The Cage: Escaping the American Dream

My name is Rollie Peterkin. I am a former collegiate wrestler, Wall Street bond trader, and professional MMA fighter. I wrote about my adventures in a book called, The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.

From the back cover:

Most people spend their lives trying to escape some kind of cage. Rollie Peterkin left behind conventional success and stepped into one. 

When his college wrestling career ended in heartbreak, Rollie fell short of his dream of standing on the national podium. After graduating with an Ivy League degree, he tried to take solace in the lucrative Wall Street job offer that awaited him. He vigorously launched himself into his new career as a bond trader and grew accustomed to fancy dinners, expense accounts, late nights, and early mornings. Rollie was achieving all of his goals, but began to feel like something was missing. 

During a trip to Peru, a chance encounter with a legendary cage fighter would inspire him to question the well-worn path to success he had always known. Soon after, Rollie plotted his escape and ultimately left behind the life of luxury to pursue a savage dream. Along the way he faced life changing obstacles that he never could have foreseen in his wildest dreams. From yuppie Manhattanite to blood-soaked warrior in South America, The Cage traces Rollie’s fight for meaning, substance, and true value.


Goddamn this story is exciting. I opened it up to take a look and figured I’d just read 2-3 pages, but then I spent the rest of the day reading it and I couldn’t put it down. It’s the first book I’ve read in two years not related to research for History on Fire.

Daniele Bolelli, Author of Not Afraid: On Fear, Heartbreak, Raising a Baby Girl, and Cage Fighting and On the Warrior’s Path. Host of History on Fire podcast 

Rollie Peterkin left a glide path to Wall Street wealth for the bloody, gritty, impoverished life of a South American cage fighter. This sounds crazy.  But what’s crazier: Quitting an uninspiring job to chase a dangerous dream? Or how most of us live and die in cages of our own making—never thinking to fight our way out? I left this tale of competition, adventure, and primal fear feeling inspired to live a bigger and braver life.

Jonathan Gottschall, PhD. Distinguished Fellow, Washington & Jefferson College. Author of The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch 

Rollie’s life is much like his wrestling style: wide open, contrarian, and unorthodox. But having coached Rollie, I know him well enough to never be shocked by his bold and daring adventures. This book speaks to how a single decision can cause a ripple effect in your life. One minute you’re sitting behind a desk on Wall Street crunching numbers and the next you’re stepping into a cage (in Peru, no less) to fight someone wanting to rip your head off. Truly a story of staring down fear and having the courage to follow your happiness and intrigue.

Kendall Cross, Olympic Gold Medalist, NCAA Champion, and Distinguished Member of The National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Rollie and I have unknowingly been living parallel lives. We were born wrestlers, graduated to become professionals, and then left the professional world for the allure of mixed martial arts. Though I’ve only known Rollie for a short time, our shared passion for wrestling, fighting and Spanish has created among us a strong bond and mutual respect. His life was meant to be transformed into a book. I mean, really, who leaves Wall Street and an Ivy League education for South American cage fighting?!

Charlie “The Spaniard” Brenneman, UFC Veteran and Author of Driven: My Unlikely Journey from Classroom to Cage

Selected Excerpts

On Wrestling

Throughout my whole life, wrestling had always been there for me. No matter how crazy my personal life was, I went to practice each day and checked those feelings at the edge of the mat. Now, I was beginning to realize, I would no longer have that.

On Trading

When a trade makes money, it is a great feeling. But if it loses money, on the other hand, there are few worse feelings. A losing trade can have very real implications on your life. You can lose your job, your respect, and your pride. Older traders would talk about sleepless nights during a losing streak, or dark depressing days in front of the glaring computer screen. I had heard their stories, but I was undeterred. I liked the idea of being able to control my own destiny and I was eager to start.

On Teammates

I had grown up my whole life on wrestling mats, and I was glad to discover that the dynamic in this room was much the same. There is a certain non-verbal language that we all spoke—the language of sweat and blood. While waiting around before practice we would grab each other and start grappling lightly. Maybe it would start as a handshake and turn into a takedown. It was how we greeted each other.

On Fear

I had spent my whole life worrying about studying for exams or what job I would get. I worried about talking to girls at the bar. I worried about sounding stupid when I ordered a coffee. But how could I worry about such trivialities when confronted with legitimate danger? That was my logic anyway. I wanted to chase fear down the rabbit hole and see if I could not root out its most basic and primal form. Then once I discovered it, I wanted to conquer it.

