WKA NORTH AMERICAN TOURNAMENT & CSC 39 IN RICHMOND, VA

Thoughout 15+ years of shooting professionally, I've never had a busier weekend; 25,000 shutter clicks and 36 hours of editing later, all the photos from the WKA North American Tournament and CSC 39 have been processed and posted. I want to preface by saying, I'm tired. Despite plenty of previous experience to prepare me for this event, it was a huge challenge. In fact, the only thing that kept me going was the limitless enthusiasm of the fighters who spent months preparing, persevering through injuries, illnesses, and obstacles that the remainder of us can't begin to fathom. I'm proud of each and every one of them whether they won their bracket or got eliminated ten seconds into their first fight. Below is a small gallery of photos that illustrates some of the highlights from Day 1 & Day 2. The remainder of the photos can be found on the WKA USA Facebook fan page.

As though 500+ amateur fights weren't enough, the WKA also hosted an all pro, Glory-rules fight card headlined by Pat Barry on Saturday night. Some of the competitors were journeymen, others were rising stars in the fight game, but all of them fought like their lives depended on it. The show may have only featured eight fights, but the quality of those contests exceeded everyone's expectations. Highlights included a devastating low-kick knockout finish from Francois Ambang, a gritty back and forth scrap between Chris Mauceri and Avetik Petrosyan, and a masterful return to kickboxing from Pat Barry (who never should have left in the first place).

I can't say enough how happy I am to see Pat Barry doing the sport he loves, and no longer entertaining critics that claim he's not "cut-out for MMA". The fall of K-1 fueled the exodus of top-tier kickboxers trying their hand in other combat sports. Some succeeded, others didn't, but Glory is a refreshing breath of fresh air for those who toughed-it-out, or remained active elsewhere until they could return to a big stage. As for Pat Barry, his win on March 22nd sets him up nicely for his Glory debut in Denver on May 3rd, and I join the remainder of the WKA in wishing him the absolute best of luck. He's the kind personality that kickboxing needs to push the sport further into the US market. Below are some photos from his fight, as well as the remainder of CSC 39.

Between shooting several local events, my first attempts at judging MMA, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai, March was a busy month for me. Every different roll in combat sports immerses me deeper into being a part of the sports I love. It's hard to tangibly quantify the knowledge and experience I've gained into words, but I can't think of month that I've learned more.

Fighters travel the world and experience life like no other athletes. It's always a privilege for me to follow them and document the journey. Despite the long hours and tiresome workload, I love what I do. People often ask me how or why I got into this, and my response hasn't changed over the years: "I get a front row seat to the greatest shows on earth."

Not sure if there's anything more rewarding than that...

Welcome Home, CROM MT

On November 3, 2012, my girlfriend and I spent her birthday in the Rockaways helping our friends clean up the home and the gym they just lost from the effects of the worst tropical storm to hit New York in the past 100+ years. Alternating between sweating and freezing, knee-deep in toxic sludge, we joined dozens of friends breaking down furniture, carrying out hundreds of bags of soiled belongings, and dragging a lifetime's worth of people's memories to the curb. The sight of overturned cars, collapsed homes, and the smell of mold from flooding still haunts me today. I'll probably never forget it.

That entire week, and the months that followed were incredibly challenging for thousands of New Yorkers as Hurricane Sandy tried its best wash away their livelihood. It certainly succeeded for those that chose to abandon what little they had left and move to higher ground. The folks who remained are all still feeling the effects over a year later. 

Fighters aren't known for quitting. In fact, perseverance is the most important attribute of what makes someone strong and successful in any discipline. The Romulos call it "Heart" and they have enough of it to go around in a community that always needs it. What they've gone through is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, but they did it with confidence and a smile. An entire community of families, fighters, and friends helped put the pieces back together; dozens of smokers, raffles, art auctions, and fund-raisers later (including our collaboration with ARTLETE), the new CROM Crossfit & Muay Thai gym has found its new, bigger, and better home, right across the street from their original location.

