When amateur MMA was determined to be legal in New York state last year, American Fighting Alliance scheduled a bout for August 25. Among the competitors stepping up fro the first time was Tai-Kai fighter Stephen Elsenbeck. The Kenny Kronenberg student took his pre fight physical, and discovered he was in the fight of his life - he had testicular cancer.
Like so many others, Stephen Elsenbeck found the world of mixed martial arts for a reason.
"This place, martial arts in general, has really helped me out in my life because it's gotten me away from not good things, bad things," Elsenbeck said. "It just makes me feel better. It keeps me motivated."
A sport that many say, in a way, saved their life. Elsenbeck would soon mean it literally.
Last summer he began training for his first ever amateur fight. An American Fighting Alliance bout in Watertown, NY scheduled for August 25th.
"Part of our requirements are a physical, blood work pre-fight, a doctor's physical at the event," AFA Co-founder Marc Stevens said.
That physical, something Elsenbeck admits he may not have gotten otherwise, didn't go as planned. A doctor found a small lump in his testicle.
That doctor referred Elsenbeck to a specialist in Syracuse who confirmed everyone's worst fear. He would no longer be fighting in August. Instead, cancer would be giving him the biggest fight of his life.
Feeling helpless, Elsenbeck found himself fighting to keep from slipping back into life before MMA.
But there was a glimmer of good news. The cancer was found in the early stages. He wouldn't need chemo. He'd have surgery to remove the testicle and a full recovery was likely. After a couple months, Elsenbeck got a clean bill of health. But mentally, he was still on the mat, not sure if he'd get back up.
"I came back a couple of times and, unfortunately, just at the time, I was so down, I tried to train and I was healthy, but I just didn't care about anything in my life. I was still miserable and down," He said. "I don't know what it was. I guess I started looking at some magazines at my house, older magazines and I just kind of started getting that drive again."
And with every punch and every kick at the Tai-Kai Jiu-Jitsu gym in Liverpool, NY Elsenbeck finds himself, just six months after cancer, with another first chance. He's set to finally make that debut Saturday night at the AFA fights in Liverpool.
"Fighting alone is a scary thing," Elsenbeck said of Saturday night and the crowd of nearly a thousand people expected. "Obviously going through that makes it not as scary. It makes it not as frightening."