Hard Fought Facts from a low tier Fighter
In 25 professional MMA fights, my total purses all added up has been Au$21,800. That includes cash from sponsors. Excluded are sponsors that donated T-shirts, hats and supplements. Not a good living but I got paid to do something I loved, right?
Who ever said I loved fighting? That is a common misconception that is off handily thrown at fighters. Because they do it despite little reward, many assume that they must ‘love it’. Some may.
If you do not love it, then why do you fight? Well that is as personal as the fighters that fight. It stems from our own intimate reasons, some darker and some more obvious. Within some human beings lies a need to best others in combat, a desire to test others under the most naked of combative circumstances. A drawing to the combative arts and crafts.
Just as some are drawn to painting or music. Whether they fill galleries with their work and make millions does not detract from their calling to paint, sing or play. It is an expression. To love it? Is a simplistic deduction that can only be assumed by those not doing. While the best saxophonist may simply play to no one at the end of a pier in the early morning hours, so too may the fighter stand toe to toe with another in the pits of a stinking gym before a familiar crowd of too few. They do it for a myriad of reasons, they are called to it because they are it and it is them.
Some are fascinated by fighting, they play martial arts or join social clubs to be in an atmosphere that makes them feel like they are proactive in the craft. They are not. Fighting is brutal, honest and savage. It is not a family environment. Its belts are not coloured fabric instead they are gaudy leather bound bling that only a few attain. Beneath their garish decorations are litres of blood, sweat and tears of the unknown braves that dared.
Fighting attracts industries of parasites that are drawn to its masculine violence, that derive income and reputation from the pain and suffering of actual fighters. The paying fans and obedient disciples do not mind, they are indifferent to the differences. Punch, kick, chop, all the same, right?
The above monetary tally does not include deductions due to injuries, time away from real work, expenses and all other costs. You gain some and you lose some. It is not all about the money anyhow, no its not. For most fighters it certainly is not, those paying to see the fights, sponsoring them, charging the tickets at the gates and pay per views, it however clearly is. But fighters can earn other prizes, invaluable ones. Or so the promises go.
The trophies, belts mean nothing. Most sit in a cupboard at my Mum’s house while others are in storage somewhere. They are sometimes hard to earn, harder to defend and tend to lose value when promoters and governing bodies make it hard for fighters to do either. They can be glorious and a point of pride but over time they are robbed of the glorious substance that they once had. The world heavyweight title that Joe Louis defended twenty-five times seemed to have more value to it than the one of many word heavyweight titles that lingers around in this age.
That does not mean that the fighters earning them, defending them, are any less hard working or talented. It simply means that more agencies and organisations may exist to profit from these fighters and their accomplishments. The fighters win a belt and the governing bodies, regulatory agencies and promoters earn an income. It is how it is.
Despite the many interactions that I experienced with fight promotions, for the most part I was treated better as a sparring partner when I joined James Te Huna’s camp on two occasions. Most of the fight promotions tended to only need a body to fill the card or a late notice replacement to take on a name or a heavier foe. This was not always the case as some promoters are nice, others however leave a bad taste in your mouth that tends to be associated with sore knees from the back of an alley.
As a sparring partner, I was respected for my experiences and skills. As a fighter, you tend to be treated as an expense that costs the promotion. An annoyance that is a necessary element in a grab at business or an ego drive in a masculine field. Fighting attracts those that elude the risk of violence due to their own insecurities but who enjoy the trappings of combat without ever having to suffer the pain and indignity of it. Most pimps never had to hook.
The regulators, governing bodies and officials are well meaning but are rent seekers that neither make the experience safer or smoother. I have fought in the barns of unnamed farms that had better outcomes for the fighters than shows with professional lanyard wearers telling fighters how to perform. In the end fighters are still hurt, stitched up poorly or the rules so excessively blathered into our faces are breached with indifference by the professional outsiders. Mistakes made by the fighters last a life time, those made by the officials also last a life time, for the fighters.