On February 16th, I arrived early to take some photos of their crossfit class and stuck around for a smoker that celebrated the re-opening their gym. The new location isn't entirely finished yet and lots of the magazine clippings, trophies, photos, and accolades from the original location were lost forever, but they finally have a new facility to help them earn new ones. Dwelling on the past is pointless, Chris and Sarah are all about moving forward and continuing to help their community do the same. Their old location is now a restaurant, a nail salon is moving in a couple doors down, and people are finally returning to the Rockaways to reclaim the area and start fresh. By this time next year, we hope to see the entire block full of new businesses. It's a beautiful thing.

Chris and Sarah Romulo

Below is a selection of photos I captured from their Sunday morning Crossfit class and the smoker later that afternoon. There'll be a full gallery available on their Facebook fan page later in the week, so be sure to give them a "like" to keep up with their progress.

Hurricanes often leave nothing more than a trail of devastation, but not for the East Coast Muay Thai community. Never before have I seen so many people from across the country band together to selflessly help our brothers and sisters in need. On a personal note, I couldn't be happier to see CROM back on its feet. The Romulos are some of the most humble and dedicated people I've ever had the privilege of knowing, constantly reminding us that there's no challenge too big to overcome; All it takes is heart.

Chris Kwiatkowski vs Justin Greskiewicz

Back when the only live Muay Thai in the city was unsanctioned and underground, Chris Kwiatkowski and Justin Greskiewicz headlined some of the sketchiest shows you could imagine. I've personally spent the better part of a decade watching/shooting them fight in New York City. As the sport grew, they evolved with it; Both turned pro and continued to get top billing on better local fight cards. They've also traveled quite a bit to compete on international stages, bringing attention to their East Coast Thai Boxing roots. Some would say it was long-overdue to see them fight one another, so they finally got it out of the way last night. 

Justin entered as the favorite to win based on his experience, but it was clear from the start that Chris wasn't there to take a beating for a paycheck. Neither fighter backed down, and neither came to lose. Back & fourth rounds made it tough decision for the judges too. It's cliché, but there's no loser in a fight like that. Kwiatkowski had his hand hand raised in a split decision, but it could have just as easily gone the other way with round three being a coin-toss while Chris and Justin split the other two convincingly. It was one of the better main events in recent memory and far more competitive than it should have been on paper. I'm thrilled that I was invited to shoot the event and happy to see both guys at their very best.

You can see my entire gallery of images on the WKA USA Facebook fan page. Give them a 'like' while you're there and stay up to date on future events.

2014 Re-Boot

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It's nearly 2014 and I've gotten started on my New Year's resolution early with a fresh website. I'll be updating it regularly now that I've removed Dreamweaver from my life and discovered a modern alternative. I should probably add that Dreamweaver wasn't just deleted; it was taken into an alley and beaten mercilessly for the years of frustration it has caused me. I then unloaded a full-clip of incendiary rounds into its corpse. Afterwards, the remains were set on fire and the ashes were thrown into a toilet. 

It was gratifying.

Welcome to the new Bauzen.com

Lupe Fiasco

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It'a hard to summarize my feelings about modern day hip hop. I grew up with icons like the Notorious BIG and the Wu-Tang Clan on the radio... Fast forward to 2013-2014, and the genre is soft. Not sure if it's because I've gotten older or because the quality of the artistry has fallen off, but it just doesn't do it for me anymore. The fact of the matter is; if Biggie were still alive, Lil' Wayne and Kanye West would be working at McDonalds. 

In comes Lupe Fiasco, who I haven't follows religiously in the past decade, but stands out as a solid bridge from the past to the present. His lyrics have meaning, his presentation is convincing, beyond that, his beats are dope. Can't be mad at a good beat, you know? I've found myself enjoying his music more and more in the days to follow this show, and now I'm sad all I had was an iPhone to shoot with. 

