One Chicago My name is Johnny Cooper, and boy do I have some story to tell.
It begins in Chicago, in the year 2000. I was a 'still wet behind the ears' twenty one year old who had just graduated from DePaul University. I moved back in with my father, Bill Cooper, in his upper middle class West Town home, while deciding how to get my life together.
One night, over a few beers, my dad started giving me shit about what I was going to do with my life, with what he was calling a bullshit degree in Physical Education. “What are you going to do now, teach PE in High School?” he asked in a condescending way. I argued that I was one of the top wrestlers in DePaul history and an Honor Role student. I could easily teach at the college level, and besides all that, I could kick his butt if he didn’t stop being a condescending asshole.
“You need to get real son. Wrestling died with Julius Caesar. There’s no wrestling jobs in the real world. Why not get your Real Estate license and come work with me? We’ll make a fortune. Vacation in Cabo.”
This was insulting, since at DePaul University, with its superior athletic department, I was the top wrestler in my 165 pound weight class, earning a varsity letter for four years running. I also found the time to earn a black belt in Shoalin kung fu, while compiling a 3.5 GPA. I wasn’t some dumb kid. “Give me a fucking break.”
Once I calmed down, I told him that I wanted to start my own gym in the neighborhood, with wrestling, weight training, kung fu, and maybe mixed martial arts.
“Another damn sweaty gym? Good luck with that,” he mocked me.
“One day mixed martial arts will surpass conventional boxing as a spectator sport. Mark my words,” I proudly stated.
My father made a decent living in commercial real estate, respected for his forthright been-around-these-blocks-a-few-times Chicago knowing. My mother had left him years ago, most likely because of his usual uncompromising self-righteous bullshit attitude. Since then, he’d been known to gamble on a horse or two, downed a few cases of bourbon, listened for hours to old time my momma done left me blues, and romanced girls, all of them just a little bit older than me. He was especially fond of hookers.
One night, he asked if I’d ever seen a Thai boxing match. “You think you’re tough, rolling around half naked with sweaty men? Ha. Those little Thai fuckers . . . they could kick your ass any day, boy.”
“You think I was the best in my weight by letting guys kick my ass? You don't know shit about fighting, Dad. Wrestling has everything to do with having a sound strategy, balance and leverage,” I replied with my just graduated from college know it all, taking after my father, attitude.
“My sports psychology professor said this can be applied to everything in life. Like in your business. If you proceed with a professional strategy, keep your personal life in balance, and then apply leverage in closing deals, you will make a shit load of money.” This silenced him, as if he had just heard the words which would change his life. I think he actually had.
A few days later, my father took me to a downtown Chicago Thai Restaurant and introduced me to his friend Kai, the owner. After dinner the man drove us to a secluded warehouse facing Lake Michigan. The inside was crowded, loud and filled with smoke. At least a hundred Asian men were crammed together on bleachers, loudly placing their bets on the next Thai boxing match. When the fight began, I intently watched, fascinated with the dance; the strategy, balance and leverage of Muay Thai boxing. After the last bout, Kai introduced us to an older Thai man, a trainer. I told him I was a wrestler and a student of kung fu, and would like to learn mixed martial arts. Seeing my interest and excitement for what I had just witnessed, he said to me, “If you’re really interested in learning Muay Thai, you need to go to Thailand.” He handed me a card. “This is my cousin Oak in Bangkok. He teaches Muay Thai. I highly recommend him.”