There’s nothing quite like the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) and in my three years covering the sport, I picked up a few life lessons.
For those who don’t know what that is, think UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Georges St-Pierre and Ronda Rousey. Ring a bell now?
By definition, mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that combines different forms of martial arts from wrestling to boxing to Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and many more.
I covered MMA for about three years. Despite not being a full-time “journalist”, I saw my fair share of fights, met media members and spoken to a couple of MMA fighters and personalities. I’ve learned quite a lot not just from the sport but lessons that are transferrable with regular life.
Unfortunately, my future was away from the sport, but I look back time-to-time with fond memories and valuable lessons it’s time to think back and reflect on the many lessons I learned from this sport.
In theory, the idea of watching two adults physically assault each other for money and entertainment seems like an ostentatious way to gain “wisdom”, but you learn a lot especially on business, human psychology, and how us savages treat each other.
Here are five life lessons I picked up from the covering the sport:
Our Instincts are in Constant Conflict
No sport makes you question your character more than MMA.
This highly entertaining sport delivers unbridled exhilaration driven by the literal blood, sweat, and tears of horrendously underpaid athletes making you feel like a junkie sh*thead for supporting such “violence”!
But at the same time, this is still a sport. It evolves every week. We’ve gone from utter savages swinging meat hammers senselessly to the most intricate martial artists playing a game of human chess. The sport’s superstars range from well-spoken role models like St-Pierre to vivacious hooligans like Conor McGregor.
I use the term “instinct” because it’s something that is innate in us. In combat, the “fight versus flight instinct” is eternally present and fighters who master the art of choosing the right instinct prevail.
As a spectator, our instinct to seek pleasure can and will conflict with our instinct to feel sympathy for others. These are feelings that just happen. And as an MMA fan, you will be dealing with these all the time.
The Highs are the Highest and the Lows are the Lowest
In MMA, almost every fight is high-stakes.
Winners have looked like a million bucks while losers have broken down. Consider the sharp contrast between the careers of two superstars: McGregor and Rousey.
McGregor won all but one of his UFC fights and became the sport’s most lucrative fighter even managing to get the second-most expensive boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. He became the sport’s biggest star and a worldwide icon.
His loss humbled him, and he went dark for an entire season. But his subsequent wins propelled him to the stratosphere.
The fame and success got to his head and he transitioned from being a comical character who razed press conferences at the expense of every poor fighter there to throwing dollies at buses and getting arrested.
Rousey won all but two of her UFC fights, but those two losses permanently scarred her. She quit the UFC after consecutive knockout losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes.
She went from the most intimidating female fighter, a juggernaut, and a destroyer to a seemingly weak-minded sore loser who can’t even muster the poise to face questions about her losses.
Winning and losing has never been more polarizing than in MMA. A fighter’s profession, reputation, and mental state are all drastically affected by the outcome more so than any other sport.
The winners not only get extra cash, they also move on with their careers and get the admiration of fans (for the most part). While the losers take a step back and face the jeers of all the “keyboard warriors”.
Seeing as most MMA fighters are barely just getting by in life, a win or loss affects their careers a lot more significantly than a lost game for a sports team.
If you factor in their pride, months of hard work and physical damage, the elation of a victory juxtaposed with the misery of a loss speaks volumes.
The Mind Beats the Heart
This is the most painful lesson I’ve learned: the cold calculating individual usually succeeds more than the passionate yet emotional person.
I’m not suggesting that either trait are absent from each side. The former isn’t an automaton and the latter isn’t a dummy either. But, individuals who approach life with a more technical approach tend to accomplish things more successfully than one who is fueled by passion and emotion.
In MMA, this is obvious when the most dominant champions like St-Pierre and Jon Jones destroyed the opposition thanks to their cerebral and exacting approach.
In fiction we often see the protagonist overcome the obstacle with the sheer force of will. And while that may happen in MMA, it’s mostly the efficient fighter who prevails in the end.
It is rooted to the fundamentals of martial arts.
Emotion won’t drive you because it is less controllable, and it can hinder you. And most importantly, it is a finite resource.
People don’t stay happy constantly. They don’t stay angry all the time. It’s not physically possible.
Instead, rely on the power of the mind: the ability to control thoughts when it matters most.
Memories Don’t Last Because Life Moves Too Fast
It’s like being in a bullet train speeding through everything. All you can make out are glimpses of what appear to be shapes and colours. You can’t really make out what they are.
MMA is a fast-moving sport. It’s the perfect sport for some short attention span millennials.
There is an event every weekend almost from the big promotions.
The UFC almost held more events in the last five years than they have for the first 20 years. It’s great to have so many events but it comes at the expense of leaving lasting memories.
A significant event lasts 24 hours if it’s big enough but it quickly gets buried or shoved to the backseat in favour of the next coming event.
This is terrible for the sport’s marketing. Even the most hardcore fans have such a short window to fully let an event sink in and truly comprehend how much it means.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Sometimes I get caught up in just doing, doing, doing, and the next thing I know five years have gone by. Where did the time go?
It’s why I make more of an effort to “slow things down” a bit and enjoy life a little bit more. What is the rush? What am I racing towards?
I want to make the most out of my life but is it worth not enjoying what is going on because I have to move on to the next thing?
It’s why a lot of movements like minimalism re-popularized by the likes of Joshua Becker are gaining steam.
Less action, more examination could mean better life satisfaction the same way fewer fights in a calendar year would make fight fans appreciate each event more.