Everyone loves a winner.
But what about the other guy in the cage?
The poor shmuck who made the rather awful decision to get his brain beat in, or his arm ripped off.
We spend so much time heaping praise and hype on the winners in our sport; we rarely take the time to appreciate the other side of the equation. UFC 153 was a testament to the chronically undervalued loser.
Antonio Rodrigo came back from a devastating loss at the hands of Frank Mir to demonstrate that even an aging fighter with a reconstituted arm can perform on the biggest stage.
Earlier in the night, Fabio Maldonado endured a stupefying beating from the remarkable Glover Teixeira, never giving up despite what one judge saw as two 10-8 rounds. The doctor had to stop the fight when Teixeira couldn’t.
I’m glad Dana White has said Maldonado will not be cut despite his current losing streak. I’m glad because his performance is the perfect example of why I, personally, love fighting.
Not because I like watching someone get the crap beat out of them.
Not even because I like watching technique well executed.
I love fighting because nothing else on earth tests you physically AND mentally the way a fight does. Watching guys like Maldonado battle it out in the cage inspires me to challenge my own limits and face whatever comes my way in life.
In life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The important thing is that you stay focused and perform as best you can. Unfortunately, that’s not what many fight fans demand from fighters. They want pristine records with flashy highlights.
It’s disturbing that a professional fighter can be out of a job after a few loses. Could you imagine if MLB pitchers were routinely sent to the minors after a three game losing streak? Or if goalies were cut from the NHL after a few poor performances? Even in the NFL, with fewer games and thus higher stakes, that kind of slide will see you on the bench, not in the bleachers.
Somehow, in the fight game it’s different.
The sad thing is, losing a fight in and of itself is a much worse proposition than losing in any other competition. Anyone who’s ever been in a fight knows this simple truth: winning a fight is the greatest feeling in the world, and losing is the worst. You’re crushed—physically, emotionally, spiritually, every way.
It’s a very difficult situation, and despite the best intentions of your friends and family, you have to carry that burden yourself.
In team sports, it’s easy to spread the blame or imagine how things could have been different - “If only Smith had brought his A game, we could’a had ‘em.”
But fighting doesn’t work like that. It’s just you and your opponent in the cage. Nothing else matters.
That sense of total responsibility is what makes winning a fight so sweet. It’s an accomplishment all your own. Sure, your coach and training partners helped get you there, but when the cage door closes, win or lose, it’s all on you. That’s an intimidating thought for any fighter.
We regularly see how it affects the fights they choose to take and the approach they take to winning—or, for some fighters, not-losing.
You’ll hear Dana White talk a lot about finding and developing more and more fighters. He wants more big name guys with impressive records, and he wants to have fights practically every week.
But as much as we adore the consensus GOAT, you don’t get Anderson Silva’s 33-4 record without 33 losers—losers who don’t have endorsement deals with Burger King, or their faces on Rolling Stone.
It’s a winner-take-all scenario, and losers are left with busted faces and bruised egos.
Everyone wants to win a fight. It’s much harder to find someone who’s willing to lose one.
That’s why I was excited to see the Silva-Bonnar fight at UFC 153. We all know how amazing Silva is, but Bonnar is no can.
Watching Silva dismantle him inside the first round is impressive only BECAUSE Bonnar is such a game opponent. He doesn’t back down. He doesn’t give up. And until last night, he’d never been stopped.
At one point during the broadcast, Goldberg mentioned that Bonnar had a chance to change his legacy. As much as I’d be happy to see a great fighter achieve his dream, part of me is glad he lost.
Not because I’m a huge Silva fan boy (which I am).
Not because it was a flashy, technical finish (which it was).
But because it reminded me of what Bonnar’s real legacy is.
He is a loser; an amazing, impressive, and inspiring loser who will forever be remembered for “losing” to Forrest Griffin in the most important fight of the sport’s relatively short history.
He’s a reminder that winning isn’t everything. Giving everything you have is all that should matter, and that’s all we should expect from both fighters and ourselves.
Who knows? Maybe Bonnar learns from this experience and becomes even better. Maybe he goes on to conquer another lanky Champ in his own division.
Seems pretty unlikely today. But that’s what’s so beautiful about our sport: anything can happen in a fight.
So take a break from fantasizing about super fights and who’s the next big threat in what division. Remember the losers. Because without them, there would be no fights.
@fightinFool is a freelance writer with a passion for fight and fun. You can follow him on twitter, or not.