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Why Fighters Cant Stop
Posted by mmaplayground Wednesday, May 13, 2009 12:00 AM
The Wrestler, starring a suitably haggard-looking Micky Rourke, has just come out on DVD following rave reviews from its theater screening, and upon the recommendation of a good friend and fellow martial artist, I rented it and gave it a shot. This friend said I would draw a lot of parallels to the kinds of things we go through as aging martial artists, and he was spot-on in that, as the life of a broken-down professional wrestler is not dissimilar to that of a fighter or instructor of combat sports. When the knowledge you bring into your field is obtained at the cost of broken body parts, shattered relationships, and social or psychological issues, its not impossible to picture myself and other warrior-types in the same situations. I couldn't help but draw a parallel to UFC 97, and the possible, but not probable, last fight of Chuck Liddell.
While the internet is currently flooded with message board posts, blogs and articles about what Chuck should do with his life after twenty-eight fights and eleven years in the sport of MMA, something is happening that not a lot of people are noticing, and few will compare to Chuck Liddells situation. Don "The Predator" Frye, after twenty-six fights and thirteen years in the sport of MMA, just completed his third return bout under the less-than-famous Shark Fight Promotions banner in Texas. At the age of 43, he is yet again putting on the gloves to test himself against progressively inferior opponents and progressively smaller crowds. Don Frye is hardly the only fighter in MMA that can't stop getting in the cage, as Ken Shamrock, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and a slew of "old school" fighters routinely seek out matches well after their bodies are beyond the ability to compete at previous levels.
What is it about combat sports that doesn't allow fighters to hang up their gloves without dusting them off until injury or sanctioning bodies have to step in and make them stop? I'd like to explore a bit of the psychology involved in combat sports, and shine a ray of light on some issues that people on the other side of the ring ropes might not understand about those guys who actually live and breathe for combat.
As a disclaimer, I myself, am not a professional athlete, but I have fought in every combat sport under the sun as an amateur, and have dedicated myself to combat since I was nine years old. While my general decline in income and popularity, will never touch that of professional fighters, my decline in general health and ability to avoid these activities that oftentimes injure me physically and emotionally, does. I know in my heart-of-hearts, that I can never stop though, because fighters only do one thing.
Money and Lack of Options:
I've always been a fanatical history buff, and for a few years, had the notion that I should attend college and earn a degree in the field to show my passion for all that is mankind's triumph and turmoil. Looking at it from a financial stand-point though, I quickly realized there is only one door that is opened with a history degree in the job market. That of a history teacher, who will then teach other people history, so they may either ignore it, or they themselves become history teachers. The cycle repeats.
Combat sports leaves a fighter with the same options after their prime years are long since behind them. The only thing they can do is fight, or teach other fighters. Very few fighters have made this transition with enough success to maintain their standard of living though, and as their time in the spotlight becomes more and more distant, that ability to make money as a teacher starts to fade as well. Long time fights fans might remember when Ken Shamrock's Lions Den and Mark Coleman's Hammer House produced some of the best fighters on Earth. As time moved on, these schools have declined in popularity and output, just like the men who's namesake they bare. This leaves but one option to those men.
The Roar of the Crowd:
While I've never been on the receiving end of a heart-felt ovation by more than a handful of people, I have been in a sea of thousands, cheering for my favorite musicians or athletes, and can well imagine the singing of the soul it would produce in the focus of that applause. What must it be like to walk through a curtain and have every eye in a filled-to-capacity stadium and every voice in every throat calling you out to fight? While I'll never find out, I can well imagine it would be a feeling unlike any other, and not something that would be easy to accept as having come to an end, when you decide your last fight, was in fact, your last fight.
When the sport is blowing up more and more every year, and promotions are springing up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, how hard must it be for these aging warriors to answer that phone and say "No thanks, I'm done fighting."? Considering I can't think of a top-level fighter that hasn't stepped back into the cage in the last handful of years, one would think it might be an impossible situation to step away from. When your ears long to hear a thousand voices wordlessly calling for you, what can you do?
Relevance and The Immortal Name:
It was a particularly sad day for myself when Evan Tanner died, but there was a moment in time that may have hurt my heart more than his passing. Watching the weigh-ins for UFC 82, as one of my favorite early UFC fighters triumphantly took the stage after years of absence and a having survived a personal hell, he wasn't met with the ovation that a former Middleweight Champion and all-around amazing human being should have been met with. He was met by a burst of polite claps, and utter indifference for a fighter who had spent too long out of the limelight and never found his way into the hearts of new fans. Great men throughout history have gone through tremendous pains to immortalize their name, and it can be no different for the great men who put on the 4oz gloves.
While fighters like Royce Gracie and Randy Couture will always be remembered for what they did in the sport, what about those who had but a brief stay on the top ten lists and only carried the weight of championship gold for a few moments in their life? While every fight fan knows that guys like Tim Sylvia and Matt Hughes were once champions, what about guys like Dave Menne and Maurice Smith, who also held titles in their time? Whats a man to do when your name is forced into obscurity, even among those who follow the sport?
To Test Yourself:
I can honestly say, both in congratulations to myself and as reprimand for my stupidity, that I have never attended an open invitation combat event without competing. Despite all my best intentions, I simply can't sit down and watch other people fight, knowing I can do the same, and not get that unquenchable fire in my chest that makes me go out there and prove to myself that I have the will to stand against another man and see who's resolve is stronger. When a man has competed at the absolute pinnacle of his combat profession, it must be utter agony to watch men, who weren't even training when you were on top of the world, go in there and wear the titles that used to adorn your waist, without wanting to prove to yourself, your fans, and that young pup, that you still have what it takes to dominate.
Unfortunately, life is not a movie, and with the sport evolving so fast, the amount of successful MMA comebacks at the top level can be counted on one finger, as Randy Couture is the only man I can think of that has done so. Amazing specimen such as Randy aside, the more time spend away from the sport, the less a fighter's chances of reclaiming his old crown and past glories. Fighters have never been renowned for their level-headed approach to their lifestyles though, and the drive to compete in athletes is something that generally starts at puberty, and ends around the time they drop dead. While the body might have long ago given its best sweat and blood away to the canvas, and every sensibility in your mind tells you its time to stop and find a nice rocking chair to occupy, the drive that made a fighter go through all the hard work that it takes to be the Alpha Male of Alpha Males, is not so easily convinced. What can an old fighter do when he sees young men taking the spotlight and accolades that were once his and his alone?
Because Its Who You Are:
In my experience, people have a misunderstanding about certain professions and what they mean to the people that do them. When a computer programmer turns off his monitor, a waitress takes off her apron, or a taxi driver shuts off his ignition, they cease being the aforementioned professionals, and become whoever it is they are when away from their occupations. On the other hand, when a cop takes off his badge, a nurse takes off her scrubs, or a firefighter hangs up his helmet, they're all still cops, nurses and firefighters respectively. When your path in life has to do with giving of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally, for the good of others, its no longer an occupation, but a lifestyle. Even if you never take up the tools of your trade again, its what you are. Warriors, both those of battlefields, and those of competition, are the same.
Our good friend Chuck Liddell, who has fought at the top of the world for years, and become the most recognizable man in combat sports, is a fighter, and that can't change. You can take off his gloves, but hes still a fighter.
So, to Chuck Liddell, I say, enjoy your rest my friend. But that spark in your heart will never go out, and the winds of time will fan it into a blaze once again. Though your body may be broken and your mind screaming at you to leave it all behind, we all know we'll be seeing you again somewhere down the road, because fighter do one thing.
(The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of this website in general, nor it’s webmaster. They are solely the views of this writer)
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