The Crack in the Armor

 Watching UFC 196 last night, it struck me once again how fragile a fighter really is when they step into the ring. It has happened numerous times, from boxing to UFC. And it occurs in other sports as well, but not as easily visable. That moment when a champion’s armor is cracked and their world falls apart.

Boxing/MMA are the ultimate “macho” sport. You against one other person. Simply two human beings determined to prove who is the tougher, stronger, more bad ass person. Over the years we have seen champions fall unexpectedly to what are considered lesser fighters. From Mike Tyson losing to Buster Douglas, Chuck Lidell losing to Keith Jardine, Georges St-Pierre losing to Matt Serra, Anderson Silva losing to Chris Weidman, and most recently Rhonda Rousey falling to Holly Holm. Last night’s fights join that long list of underdogs coming out on top, Miesha Tate defeating the previously undefeated Holm and Nate Diaz submitting Conor McGregor, who was on a 15 match win streak.

In each of these instances the champion was coming into a fight in which the entire fighting world assumed was a given outcome, a win. All of the champions were stars inside and outside of the ring. The champions were fully embracing their fame. From tv show appearances, to movies, and commercials, the champions were living the life. This isn’t to say that all of the extracurriular time cost them in the ring. But it does seem rather coincendental. I think the bigger issue is mentality.

We have seen time and time again athletes fold under pressure. What makes a great athlete is not the ability to jump higher, run faster, or lift more. What makes a great athlete is that mental fortitude that allows them to rise to the occassion. To go to the next level and when they are pushed against a wall, to come out on top.

I think in the instances mentioned above the fighters trained just as hard, probably more knowing what was on the line now that they were on top of the mountain. But I do not think the fighters were mentally prepared for the fight. They heard the constant talk of fans, media, and others talking about their reign. Watching UFC 196 last night it struck me once again how fragile a fighter really is when they step into the ring. It has happened numerous times; from boxing to UFC. And it occurs in other sports as well, but not as easily visable. That moment when a champion has their armor cracked and it all falls apart.

They are surrounded by family and friends, trainers and coaches, they hear the media and fans calling them all-time greats. Even their organizations are propping them up as the face of the company. It doesn’t matter if they have defended their title even once, it’s all about their future reign. Who can stop them? Media jumps on the moment and wants to write the end. But sports is always about the unexpected.

We have seen time and time again athletes fold under pressure. What makes a great athlete is not the ability to jump higher, run faster, or lift more. What makes a great athlete is that mental fortitude that allows them to rise to the occassion. To go to the next level and when they are pushed against a wall, to come out on top.

However once they get into the ring, that lack of mental focus is what leads to their demise. Whether it’s them being forced to change their strategy or taking a hard shot. In that moment, their armor is cracked. Doubt finds its way into their mind. They no longer have that invincibility mindset, but rather start thinking what is going on; this isn’t supposed to happen. Then they start making mistakes. One small crack is all it takes to bring down the seemingly impenetrable armor of a champion.

I am not saying that the champions mentioned above are mentally weak or that the underdogs in the fight were lucky. I simply want to point out that these fights go to show the importance of mental strength. Mental strength is just as important as physical strength or speed. Mental strength is what separates a champion from just another professional athlete. Many of the fighters mentioned above failed to ever attain that armor of invincibility again. However some fighters like Georges St-Pierre, and others like Muhammad Ali in boxing, have shown they can once again grab the title after a loss. That in fact it is possible to get back to the top.

Mental strength isn’t just about being strong when you are on top; but when things are going bad as well. It is like the old adage says “It’s not whether you got knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Let’s see what comes next for Rousey, Holm, and McGregor. We know they are physically strong but do they have the mental strength to get back up? Can they fix the crack in their armor or are they forever broken?

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One Response to The Crack in the Armor

  1. I like how you get into the behind-the-scenes stuff and get historical with this. Looking forward to following your blog…

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