On Adrenaline

Just then, he cocked his fist back and caught me in the mouth with an uppercut. When the punch landed, I knew it was hard. I knew it was supposed to hurt, but I was surprised that it didn’t. It was as if I was watching someone else get punched. My conscious mind told me that it hurt, but I just didn’t feel it. I finished the shot and took him down. I was breathing hard at this point, and my mouth guard wasn’t making it any easier. During one deep exhale, I sprayed blood on his stomach.

On Taking a Punch

As I was bringing my fist back, I left a gap open and he smashed his right fist into my face. Everything went black for a second and I felt a sharp pain radiate from my right eye and pulse outward through my face. Blood spattered across my field of vision. My eye instantly swelled up. I stumbled backwards in a daze. It felt like a movie scene where the bomb detonates and everything is in slow motion and silent.

On Focus

In MMA, there is never a lull in the pace. Even when it seems like there is no action, every muscle in your body is taut, ready to explode into action at the slightest provocation. Your mind whirls in a frenzy as it tries to anticipate the surge of limitless hypotheticals.

If you lose concentration for a split second, it could mean a swift shinbone to your face. A monastery full of Tibetan monks couldn’t achieve that level of concentration. It is impossible not to live in the present moment with such immediate threats to your survival. Adrenaline surges through your body and base instincts take over. Every cell of your body is magnetically aligned towards your opponent, just as every cell of his is aligned towards you. The outside world doesn’t exist inside the cage.

On Saunas

I watched the sweat drip down my chin and splash onto the dry floor below. Each drop weighed some tiny fraction of a pound and brought me that much closer to my goal. The sweat tickled my back and I toweled off my body. I stayed in the sauna as long as I could, until my lungs burned and my skin felt like it would melt.

On Dunebuggies

Sand dunes stretched as far as I could see in every direction. Before we got a chance to enjoy the scenery, there was a loud roar and my head snapped back over the bench. Jordan clutched the seat in front of him as his hair was blown back. We approached a small dune and the driver pressed the gas further. We hit the bottom with a jolt and exploded to the top, showing no signs of slowing down. When the front wheels went over the crest, the earth dropped from underneath us and my stomach flew up past my lungs.

On Fate

I saw my whole life stretched out before me, like a series of connected dots. It occurred to me that a small disruption in the chain of events might have rippled into a larger change that could have taken this moment out of the realm of possible futures.

On the Amazon

We were stranded in a swamp, hours away from any civilization. None of our cellphones worked, and even if they did, who would we call? There were no boats in the area. There were no people in the area. Maybe one of the local villagers would pass us in a canoe eventually, but what could they do? We could be trapped here for days. The idea of sleeping on the boat would be hell on earth. The mosquitoes alone would devour us alive.

On Respect

There is something special about an MMA fight, a unique moment in time that you share with your opponent. You are locked in a cage and battling against each other. When it’s over, you have shared a moment together: the highs, the lows, and everything between. When all the emotions come crashing down, you remain a warrior in the presence of another warrior. I have respect for anyone who will enter that cage, win or lose.

On Cockfighting

The roosters were bred specifically to be aggressive and passivity was a shameful behavior that reflected poorly on the trainer and the breeder. I could see how cockfighting fit Ivan’s personality perfectly.

Ivan was recognized by numerous people who passed and each of them stopped to pay respects. There was squawking and shouting and it smelled of cigarette smoke and sawdust.

Ivan’s friend had a rooster coming up next. He brought it over to the stands where we sat and began fastening the white plastic barb to its talons with thick white tape. I bet fifty soles on his bird, but unfortunately, it ran away the whole time and was eventually counted out by the judge.

On Insanity

I try to lie down again but am experiencing waking nightmares. When I close my eyes I see dragons and demons and snakes and ghosts. They snarl and lunge at me and explode in bursts of flames. I am freefalling through oblivion.

On Writing

I am nervous as hell about this book. Will people like it? Is that even important? I didn’t write it for people to like it. I wrote it because I had to. I had no choice. I had all these experiences that were so amazing, so meaningful, and so painful that I couldn’t keep them bottled up in my own head. I needed to put them on paper.