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High-Stakes Poker Player Terrence Chan Reflects On Latest MMA Win

Poker Pro Prepared For Scaling Back Training For Upcoming WSOP


High-stakes cash game player Terrence Chan was the winner in a MMA fight last month in Manila, his sixth career fight in his quest to one day compete in the UFC. Chan is now 6-0.

Chan, who weighed in at roughly 125 pounds but also fights at 135, took no damage in his speedy submission victory, a bout under the banner of the World Series of Fighting Global, which, according to him, is considered either the no. 2 or no. 3 MMA promotion after the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Despite his full-time MMA training, the 35-year-old still competes hard at the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He’s still searching for his first bracelet, but he does have 30 cashes there lifetime and more than $1 million in lifetime tournament earnings.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Chan about his fighting and poker careers.

Brian Pempus: Congrats on the recent fight win! Was this your biggest fight to date? Were you very pleased with your performance?

Terrence Chan: Thanks! I think at this stage of my career, every fight is “the biggest.” There are always so many unknowns when we’re talking about the regional level. You might end up fighting someone well below your skill level, or you could be fighting the next coming of Jon Jones. You really never know. So yes, I’m super happy with my performance to win in the first round without taking damage.

BP: At this point in your career, does a fight with you taking little to no damage really give you motivation, and the opportunity, to fight again as soon as possible? Is that sort of the thinking?

TC: Yeah, definitely, although I just came back from a two week vacation where I didn’t train at all. I had promised my girlfriend that before the fight. But if a fight were to be offered to me say before the WSOP, I’d jump at the opportunity for sure.

BP: Has MMA increasingly been taking a priority over poker for you? Has it been this way for awhile now? Can you talk about the challenges of training for a fight and also maintaining some sort of regular poker schedule?

TC: Yeah, definitely. It’s extremely hard to do both at a really high level and be competitive in today’s environment. MMA fighters are training hard, full-time. When they’re not training they’re doing rest and recovery. Being elite at poker these days requires a ton of study and hard work. So what I do is I borrow from the strength and conditioning world and choose “blocks.” For example a S and C coach might work on a four-week “conditioning block” where the athlete focuses on endurance. Then he might work on a “speed block” where the athlete focuses on speed, and a “strength block” where the athlete lifts a lot of weights.

When I’m in preparation for a fight, then I’m in fight camp. I barely play any poker at all. Maybe just a few hours here and there online to pass the time, but never super-long sessions. But sometimes I might do a “poker block” where I will focus on playing and studying poker. At this point though, I’m a lot more passionate about MMA. Also in the back of my mind, I know I can always come back to poker and work hard on it, whereas in MMA I can only do the sport for as long as my body allows me to.

BP: Definitely. As you become more and more experienced with both, getting more fights under your belt and more hands/tournaments under your belt, is it fair to say your ability to rely on patience in both has improved over time? Seems like there could be a parallel between MMA and poker in terms of waiting for the best moments to exploit an opponent, but also not needing the home run punch or in poker, to necessarily stack your opponent on one single hand.

TC: That’s an interesting question. I think I’ve always been pretty patient in both poker and MMA. If anything in both, there have been times where I’m probably too patient, and not aggressive enough. And yes, experience definitely helps getting over that, whether it’s poker or MMA. If it’s your first time deep in a $10,000, you might not be willing to go all-in because you’re scared to be knocked out. And your first few times sparring against someone really good, you’re afraid to attack because you’re…well, I guess you’re scared to be knocked out.

BP: That makes sense. What would be more of a challenge to overcome emotionally the following day: suffering a knockout in a fight against a very tough opponent or busting early from the WSOP main event final table?

TC: I’ve been taken out early at a few WSOP final tables, and I’ve never been KO’d in a fight, but I certainly have to think that emotionally dominates any poker result. A fight is obsessive, it takes over everything that you’re doing; it’s all that you prepare for. Unless you’re suffering from major financial stress, I can’t imagine a poker tournament ever comparing to the emotional swings of a fight. Or to put it another way: I have had both six WSOP final tables and six MMA fights. I could go into a ton of detail recalling how I felt before and after every MMA fight. My FTs were memorable too, but certainly the emotions weren’t nearly as powerful as the fights.

