Sports and humility do not often go together so well. We’re more used to seeing an athlete pretend to rip off his shirt like he’s Superman or refer to himself in the third person than we are to see anything resembling humility. But MMA is different. At its core, MMA is a sport that will humble you. MMA is a sport where, one way or another, the humble will thrive.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there’s plenty of arrogance and self-promotion in MMA. Think Tito Ortiz pretending to dig a grave after beating his opponent. But as time goes by, bodies get older and the competition gets more difficult. Age can can bring humility very fast.
And that’s the secret to MMA being a sport about humility. No matter how good you are, it never lasts. There’s always a better striker or someone who’s better on the ground. If you haven’t met him yet, you will. But in MMA, there’s no lazy offensive lineman or weak bullpen to blame for your loss. Like no other sport, your loss reflects directly upon you. The guy that beat you was better. There’s a lot of humility that comes with knowing that.
I had been going to the same gym for a few weeks and one day, in between classes, we were all sitting around talking about the UFC. Most of the guys I was with had fought at the amateur level. And then there was me. I hadn’t done anything since the six weeks I spent in karate class back in the 5th grade, unless you want to count all the time I spent watching Kung Fu Theater. And yet I felt the need to share my expertise about how bad Forrest Griffin looked in the Anderson Silva fight.
I’ll never forget what one of the real fighters in our class said before standing up and walking off.
“At least Forrest was willing to get in the octagon and fight Silva. That’s more than any of us can say.”
By the end of that class, I had a new respect for Forrest Griffin. It’s those of us who have the biggest mouths that are usually working with the small skill set. The guy that really knows what he’s doing doesn’t feel the need to openly critique every single fighter or get the Tapout logo tattooed on his forehead. He doesn’t do those things because to get to where he is, he’s been humbled. He’s tapped before. He’s fought tougher, quicker men. Nothing will humble you like getting thrown around by a guy twice your size and twice as good as you.
Well, almost nothing.
A while back I taught my three-year-old son how to do the triangle choke. We kept on practicing and he got pretty good. One day I sat down next to him on the couch and within seconds, he had his legs wrapped around my neck, his hands pulling down on my head and his hips up in the air.
I really regretted teaching him the triangle but I was glad that I taught him to let go when the other guy taps.
The best fighters walk away from the sport with their share of defeats but if they walk away with humility it’s all been worthwhile. You can grow a lot when you win in MMA. You can grow even more when you tap out.
Even if it’s to a three-year-old.