My pursuit in fighting started in 2009. I was 28 years old and being an athlete in high school and college I missed competition. So I decided why not give it a try and see what I can do. The journey was much tougher than I expected!
The only experience I had was my wrestling experience when I decided to take my shot at becoming a professional fighter. I knew there was a lot to learn, I just never realized how much I had to.
I started off at a local gym. Training in jujitsu classes, which is a grappling art originating in Brazil. I had been doing it for about a month and a boxer asked me if I wanted to spar. I thought to myself sure it sounds like fun, two guys getting some work in. Well I was very wrong. I landed one punch as he pummeled me.
I really had no idea how had boxing really was until I did it with someone who actually knew how to do it lol. After sparring, he told me I was tough and could do really well in the sport. In my mind I believed he was nuts to say that as I did not pose much of an offense, but he told me that I had a fighters spirit and the techniques would come with practice.
Getting beat up that badly taught me a couple of things. One there was a lot to learn and that I could take a pretty good punch without wilting. Probably all of those years of wrestling building my neck strength.
If I was going to go anywhere in the sport of MMA I knew I was going to need to take it seriously. Being someones punching bag was not a future I wanted to have. So I searched around for the best gyms in Arizona. With all the searching Arizona Combat Sports was the one I chose. They were known for getting guys to the highest level of the sport, and they had Ryan Bader, C.B. Dolloway, and Aaron Simpson, which were past wrestling partners at A.S.U.
When I got there it was more of the same, a lot of getting beat up and tapped. The coaching there was amazing though, and I started picking the techniques up rather quickly. You can never truly learn anything without taking your lumps though. It is part of the process. Learn, apply what you learn, give it your all, see what works and what doesn’t, and do it all over again.
People sometimes wish you can just take the learn without the lumps, but just like everything in life it does not work that way. It is a game of trial and error.
Real Test Build Real Character
Fighting is probably the hardest thing I have ever willingly done. It tests you in ways that I have never been tested before. It is extremely empowering for the spirit. If you can get through it you feel empowered enough to get through anything. The process is very intense for several reasons.
I will never forget my first fight. I could hear the voices in my head going crazy. One was telling me that I can do it. Another was saying that I was crazy. It was intense. I did my best to shut up the doubtful voice and listen to the one who told me I can do this.
As I stood there looking at my opponent the hairs on my arms rose, and I was ready to go. I put in the work and was dedicated through the entire process. It was game time, and time to see who was going to be the better man that day. The bell rang and the fight begun.
It was a rush starting out. Both of us were giving it are all. That is not were it gets tough though. The first few minutes are fun because you are fresh, but once you get tired is when you get to see who you really are. What are you going to do when you are tired. How will you respond? I remember getting exhausted and the doubting voice became louder than ever, but I fought him off. I didn’t care what he had to say. It was up to me to do my damn best no matter what, and that’s what I did.
I ended up winning that night, and it was a hell of a rush. Nothing is better than when you conquer the tests you set out.
Everyone who fights at the UFC and Bellator are on another level of fighting. You have to really put in the work to get a shot there and be 100% disciplined. The room for error is so low at that level, and that is what I loved about it. I wanted to see how much I could push myself.
The goal was to always bring the best Clifford Starks come fight night. Fighting is not easy physically or mentally. There are times things just do not go your way. I have also dealt with injuries while going through training camp. Honestly when you get to that level most fighters do, because it is better to come in over trained than under trained.
It is grueling and you will be tested.
You Only Lose If You Quit
I am very grateful for all the experiences fighting has given me. You get to will the voices in your head by the actions you take. When someone tells you that you cannot do something, you just keep doing it until you learn how to do it. You have to take real action though. If you half-ass it you will get half-ass results, and fighting in a cage with another professional fighter is the last place you want to do that.
Fighting in the UFC was an absolute blast. You get to fight with the highest level of competition and test yourself both mentally and physically. What I have learned is to always give it your all. The body and mind are both amazing pieces of work, and knowing that you have to respect them as such.
Go all in on your life, because when you do life will go all in on you. Yes there will be bumps, and at times you will fall, but you only lose if you decide to quit. Never quit in life! You will be grateful that you didn’t!
Applying Fighting To Life
I feel everyone has a fighter in them, and it is up to each person to pull the fighter out of them out. Sometimes life can beat on you, and make you feel like you have nothing left. It’s up to you to get back up. That’s why I tell people take the opportunity to test yourself in life.
Fighting at the highest level was a great opportunity to see what I would do when the chips were down. You can always get better at something, but you never know if you are truly better until you are tested. My greatest lesson out of all of it is take control of your life and test yourself, so that you are ready when life test you!