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Offering a Cigarette to a Stranger

Shortly after my departure from J.P. Morgan in late 2007, I boarded a plane to Paris with my camera, a notebook, and a medium sized messenger bag with a couple pairs of jeans & sweatshirts. I didn’t know how long the trip would take, but I wasn’t coming back until I cleared my head. The goal wasn’t to go shopping or to get drunk every night, just to separate myself from girl problems, career issues, and the kind of stuff every man goes through at some point in his life. I’d been to Paris before, but never on my own. Surprisingly, my high school French classes left me well-equipped to communicate adequately upon my arrival. I navigated my way from Charles de Gaulle airport to minimalist hotel in the 18th arrondissement, dropped my bag at the foot of the bed, locked the door, and pounced into the first bakery I could find. Coffee and cigarettes constitute le petit dejuner de champions in Paris – easily the most stereotypical French ritual this American looked forward to.

Every day in Paris started at one of those bakeries or a sidewalk cafe with a pack of Dunhills & a short espresso. I then wandered the cobblestone-lined city without an agenda, stopping only to eat, sleep, shoot, and write. It’s incredible how simple the French have made life for the Parisians: There’s a warm crepe waiting for you at every corner, cheap wine & fresh flowers at every news-stand, and a fresh baguette at any hour of the day or night. It’s as though you have no choice but to enjoy the little things in life; incredibly different values than I was used to as a New Yorker. I ate on-the-go as often as I could, but one evening it began to rain, and I huddled myself into the corner of a smokey bistro on Boulevard Saint-Michel. In walked a tall, handsome, & well-spoken American who didn’t speak a word of French. He approached the bar and asked the bartender for a cigarette, but none of the staff understood him. They collectively pointed at a vending machine where he could purchase a pack, but he insisted he only wanted a single cigarette. I interjected and invited him to sit down. He was grateful that this other American (me) had an extra seat & an open pack of cigarettes waiting for him. We talked about football, politics, and our respective careers. I then asked him what brought him to Paris and the response was a bit more than I bargained for.

His journey started in May of 2007 as a trader at Goldman Sachs. Every year prior to that consisted of a high six figure salary, that soared well into seven figures after his January bonus. The springtime was a bit of a slow season for him, so he made a lunchtime appointment for his annual physical. A few days later, the doctor told him to come back in and regrettably informed him that he had cancer. Here’s a guy with an ivy-league background, my fantasy job (at the time), a trophy wife, and he started every morning at 5:15am with a 6.6 mile run around Central Park while maintaining a fitness guru’s diet. He never smoked a cigarette back then, and he swore he only drank on special occasions. Getting a diagnosis like “cancer” was the most retarded thing anyone with his disposition could fathom. Before listening to the treatment options, he filed for an immediate medical leave from work and flew out to Vegas the same night. He took a few nights to gamble and indulge in various activities to feel what it was like to “live like a degenerate”. When he returned, he told his wife that he didn’t love her anymore, wrote her a check, and told her that he needed to be alone for the next few months. She didn’t put up much of a counter-arguement; he didn’t expect her to. Their marriage apparently only existed at face value and ending it was one of the easiest decisions he ever made. The next morning, he didn’t go for his morning run or answer any of the voicemails/Emails from his friends, parents, or the doctor. Instead, he sat there with a laptop mapping out a trip he wanted to take. By the end of that week, he loaded his backpack with the essentials and boarded a non-stop flight from NYC to Tokyo. A month later he had already visited Thailand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, and was en-route to Eastern Europe. At this point, he had become a bit of a shepherd/drifter. He’d eaten lots of funky street foods, slept outside, and none of it phased him. In fact, it was liberating to experience things as other people experience them for a change. His upbringing was privileged and his professional life hardly challenged him with less-than-optimal accommodations.

