MMA: Face the Pain

Difficult workout

The nostalgic diehards among you will no doubt have a nice warm feeling when you read the title of this bit. If it does not make sense, you may need to spend some time in the MMA rabbit hole. Take care though. It can be hard to escape and not just bleed. Ok, that might be too far and too inside. Silliness aside, pain is a very real and constant aspect of the fighting arts. It makes it all the more remarkable that MMA in particular has made the mainstream. The cliché explanation may serve some purpose that fighting is in our DNA, but make no mistake – no rational person seeks out pain.

If you have ever had to go to the doctor and explain pain, it can be a very strange thing to do. As ubiquitous and axiomatic as pain is in most people's lives, it is near impossible to describe with words. For a comedic look at it, do yourself a favor and get your hands on Brian Regan's bit on the emergency room visit from I Walked on the Moon. He does a great job of observing this very strange phenomenon of describing pain. You could even go down the more serious trail of studying things like pain indexes (indices if you're inclined) and the normalizations of some over others in the medical field. And it is not only the degree of severity that is being worked on, but the brands or types of pain. All very hard to quantify even for the purposes of treatment and recovery.

If one can get past the cringe of the pain related to MMA – and no, we do not mean videos made by Henry Cejudo – there is something to be studied there in learning to appreciate the sport. The first thing to know is not everyone is bloodthirsty in or around the sport. It is not true that all fighters and fans are happy when someone is caused pain. But going further, there is interesting work to be done to understand the sport and its athletes. For example, if you see a liver kick or punch land well and observe that look on the recipients face, the vein bulge in the neck, the skin color redden, that is a very unique pain experience to fighting. Pettis ended his contest with Cowboy Cerrone with it. Viewers who have any empathy will feel it if they watch it. Same will happen if you watch GOAT contender Jose Aldo shut down Jeremy Stephens with a punch to the liver that looks like it was launched from somewhere under the cage.

The broadcasters in MMA do a good job in attempting to explain these things that are hard to explain. The types and degrees of pain run the gamut. Even to the point where some things may not be described as 'hurting' at all but are still able to change the tide of a fight. Like those low leg kicks that hit that nerve with the fancy name and turn off the signals to the feet that are so disturbing to watch of late – the kick hurts, but then there is no feeling in the foot – it is an odd thing to witness. One fascinating thing is how a punch to the head can have so many different pain/painless responses. If you have seen a punch that is later to be found out to have broken an orbital bone, a fighter's wince might give the impression that he either has a little dust in his eye or his world just imploded. Or a temple shot that wobbles, but is not necessarily painful in which the fighter describes being all there and yet not having control of his faculties – terrifying. Then all manner of pain associated with submissions or in-fight injury. Popped ribs, calf-slicers, whatever that thing is called that Ben Rothwell calls a go-go choke (those really do hurt by the way), etc. Pain is in no short supply to appraise.

None of this has even considered the residual pain in the days, weeks, and years that follow the actual moment it was inflicted. The warriors rarely ever even complain out loud. Paul Felder can show a piece of his lung – literally, not figuratively – and still talk about how he loves to fight – in spite of the pain. Even so, for him and others, somehow the pain of facing retirement is often worse than facing pain in fighting. Or something else must drive them to put themselves through it. To some the need to fight is an affliction. Still too inside?

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