Chris Horodecki was moments away from stepping into the ring again for the first time after his TKO loss to Ryan Schultz in the final round of the IFL World Grand Prix. He stood at the foot of the stairs that led up to his corner, going through his final preparations before climbing through the ropes. His face was focused in grim concentration. At his side, his trainer and mentor Shawn Tompkins whispered in his ear.
It looked like the same Horodecki who had climbed into the IFL ring numerous times before. But when he glanced up at the giant screen across the arena, there it was one more time in high definition. He saw in huge proportions his own face getting pounded again and again, complete with Hollywood sound effects as Ryan Schultz hammered him into his first defeat just a few months before.
|Horodecki takes a kick from Nate Lamotte. (IFL)|
For the fans it was a highlight, but for Horodecki it was distraction he didn't need just moments before he tried to get back in the win column against Nate Lamotte. Despite his focus and concentration, it was impossible to ignore.
"It's not really nice," Horodecki said after the bout, reflecting on the pre-fight highlight reel. "You're sitting there, trying to get pumped up for the fight, and you look up and see your face getting punched."
Tompkins could only shake his head in frustration, explaining that, as a trainer, his job is to keep his fighter focused before and during the fight -– a job only made more difficult by 50-foot reminders of a previous loss.
While Horodecki was able to put it behind him and win a close but convincing unanimous decision victory over Lamotte on April 4, it remained clear that the win was about much more than just another fight.
Every time he was taken down, every time a punch found his face, ringside observers leaned forward in their chairs, waiting to see how the phenom would react. It was as if with his aura of invincibility now shattered by the loss to Schultz, they worried that he might suddenly be made of glass.
For Horodecki, the match was about getting back to what he loved, getting the ring time in, and learning to feel comfortable again.
"It's really tough to know how a fighter's going to come off his first loss, especially after winning 13 fights in a row," said Tompkins.
"But there were a lot of times where his opponent came in for a takedown or worked out of the clinch for a takedown, and I know Chris' reaction time would normally have been faster, but it was a little bit slow tonight because you've got to get those bugs out of your head that you got taken down before and have to play it safe."
If Horodecki was at all tentative, it didn't show in his win over Lamotte. His test now is a psychological one.
The fights will only get tougher as he climbs his way back up the IFL's lightweight ladder. With each new test passed he puts more distance between himself and the highlight reel.