomenal company, complete with a bright future, security, insurance, and a promising route to the top. I am currently working on my dream as a Professional MMA Fighter in pursuit to make it to the UFC. I am undefeated as a pro but have not competed in over two years at this point due to two major ACL surgeries, having three in total between both knees. I knew I had one more shot and decided to follow through with everything my gut had been telling me for months; Quit my job and go for it! That is exactly what I did. I came up with a plan. Started driving for Uber so I could work on my own time, started my own beginner MMA class at my gym, and decided December 31st, 2016 was going to be the last day at my full-time job, and January 1, 2017 is my first day of being an Entrepreneur/ Professional Athlete. It happened.

My daily life played out like this: teach, train, eat, Uber, teach, eat, train, sleep, Uber like crazy on the weekends. I developed more knee issues around April/May but finally landed a return fight in August 2017. After a two-year, eleven-month mission to return to the cage, I finally made it and won my come-back fight. I went on to fight again early November, having sustained another knee injury less than two weeks prior to the fight, I showed up and earned another victory. Two weeks after that fight the UFC announced the final season of the Ultimate Fighter and tryouts will be mid-December. This is the Undefeated Season, featuring featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight competitors to try out, but in the end only choosing two out of the three weight classes for the show. Tryouts are in Las Vegas, we arrive a day early, get situated, and scope out the scenery. Try outs begin at 8am the next morning. We show up half an hour early and the waiting area is packed with undefeated professional fighters from around the world. Energy was tense and exciting. We enter, a man shouts to line up according to weight class where we will check-in, be assessed and weighed. I was trying out for the welterweight class. The welterweights had far fewer competitors than the feather and lightweights. Once the check in process was finished, the waiting game began. How this worked is, fighters are to compete in grappling and stand up striking pad work in front of a group of judges, beginning with the feather weights and finishing with the welterweights. We all waited in a large room, many UFC fighters made their presence, it was a cool experience while waiting. Many hours go by, it is about 2pm, the call is at last made for the welterweights to make their mark. I befriended a fellow welterweight while waiting, now UFC Fighter, Miguel “Caramel Thunder” Baeza. We head into the room together. Sean Shelby and two other judges are sitting at a table in front of a large black mat. Rules are ninety second grappling matches, two competitors at a time randomly called to show their skills. The matches begin. Unknowing who will be called first, I am sitting on the floor, cool, calm, collected, feeling like I need to pee again, awaiting to hear my name along with another undefeated professional from who knows where or what experience he has. About eight or nine matches later, my name is called. Who is my competitor? My new friend, Caramel Thunder. Of course, we were matched up together. We both enter the mat and put on a worthy ninety second performance. It was awesome. I find out later he is a Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu. I could tell. A few more matches to go. Sixteen in total I believe. Then the first round of eliminations begins. If our name is called, we move onto the striking portion of tryouts. The name calling begins, and so do the nerves. Name after name, yet to hear mine, it seems like a hundred names have been called and I still have not heard mine. I stayed confident. I then hear Caramel Thunder’s name, and immediately following was mine. Boy was I excited. Onto striking. Again, they called out names to perform a series of striking techniques with choice of pad holders the UFC provided. I am called toward the end, performed for a couple minutes in front of the judges, and stepped off the mat to await the second and final round of eliminations for this physical portion of tryouts. As fewer names are being called out, I hear my name once again. I am honored to move onto the final portion of day one tryouts, the interview. Again, they begin with the featherweights, individually interviewing one fighter at a time. We welterweights end up waiting five hours until our weight class is called. Unusually, unlike the other weight classes, they are moving through the welterweights rather quick. Maybe they just wanted the day to be over, nobody knew at the time. We could tell something was going on. Approaching nine pm that night, my name is finally called to be interviewed. I enter a small room with a circular table, where Sean Shelby, (match maker of the UFC) and 3 or 4 others were awaiting my arrival. They ask me a couple personal questions, what got me into MMA, how long have I been training, why am I doing this, then the big question hit. They asked if I would move down to the lightweight division for the show. I had competed at lightweight before but this year I had moved up to welterweight and competed my previous two fights at said weight class. This was shocking and unexpected. At this moment I paused. Not even considering this as an option going into this contest. I have many things to consider all within a minute to respond. My knee was failing and partially torn again, going into this. I did not say anything about this to the doctor who checked us in at the beginning. I know what dropping to lightweight does to my body, I was bigger than I had ever been, and considering I would have to make this weight cut three times in a six-week period if I am going to win the tournament. At the same time, I was still considering the chance they may choose the welterweight class. I denied the offer to compete at lightweight and stuck with my gut in hopes they would still choose the welterweights. Another half hour goes by once all the interviews are complete and out walks Sean Shelby to make the final announcement regarding which weight classes will be moving forward. Abruptly he shouts, “Thank you everyone for your patience. The welterweights will not be moving forward with the competition….” My heart sank, I look around at all the faces of despair. After almost a fourteen-hour day, a full day of travel the day before, we were sent home. So many thoughts were going through my mind. “I should have known!” They asked me to move to light weight because their minds were made, and they wanted me to be on the show. I felt like I lost everything I had been working for and denied the greatest opportunity I have ever had at that time. I go on social media to share the news. No matter the result, I know I trusted in my gut for a reason. My life is forever changed since that day. I will always remember it. I made great connections and friends because of it. So three of the welterweights, my girlfriend at the time, and myself all celebrated our sorrows with a long night in Vegas!!! We made a trip out of it and decided to stay a couple nights. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am forever grateful to have lived it.

Since the tryouts, I had another MRI on my right knee a few months later, concluding I had three options: ACL, LCL, MCL replacement with no guaranteed results or, since everything was still intact just very loose, no surgery and try to heal it myself. I chose to heal myself. From there I have been living a life of full time Entrepreneurship. Starting a non-profit environmental organization, owning my own Dark Chocolate CBD & Probiotics business, and creating an Online Health, Fitness, & Lifestyle coaching business. I ask myself everyday: Will I ever fight again? Only time will tell. I am still training and will continue to do so until the day I die.

If there are two things, I have learned in my short time being an Entrepreneur; Trusting in one’s self and never giving up, are two of the most important moves one can make in life. Doors, I never knew existed, have opened since closing the doors which no longer served me. It is up to us to walk through them.

Thank you so very much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article and found some value to take with you on your journey.

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