I will miss you. We had so much to do together - so many memories to make, fights to promote, communities to build. I will miss you, and to say goodbye, I'd like to share a few memories that show how much you mean to me.
In 2016, the moment I found the sport you created. Recovering from shoulder surgery, unsure if I could ever fight again, YouTube auto-played a video about ChessBoxing. My shoulder ached as my belly grew, but I promised myself that if I ever fought again, it would be in ChessBoxing. I reached out to you about the sport, and you responded. You gave me hope in the form of something to look forward to. He was an inspiration and a light in a dark time.
A year later, I ran away from my life. I was unhappy with law school, unhappy with working in technology after I withdrew, and unsure whether I could turn my passion, Brawl for a Cause, into my career. Living in Costa Rica, I had a lot of time to reflect, focus, and plan. I reached back out to Iepe to learn more about the sport. We set up a call, and I prepared for it by researching everything I could find online about ChessBoxing and its founder. When we started the call, I was surprised and humbled that he had done the same about Brawl for a Cause and me. He helped me see my creation and community as something viable, legitimate and worthwhile. He proposed working together to grow our communities. He had humility and a collaborative spirit.
A year after that, my shoulder was back to 100%, and I was ready to train for something. I reached out to Iepe and asked when his next event was. When he replied, he informed me that the only event left in 2018 was the ChessBoxing World Championship in Kolkata, India. If I competed, I would be the first American to do so, and I'd have to create and captain Team USA in order to participate. After leaning into the opportunity and receiving constant support and advice from Iepe throughout training, I won the 90kg World Championship, which completely changed my life. As a mentor, Iepe helped me go from getting chubby in a recovery bed to becoming the first from my country to win a World Championship in the coolest sport on the planet (to us). He created potential and helped me along with others realize that potential.
The next year for the Turkish World Championships, he helped me generate more press coverage in the USA and recruit more fighters to our ranks. After losing my semi-final bout to the eventual 2019 World Champ, Tony, he recruited me to commentate alongside him. We bantered back and forth on a livestream to 22 countries for hours everyday until the finals, when we celebrated with the champions in the ring, and with everyone who participated in the bar afterwards. He had so much charisma, generosity, and jovial happiness that was contagious to anyone he was around.
Before leaving Turkey, he invited me to the World Assembly for ChessBoxing, tasked with building our community larger and implementing professional ChessBoxing matches to find the smartest, toughest people on the planet. This is Iepe's dream. I offered to help advise on content and marketing, which we made progress on in the following months. While at first, I was sad for Iepe for passing before he could realize this grand goal and vision, then I realized he created something that will exist and exceed his vision long after his death. For any entrepreneur, artist, or visionary, this is the penultimate. Iepe has achieved this without a doubt, along with a horde of loyal ChessBoxers who will gladly carry the torch for Iepe as he looks on from above.
Thank you for everything Iepe - for being a light, a mentor, a teammate, and a friend.
With sincerity and love, Matt