To outsiders, fighting will either seem like a kick-arse, glamorous occupation or a very violent slug fest.
But for those on the inside, the story is very different. From crazy, early morning training sessions, to moments where you’re body is put in the ringer to the point of mentally breaking, the life of a fighter outside the ring is largely unseen.
To shed some light, I thought I’d tell you the truth about what it’s like being a fighter.
No social life
There are those who train and fight on a casual basis, and those who fight full-time. The casuals fight now and then, but still maintain a healthy social life.
For those who fight full-time to advance their career and/or use fighting as a source of income, a social life is pretty much non-existent. To be the absolute best, one must spend every minute dedicated towards their dream. With this comes sacrifice. You can say goodbye to movie nights, dinners, parties, or time with friends and family because no doubt if you want to be the best, the only kind of social life you’ll get is with your trainer and the pads. In saying that, balance is important so doing fun things now and again is quite important for one’s own sanity – we just don’t do it very often.
Whether it’s through sparring, injury, or just your usual DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), pain is just a constant. It’s important to obviously manage your body, ensuring you’re getting the right amount of recovery so you can train at your best. But pain is still a large part of the fight game. If I had a dollar for every time I waddled or limped everywhere from general training soreness, I reckon I’d make enough money to retire!
Fighters wake up at crazy hours to do early morning sessions, and train late into the night. Fighters in Thailand train up to eight hours a day (four hours in the morning, four hours in the afternoon/evening), making for a full-on training day with a short rest in between.
For those who have to balance families, a job, training and fighting, the mind and body are split between different priorities so you have to balance everything to make it work. No matter which way you look at it, you’re exerting energy, and more so when training for a fight as you’re putting your body through immense stress. All in all, you eventually learn to accept the constant feeling of fatigue.
Putting your body through hell-fire
This is kind of related to the above. Sometimes you get hurt in a fight, you can get cut, break something, or get knocked out. These are things that people see – but what about what people don’t see.
Through training camp, the chances of getting hurt are high. The bruises come in their hundreds. The training injuries, which require attention by the likes of doctors and physios, can be a regular scenario. Then there’s the pain and suffering you endure through training itself. The burning in your muscles, the pain in various parts of your body, the poundings you get when you spar hard – needless to say there’s a lot of suffering involved.
Even recovery can be somewhat ‘uncomfortable’. Deep tissue massages, although good for the body, are an example of painful recovery methods. It ain’t all sunshine and butterflies.
Because you’re training so hard, your metabolism speeds up. The catch is, most fighters are usually cutting weight so when you couple the fast metabolism hunger with the starving hunger, you get one result – HANGRINESS!
Oh the times I’ve lain awake in bed at night, fantasising about a burger oozing with cheese while my stomach slowly digests itself, making those gurgling noises akin to a small dying animal.
Training even when you really don’t want to
If you want to be the best, you have to train especially if you don’t want to. When the going gets tough, you train no matter what. If you don’t have any motivation, you train anyway. If you’re tired, you train anyway. If you feel depressed or sad, you train anyway. If your boyfriend or girlfriend leaves you, your pet Parrot passed away, and your power bill is $200 over what it should be, you train anyway.
You must train and remain consistent to keep progression going. Even if or when the training session doesn’t go so well, you’re having an ‘off’ night or your technique wasn’t what it should be during that training session, at least you’re doing something rather than nothing. The only time you probably shouldn’t train is when injuries pop up, and that’s when you really need to be vigilant about injury management to prevent further damage.
Embracing the uncomfortable
Most people don’t like being put in uncomfortable situations. Hard physical work, near vomit training sessions, or going without certain foods is uncomfortable. Fighters however, have to make the uncomfortable comfortable. After all, there’s nothing comfortable about being punched in the face.
A fighter is kind of like your modern day gladiator. They put themselves in somewhat dangerous situations to entertain the masses in an ‘arena-like’ situation where everyone’s screaming for blood. These situations require physical fitness, mental toughness and conditioning to prepare for whatever ‘battle’ they face. The more uncomfortable a fighter can make themselves, the more prepared they will be.
Forced to face fears
Some think that courage is doing something without fear. It’s actually the opposite. Courage is doing something despite being afraid – you do it anyway, no matter how you feel.
Being a fighter forces you to live through courage. Some fighters are completely fearless (or claim to be), but I don’t think anyone isn’t completely without fear. For instance, you might be afraid of what people think about you, how you perform, whether you lose or whether you get hurt.
I like to think courage is not only facing fear, but doing something no matter how sad, how tired, how unmotivated you are, or whether the world around you is crumbling. You pluck up the courage to do the task no matter what, and that’s what fighting forces you to do.
The road to the ring can mentally break you
Training for a fight can be very difficult and challenging and sometimes the training sessions are so hard they make you spew, or pass out.
It doesn’t stop there though. When training camp has ceased, you have the delightful task of cutting weight. I’ve already explained in a previous post what cutting weight is like but just to recap, you’ll never be as thirsty, hungry, drained and nonhuman-like (you’re pretty much a zombie) than when you cut. It’s so crap, it’s even brought people to tears. If you’ve seen Cris Cyborg’s documentary, you’ll get a glimpse of this most dominant, fearless fighter being brought to tears from the weight cut.
Overall, the path of a serious fighter is incredibly challenging, and it’s a moment in time where you find out what you’re really made of.
Not being defined by what you do, but who you are
Some people think fighters are a bunch of uneducated meatheads – I beg to differ! I’ve come to know a lot of fighters who are well educated, eloquent, articulate and are just damn good human beings.
Just because we like to fight, doesn’t mean we should be defined by our sport. Inside the ring, fighters are dangerous animals. Outside the ring, fighters can be some of the most kind, generous and humble people you’ll ever meet. Sure, you will run into the odd meathead but not all fighters are like that – trust me!
So if fighting is such a drag, why do it? Simple – because through all the pain and suffering, I can honestly say it’s worth it. There is nothing like the elation of winning a fight, knowing that you put all those hard yards in and have reaped the rewards as a result. It’s like Christmas on steroids!
Not only that, there’s a lot of good things you learn too. Things like hard work, dedication and focus which are transferable to other areas of your life like work or school. So it’s not all doom and gloom, there are some good points too.
I hope giving some insight into the life of a fighter helps you understand what goes on behind the scenes. The fight itself is the easy part – it’s the training and everything you do leading up to the fight that really defines your character.