BP: That makes a lot of sense. So is it fair to say that a loss in a fight would be the sort of setback that causes you to contemplate your fighting career in a way that a tough poker loss doesn’t quite do?

TC: Well in poker, just because you lost doesn’t mean you necessarily did anything wrong, especially if we’re talking about something like one poker tournament. So in that sense I think very few poker pros take one bad beat and think, “F this, I quit, this is the worst.” In poker you just try to get yourself into the mindset of “OK, I played well, the cards didn’t break my way, on to the next one,” because that’s the healthiest attitude to have if you’re a winning poker player.

In MMA, I won’t say there’s no luck at all because obviously that’s not true, but if you lose a fight there’s probably something you could’ve done better. You can always improve your technique, improve your strength, improve your conditioning, improve your mental preparation, and so on. I can’t say how I’ll personally react if/when I suffer a really bad loss in the cage, but there’s basically a couple ways you can react. You can say, “well, it’s been a good run, but I guess I wasn’t cut out to do this,” or you can resolve to come back stronger, train harder, train smarter, fix whatever mistakes prevented you from winning that fight.

BP: Definitely. Now I have read about a fighter like Rory MacDonald complain about UFC fighter pay. And recently Conor McGregor challenged the control that a MMA organization has over the athletes it has under contract. Can you give your opinion on the business side of MMA? Related to this: Did your success in poker before MMA give you an advantage in terms of being well-off enough financially to pursue the sport without an immediate need for a financial windfall from fighting?

TC: Yeah, not gonna lie, having money definitely helps development in MMA. It’s pretty expensive to train seriously, eat well, and so on. A lot of the guys in the UFC would be better off—from a strictly financial perspective—delivering pizzas or driving taxis. I guess like anything else, it’s the top 0.1 percent who make the real money. But again, like anything else, people dream about being in that top 0.1 percent. The somewhat more interesting thing about poker is that poker pros tend to be very sobered and very self-aware. If a guy makes his living grinding out $0.50-$1 online, or $2-$5 live, he’s aware that that’s his station, that he’s really not prepared to go play $200-$400 PLO against the best players in the world. He’s happy with that because it pays the bills. Whereas you see very few fighters who don’t think that they can be the best in the world and be the guy on the poster making the seven-figure payday.

BP: So MMA is the kind of thing where you are somewhat forced into “taking shots” in order to accelerate your career? Some poker players see the game that way but it’s not as advisable because of a) bankroll and b) the game will be always there and there isn’t as small of a time window to try to rise to the top in the game of poker as in MMA?

TC: Yeah, I mean you could run your record to 15-0 fighting bums at the county fair and never fighting a tough opponent, but that’s not terribly common, and it won’t get you into the UFC at this stage, but I guess there are guys who are just doing the regional circuit for $500-$1,000 per fight, grinding it out with no UFC aspirations.

BP: Yeah. We talked a couple summers ago and I remember you telling me something along the lines of if you aren’t training and preparing for the UFC and taking your MMA super seriously bad things can happen, like getting injured. Is this still where you are at goal wise?

TC: Definitely. I don’t think you should be in the sport unless you’re trying to become the best in the world. It’s not a great “casual” sport like golf where it really doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad. There are real life-changing consequences to fighting in a cage unprepared, so if you’re going to do it, I think you have to fully commit and shoot high.

BP: So what’s next for you? Are you trying to have another fight again soon?

TC: I would love to fight again soonish, if possible, but with the WSOP coming I don’t know if that will necessarily happen. Not that I am totally focused on poker, but like I said before, you can’t do both at the same time, so you have to pick one or the other. I am hoping to get back in shape quickly. Right now, I am focusing on strength and conditioning. I am looking forward to getting back into sparring. I think this summer I’ll be playing around a dozen tournaments and some cash.

Terrence Chan is currently working on an audio documentary about the recent MMA bout between poker pros JC Alvarado and Olivier Busquet.

Tags: Terrence Chan,   MMA