Growing up in Westport, Addison Freeman didn’t fight much. The son and grandson of dentists — Adam and Stan, respectively — he didn’t fight a lot at George Washington University, either.
“Bar and street fights are foolish, childish,” he says.
But like many young men, Freeman watched boxing and mixed martial arts on TV. “You wonder what it’s like,” he notes. “You idolize the warrior mentality.”
Which is how, last week, Freeman found himself locked in a Denver cage, punching and kicking a man he’d never met. A crowd of 1,500 roared its lusty approval.
Freeman does nothing partway.
At Staples he was a 2-year wrestling captain. He graduated in 2004 with the 2nd highest number of wins in Wrecker history.
At GW he majored in pre-med, then moved west to install IT systems in hospitals. He’d done Ju-Jitsu in college, and in Colorado realized he wanted to learn more about martial arts and hand-to-hand combat.
Freeman gravitated to Muay Thai — an aggressive form of kick-boxing (kicks to the leg are allowed). He was good at it, but after months of training he felt the urge to kick it up a notch: Cage fighting, in front of fans.
He worked for months with coach Jason Lee, and was nearly ready. But a knee injury set him back. Five months of rehabilitation, followed by 3 more months of brutal training, were rewarded when Lee recommended Freeman for a “Rising Stars” card.
He was scheduled for 160 pounds — just below his normal weight. But his opponent backed out. Freeman had already told friends about the bout — and his parents were flying out from Westport to watch. His only chance was at 150 pounds.
For 2 weeks, Freeman worked with a nutritionist to cut weight. The night before the bout, he stripped to his underwear at a bar to weigh in. He made it — by 1 ounce.
A week ago Friday, Freeman entered the National Western Complex. He wore headgear, but shin pads are optional — both fighters wear them, or none. He and his opponent, Josh Martinez, decided against the guards.
“The point is to not be safe and protected,” Freeman says. “I wanted to feel everything.”
Thirteen other fighters stood on Freeman’s side of the gym. Some had 20 bouts under their belt; others, like he, had none.
“I didn’t expect all that camaraderie,” Freeman marvels. “As bad a reputation as these guys have for being aggressive thugs, they treat themselves as athletes. And they really want to help each other out.”
Muay Thai is “not easy to watch,” Freeman admits. “People get hurt. But it’s completely voluntary. You can stop at any time just by falling on your back and tapping out.”
All of a sudden the music Freeman had chosen — Lupe Fiasco’s “Solar Midnite” — came on. Tumultuous cheers accompanied him into the ring.
Immediately, a surge of adrenaline kicked in.
Handlers removed his shirt. He hugged his coach. Lee told him he was ready, and urged him to have fun.
Suddenly the cage door closed behind Freeman.
“What the hell did I get myself into?” he wondered. “I’m a rational person. I went to a good school. And I was about to get kicked and hit inside a cage.”
But he couldn’t back down. The referee called the fighters into the center. The bell rang; they touched gloves — and instantly battled.
Freeman’s strategy was to throw combination punches. Martinez stayed on the outside and kicked. At the end of the 1st round Martinez connected low — men, you know what that means — and Freeman went down. He did not know it, but the blow had broken Martinez’s foot.
In the 2nd round Freeman used his shin to block Martinez’s own shin kicks. The debilitating strikes caused Freeman to lose feeling in his leg. He felt no pain though, and thought his own punches were finding their mark.
The final round exhausted both men. Martinez’s nose bled badly — it was broken — and Freeman kept attacking his head.
“It’s a weird emotional mix,” Freeman says. “I took pride in doing damage, but I didn’t want Josh to be in pain in the end.”
Both men, of course, were in plenty of pain. Martinez broke his other foot too, and when it was over each fighter needed help leaving the cage.
The judges awarded Martinez the match, 2 rounds to 1. “They liked his kicks more than my punches,” Freeman explains. “Most people thought it was a draw. But his strategy worked. I should have been more aggressive.”
The men spoke briefly before Martinez went to the hospital. Later, on Facebook, they congratulated each other on a great fight.
Meanwhile, Freeman’s leg swelled to twice its normal size. His head was having issues of its own.
“It was just this incredible emotional dump,” Freeman reports. “After that insane adrenaline rush, I had so much to deal with.
“At first I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. Then I couldn’t decide whether to be sad or mad at the outcome, or what.
“But the professional fighters told me not to worry. They said some of them bawled after their first fight. They all congratulated me and said it was a great fight. But it was a real rollercoaster of emotions.”
Within a few days, Freeman “discovered a lot about myself. This was pure 1-on-1. There’s no one to bail you out. You find out if you’re a coward, or if you go after someone else.” He realized he is definitely not a coward.
His friends and family “think this is a litte crazy,” he admits. His mother was “not thrilled” — probably an understatement — but watched nevertheless.
“She was nervous, but she knows this is what I do,” Freeman explains. He’s competed in an Ironman, and run with the bulls in Pamplona.
Freeman was invited back for another match at the end of the month. “I respectfully declined,” he says. “I need a bit of time.”
So how does he feel now?
“A lot of people think about doing this,” Freeman says. “But most of them don’t step into a cage.
“That’s the rational decision. I don’t think it’s wrong, but I don’t think my decision is wrong either. I followed through with something that’s important to me.”
He had “an incredible workout. I found a level of respect with other competitors that was inspiring. This is a sport I love.”
Now, though, “it’s time to get serious about my future. It was never my goal to be a fighter. I’ve done the irresponsible things. Now I have to take care of the responsible ones.”
He hopes to attend Columbia University dental school. He’d like to be a maxillofacial surgeon — and return to Westport to practice.
That’s good. He’d join the family business.
Having a 3rd Dr. Freeman in town would be quite a kick.
(Click here for a video of the fight.)