“All my life, I’ve been fearful of defeat. But now that is has come…it’s not near as terrible as I’d expected. The sun still shines. Water still tastes good. Glory is…all well and good but…life is enough, nay?” – Mark Antony, Rome, (c)HBO.
I spent the first two years of my competitive amateur MMA career undefeated. Every fight went more or less the same way, with me shooting takedowns and securing chokes to finish my opponents in the first round. I never had to pummel anyone, never knocked someone down or finished them with ground and pound. In fact, I never even got hit cleanly in any of those bouts.
A few weeks ago, I stepped into the cage after an eight week training camp and lost. Simple as that. I was entered into a four man tournament on a great event. I went against Adam Bramhald, a great amateur whose style is fun to watch and who I almost knew I was going to be drawn against. I’d thrown eight weeks of my life into training, between working at a job I don’t enjoy and travelling an hour to the gym and an hour back. Between training so hard and dieting, my will was weak before I even stepped into the cage. The first round went well, with my usual takedown and back control plan faring well. Then in the second, something just… gave up inside me. He pressured, eluded my shots and hit me with a range of strikes. My desire gave out and I basically circled away and fired back with some half-hearted boxing. I ended up losing via decision.
But after all these years of fearing defeat, of the unknown feeling of having the other guy’s hand raised, I have realised a few things. Losing an MMA fight means nothing. At the end of the day, what we do is a hobby and a passion. To lose a fight pales in comparison to people who know real struggle. Yes, we sacrifice a lot for our sport. Yes, it sucks to lose after training so hard. But for something I spent so long fearing, it just felt…fine? If you’ve just experienced a loss and you’re struggling with it, just remember: there are far worse things that could befall you in life.
Perhaps I feel so ambivalent about it because I learned more from the loss than I’ve ever learned from a victory. For a long time, I’ve struggled with the sheer lack of aggression I have inside of me. I should be more punishing when I’m on top, more eager to throw heavy ground and pound when I’m in a dominant position. Maybe that is something I’ll never be able to change. So the first thing I learned was that I really don’t want to hurt people, even if it means winning. If I’d been far more heavy-handed when I had back control in the first, maybe things would have went differently. But I don’t regret it.
Secondly, I learned I’m more comfortable standing than I give myself credit for. I started MMA by stumbling into a kickboxing class and I’ve always enjoyed stand-up. However, fighting has always made me shoot for a takedown to avoid taking punches. I took plenty in the fight I lost and I didn’t shatter or fall apart. I endured, and I landed a few strikes of my own. Maybe I (or you) just lost, but did you surprise yourself with anything? It’s a good thing to discover.
Finally, losing takes away all the pressure. For a long time I’ve had some kind of invisible weight on me that I carry into the cage. The expectation I’ve placed on myself, which is entirely my fault, made me hate fighting. I hate stepping in there. I hate the fight camp. All because of that pressure I’ve invented. Thankfully, losing has lifted it. Now I feel a whole realm of possibility.
Where do I go from here? Where do you go if you’ve just experienced losing an MMA fight? My answer would be simple: anywhere you want. I’ve been lifting weights, rediscovering handbalance and I’m debating doing a purely stand-up fight just to test out my weaknesses. Now that I’ve tasted defeat, I’m more free than ever. My journey will continue, and I hope anyone reading this will realise just how inconsequential a loss is. Life is bigger than a fight in a cage. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep at your passions.