Non-casual MMA fans felt like they grew up a little when, a few years ago, much was made of Georges St-Pierre’s immediate post-fight comments after beating B.J. Penn. When asked what his keys to winning were, GSP got all scientific and talked about his strategy of trying to induce lactic-acid buildup in Penn’s shoulders.
The MMA world collectively responded with a proud grunt, saying something akin to, “I told you he was smart.” It was almost humorous to see what a big deal was made of the actual intelligence level of a fighter.
Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are the many comments that one had to “dig deep” and “adapt, improvise and overcome” — along with other over-generalized statements that, when boiled down, are some version of “It is what it is.”
Fighters’ responses to wins and losses and their assessments of each are so varied that it’s impossible to gauge what really happened in either case. It’s not limited to actual fight results, either. The diverse comments can follow a missed weight cut, a change in training camps and/or coaches, or even a full shift to a new fight promotion. Heck, while we’re at it, there are things to note in changes in whole sports.
Recently, after experiencing her first lost in MMA, undefeated professional boxer Claressa Shields was panned by — pardon while gumption is mustered to type this next phrase — 4-0 pro-boxer Jake Paul for having been exposed as a fake. Apparently, the stigma that undefeated boxers are essentially given their records by not having to fight the best in their sport followed Shields into MMA.
Shields’ assessment seemed to be well thought-out, and her response to Paul was fairly cogent. She seemed to be very much anchored in reality about her level of ability and the areas she needed to focus on should she continue to pursue this new-to-her craft. In interviews leading up to this fight, there appeared to be little doubt that she was prepared and planned dominance. Of course, that sounds like a lot of fighters leading up to fights.
But now the plot thickens. What happens when that tone and that indomitable spirit get … well, dominated? What happens when the assessment seems to become increasingly untethered from reality and the athlete begins to say things in such a tone of optimism and strength that even casual fans wonder if they themselves actually believe it?
During the decline of former champ Johny Hendricks, a missed weight cut was blamed on too much deer meat. Literally.
Marvin Vettori lost his fight for the championship against Israel Adesanya literally 50-45 on all the judges’ scorecards. That means he lost every round. Yet post-fight, he could be heard in the cage and afterward saying that he thought he won.
When does this indomitable spirit that we admire move from admirable to cringe-worthy? When does it go from confidence to denial?
There a lesson for all those who are involved in martial arts or competition of any kind: Is it OK to be positive if that optimism is unrealistic?
Again, we have watched sore losers sitting with their backs up against a cage with broken limbs, spouting vitriol — and these are people who at other times knew they had cardio issues.
The psychology of unarmed combat is something to behold. There’s something beautiful about being able, in the face of all adversity, to find the strength to go one more round. It’s undeniably part of why fans love the fighting sports. There is hope that there’s something in that indomitable spirit in the mirror. And while it’s probably not the best strategy for success to train to lose, there is some value in acknowledging mortality and the limits of humanity in these human endeavors.
The cliche is so cliche that father time is undefeated. Time is indeed indomitable. But there are legends in the fight game who, even without undefeated records, competed with honesty, integrity and humility in such a way as to leave an impression that even with a loss in competition, they were not dominated in life.
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