Although he wasn’t Jewish, he traveled to Israel and became fascinated with how people clung to their respective faiths there. He discovered his first kibbutz, proceeding to reside there for the following 3 months; describing how far he ventured from his comfort zone by forfeiting a $10,000 Duxiana mattress back home for a 3 inch thick cushion stapled to a bunk bed, stained with urine from the person who occupied it before him. He lived & worked on a farm in exchange for food and a place to stay like an indentured servant and he insists it was the greatest experience of his life. There were a dozen men from all walks of life sharing the barn where they rested, all sweaty & musky after 12 hours of work in the field. Some moved from place-to-place like this their entire lives, while others were just in transitional periods. They’d laugh and share their life stories in various languages/dialects, while others translated so the remainder of the men could understand one another. He told me about the food; that it was sometimes bland but always fresh, hearty, and he grew to look forward to it. A place like that challenges any man to see what he’s made of. It certainly challenged him. After 3 months to the day he started, he finally realized what it meant to put in a real day’s work. He also learned about true camaraderie with a group of guys that he never would have met outside of this experience, people who genuinely have no ulterior motives besides sharing a laugh and making the time pass. He was finally at peace with his life; it was time to move on, and he was ready.

The last leg of his journey brought him to Italy and along the French Riviera into Paris, where he had his first familiar meals in months. He drank wine directly out of barrels, slept outside on benches when the weather allowed it, and decided that once he got to Paris, he’d visit a specialist and see if it wasn’t too late to get a health evaluation. He had discovered that life was worth fighting for and he would find a way to face the chemotherapy he was originally terrified of.

An appointment with a renowned specialist for this form of cancer was scheduled within a week of arriving in Paris and they ran countless medical tests over the course of two days. In the week that followed, those tests were repeated to insure accuracy. The results were analyzed, and the doctors sat him down to offer-up an even more outrageous diagnosis than the doctor in New York. Not only did he not have cancer, this particular form of cancer was hereditary, and there was nobody in his family that ever had it. There wasn’t much more to discuss or decipher, it wasn’t a mystery, there was no treatment that could make him any healthier than he already was; the original diagnosis had to have been read off another patient’s chart, or originated from a mis-read X-Ray. It’s probably something he would have realized if he checked his voicemail or gotten a second opinion prior to leaving for Asia.

He insisted that being told he was going to die was what it took to start living. Six months after the voyage began, he shed his first tears; and they were tears of happiness. As he finished telling me the story, the emotions came out again. I asked him if he ever spoke to the doctor who misdiagnosed him again, he said “Yeah… I thanked him.”

That rainy evening of our encounter came to an end when we ran out of cigarettes then went our separate ways. I never bargained to hear a story like that by offering someone a cigarette… In fact, if we just argued about baseball for 10 minutes, I would have been totally satisfied with that. Generally, people would say “thanks for the smoke,” and continue about their business. It was one of the most impressionable moments of my life and it offered me the confidence to return to New York and give my career a second chance. I’m certain that meeting this random traveller was fate in many regards. It was a story I had to hear, and a story that was meant to be shared. My only physical memory memory of that night was a photo I took once the rain stopped. It turned out to be my favorite photo from Paris. It’s been something I’ve put off hanging in my apartment for far too long. A mistake I’m going to correct this weekend.

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We still keep in touch on occasion. Back then he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next, but his lifelong passion was restoring vintage Jaguar automobiles from the 60′s. I later learned that he sold his 5th Avenue apartment for a loft in Long Island City. Today he spends his time doing what he always wanted to do for an irrelevant fraction of the income he used to earn, living upstairs from his garage, and he’s the happiest he’s ever been. Two summers ago he started dating again, and he plans to propose to girlfriend in the spring. Although the storyteller appreciates his anonymity, and I’ll respect his privacy, I’m thankful he’s allowed me to share what he told me in today’s entry; and while neither of us smoke anymore, if we ever find ourselves in Paris again, we’ll be sure to buy a pack of cigarettes and hand them out liberally.