What happens when the thing you love almost kills you? You pick up a new, deadlier, hobby instead!
Robin the glam-rocker
In 2006, glam-rock singer and Canadian TV personality Robin Black suffered a drug induced seizure while on tour in the UK. For months Black had been living off a diet of vodka, Redbull, and speed. The seizure happened in the early morning after nearly three days without sleep. For almost two minutes, Black’s body jerked and he was unable to speak. His band mates didn’t know what to do.
Back in Canada, Black consulted a doctor fearing that he had caused irreparable damage to his body. The doctor explained that though Black was fine, the seizure was a close call. He would need to change his dangerous lifestyle or suffer the consequences. It was at that point that Black decided that he was going to become a professional cage Fighter. He was thirty-six years old.
Over the course of the next few years that decision would completely change Black’s life. The desire to fight would cost him his first marriage and a steady paying day job. It alienated him from many of his friends and he was brutally mocked by both the fight community and Toronto’s music scene. Ultimately, that decision would also lead to Black’s second act: a position at The Fight Network and a career as one of North America’s most celebrated mixed martial arts analysts.
Black’s entrance into MMA was the culmination of a lot of different factors. Because of the health scare Black didn’t feel as though he could continue on with the hectic tour schedule and hard living he’d become accustomed to.
“I couldn’t go through life getting weaker, and dumber, and sicker. I didn’t want to be having seizures on weird couches in the UK. I knew that I needed to prioritize being healthy. I stopped drinking for almost a year. I started to work out three times a week, which quickly became five times a week, which started to become seven times a week. Then I started training martial arts.”
At the same time Black had entered into talks for a reality show with Muchmusic. He had won over the station’s higher ups after appearing as a judge on The VJ Search, and they were open to hearing whatever pitches he had to offer.
Black’s idea was simple. The show was called Fearless or Stupid. It would feature Black doing dangerous stunts, highlight his new training regime, and culminate in his first MMA fight. Muchmusic liked the idea and commissioned a pilot. Other people in Black’s life were less enthusiastic.
“When you tell anybody that in your late thirties your life plan is to become a cage fighter, they tell you that’s not a real life plan. That’s a punch line from Friends. It’s literally an episode of Friends. Everybody thought I was nuts, and maybe I was nuts, but it was what I was going to do.”
Robin the cage-fighter
Black’s passion for fighting was alien to many of his peers, who were more accustomed to leather pants and whisky than judo gis and protein shakes. He was spending more time at the gym and less time at the bar, and people were starting to take notice. To many of Black’s peers, the world of MMA was contrary to the world of glam rock and people openly questioned why he was making such a drastic change. One of those people was Black’s first wife.
“I went to tell the woman I was married to at the time that I was going to do this fight thing and she said you can’t do this, you’re crazy, that is insane. I thought immediately that I needed to get a divorce. I had been training and trying to better myself. I was determined that I needed to do this and if she couldn’t see that then we weren’t meant to be together.”
People within the fight community were also weary of Black entering the sport. They would frequently throw around homophobic slurs and various insults about Black’s blue hair and piercings. Black, for his own part, was unfazed by the criticism. He was determined to show everyone that they were wrong and he was going to do it the only way he knew how: by working as hard as he possibly could.
Leading up to the fight Black’s life became consumed by training. His diet was restricted to lean proteins and vegetables. He was spending several hours a day in the gym working on his strength and cardio in addition to the time he spent sparring with his teammates. Black obsessed over his preparation and was determined to learn everything he could about MMA before stepping into the cage.
“There is this whole environment of fight nerds who are very analytical about the sport. They look at fights as problems that need to be solved. I was very fortunate to get in with a group of nerd fighters and nerd trainers. They didn’t judge me, and they were very supportive, but they wanted to test me. They tried to push me till I broke.”
Black compensated for his lack of experience with an extreme work ethic. In addition to his time spent in the gym, he spent hours watching and dissecting tape trying to absorb all the information he could. Using the same focus and drive that had brought him success in his music career Black prioritized fighting above everything else in his life. His relentless attitude won over his teammates. In July 2008 after months of training, and many personal and professional sacrifices, Black competed in his first MMA fight. He lost via submission in the second round.
“The thing that you don’t really prepare for, and you can’t really prepare for no matter how much you train, is the reality of fighting. The reality is there is a human being lit up with adrenaline who knows you’re coming for him. Suddenly no matter how well you’re trained, or no matter how much you look at the art of fighting, it’s kill or be killed.”
In the opening minutes of the fight things were back and forth between Black and his opponent, but the first real punch that landed to Black’s face caused a flash knockout. He was momentarily out on his feet and his knees began to buckle.
“My brain was so out that when my knee hit the ground it was like being awoken from a deep sleep. Then got punched in the face again, I heard the audience screaming, and realized where I was. I realized that I was in an MMA fight. By then my brain had two options: roll over and cover up and it’s over, but even in that state I could feel the tickle of shame, so I took option two and I said no fucking way. I fought for another ten minutes and had some great moments in the fight.”
At the end of the competition Black had broken his nose and had nerve damage near his eye. It would be another four months before he was able to move his face normally. Despite the injuries and the loss, Black recognizes that first fight as one of the most special moments of his life. It was proof that he was more than just talk and he had the ability to follow through with anything he set his mind to. Black would go on to have a MMA record of four wins and five losses. The Muchmusic pilot, renamed Robin Black: Cage Fighter, would be played several times on the network but was not picked up for a full season.
“When I look back at it, I think if I went out and took the guy down and I choked him out in a minute or two, what I would have learned was that he was not a very good fighter. It wouldn’t have been a very good story. Instead, I literally got knocked out in the first punch and I learned that I wasn’t the type of person who gave up immediately. I stayed in and fought the best I could, and that lesson is better for me as an analyst now and as a human being.”
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter - @presgang