Athletes of all sorts understand what it is to become obsessed with numbers, whether they’re numbers on a scale or on a win record. Bodybuilders and fitness competitors are all too familiar with this: Where did they place in their last contest, and how do they improve or maintain their placement in the next? How many more hours of cardio will they have to do in order to make that scale budge enough in their favor? How many more calories and grams of carbs will they have to cut to reveal six-pack abs?
As a mixed martial artist, I definitely relate. I, too, have to make weight via hours of cardio and calorie-cutting. It’s a science that I’m still learning to master. I also have to make sure that I spend the greatest amount of my training time in the dojo working my skill sets and growing as a martial artist. But the most significant number to the average MMA fighter is that win-to-loss ratio. It can literally keep a person awake at night, which I know from experience. But as I’ve come to learn, that number can sometimes be deceptive.
This past Saturday, watching Kentucky’s all-female event, “Absolute Action MMA presents Battle against Breast Cancer,” this very idea returned to me. There was one particular fighter (and many readers might know who this is) who could boast of an awesome amateur record; however, her pro record does not reflect that at all. This was my second time seeing her fight, and both times I could not help but think, “This is someone who turned pro too soon.” Her am record is deceiving: Yes, she had a decent amount of experience; yes, she had much more wins than she did losses. But whom did she fight? What kind of experience and training did her opponents have? Could she say that she defeated a variety of fighters – wrestlers, strikers, Jiu Jitsu stylists, or otherwise? These are all questions that a mixed martial artist should ask him/herself before making that major decision to go pro. These are all questions that I intend to ask myself before making that choice someday, for there is no going back at that point.
I do not mean to pick on just one fighter because I’ve seen this plenty of times, including a few other competitors on that same card. She is just one example. And I use this as a warning to myself and others, not to be judgmental. The funny thing is, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve seen fighters whom I thought were very talented despite their poor records. This can happen for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into this time.
As for myself, I admit that I do not have the greatest record. Among the reasons for this, one is that I’m still learning to get past the nervousness that comes when people are counting on me to perform well. Another big reason is because I made a very common mistake: I underestimated just how much time I would need training specifically for this sport (another important number that I had personally neglected at first). I had a Kempo background, but virtually no grappling abilities. I thought that training Jiu Jitsu for a couple months would prepare me sufficiently in case the fight went to the ground. Then I was naïve enough to take my very first fight against an accomplished BJJ practitioner. The result: I managed to land two punches before getting taken to the ground and rear naked choked in just forty seconds of the first round. Needless to say, it was an extremely humiliating yet eye-opening experience.
I’ve come a long way since then, and I know that I still have a long way to go. Contrary to one commentator’s statement at the “Battle against Breast Cancer,” losses do not necessarily lead to a loser’s mentality. I never think, “Oh well, it’s just another loss.” Entirely the opposite! Every loss has driven me to train harder and become better. I want the victory that much more the next time. To put it bluntly, losing still sucks…a lot! But at least that bit of good can come out of it.
Conclusion: For those who have not had their first ammy fight yet, there is no need to rush. Your significant number is in quality training time. (For example, try three to four days per week for one to two years, working both standup and ground.) For those who already compete as amateurs, do not rush into turning pro. First, make sure that you are not just a good amateur fighter. That might not cut it at the next level. Tell yourself this: I have to look, feel, and perform like a pro before I turn pro. This means more than just a good am record. It means being well-rounded and defeating a variety of challenging opponents. For those who do not have the best am record, try not to be discouraged or obsessive about it. Of course, strive to improve it. But remember, this experience is preparing you for when the numbers really count – when that amateur record is rendered practically meaningless and you get a fresh start with a professional record. I am looking forward to that day! In the meantime, I keep fighting, training, and improving.