Even if the sport was outlawed tomorrow fighters will still fight. In fact, when the sport was in its ‘no holds barred’ days there seemed to be more gigs going. Fighters would fight in gyms, sheds, car parks and on barges for scraps just so that they may fight. This is why fighters are so easily exploited and are ever available as promotional fodder. Some may dabble once or a few times whereas others hold on for far too long, beating memories away with each incoming blow and easing into their sleep with bottles of tablets. Whether prescribed or not.
Most fight shows over time leave the fighter feeling more like a prostitute working in a brothel that is being run by insecure virgins than they do as respected professionals plying an ancient craft. Come to think of it, prostitution is an ancient craft respected enough that it is frequented by our apparent societal betters and elites. Fighters are disposable, they have a used by date. Those non-fighters that attach themselves to the craft, they tend to have long and lengthy careers.
Fighters often work against their own self interest and fight despite any prize or apparent ‘glory’. When a dishonourable being uses words like ‘hard work’, ‘glory’, ‘pride’ and ‘honour’ any substance and meaning tends to erode. In fact, these are words that are printed on T-shirts to be worn by those that have no idea what any of it means. They are seductive clichés used to employ willing fools to fight for nothing and to suffer for another’s ‘glory’. A hole in a men’s bathroom wall also has the word ‘glory’ fixed before it so take with you what ever meaning that has. Glory.
These are words used as hashtags or as inspirational slurs painted on gym walls to inspire those training for nothing of consequence. They are burps blasted out by steroid injecting statues as they stand in front of a client desperate to shed some weight for a summer wedding. Fighting is about objectives that stir in the swamps of dire consequence. Not a place for empty words to be used by empty vessels.
This is not a knock on fight promoters. Or the non fighting professional parasites. Many are awesome people. They are a necessity. But so is the fighter. In fact people are paying to watch the fighter not the dancing girls holding up numbers, the MC messing up the names, the referee getting in the way or the DJ playing some one elses music and yet all of those professionals go home compensated for their nights work. Some do not even need to prepare for it. The fighters, most of them go home sore, dejected and unpaid. Others kick themselves for not working that night, in their proper job. Others may get paid well, the few. BUT we fight regardless.
The injuries you incur tend to last a life time, the losses you suffer for what ever reason outshine any wins you ever have, a promoter’s promise is empty, you tend to want to hurt more people too cowardly to enter the cage than the man standing across from you that has caused you no ills or wrongs. You will often feel more guilt for hurting your opponent than you will any ‘glory’ in the win. Back patters will smugly tell you that you did good, when you injured that stranger as they bay for the blood of the next fight.
Your corner and friends will follow you back to the change room, win or lose they share in your agony and joy. Just as your foes do him. Sometimes you fight alone, no one to hold your bucket or to lift your spirits in defeat. Just a promoter that throws an envelope your way or whines that you didn’t earn it. Apparently the $500 will cost the man his house, as you ice your body and feel the cold of the backstage, the sting of your own or another’s defeat lingering. The roar of the crowd muted behind the scenes, an empty hotel room awaiting you as you must wait for a ride to take you, when you are far from home you are an inconvenience once the fights done. Like a regretful one night stand, they no longer need you. Next.
If you want to get access to the big gigs then you need to take the right fights and promote yourself. Often the most ugly and obnoxious personas outshine the modest and humble. The brash and ugly slanderer with little skills will fight on better shows long before the hard working and highly skilled mute. There are exceptions but social media followers and extroverted antics most certainly help sway the matchmakers pen more than any ‘boring’ talent will. The sizzle is more prized than the steak itself.
After all the fans are already interested, they follow the controversial and the vulgar. The highly skilled, they are boring to most, except to the ‘real’ fight fans. The ‘real’ fans who tend to down load the shows on torrents, stream them illegally and post under a fake name on forums. While the casual and boorish fan will pay for the PPVs, buy the merchandise, go to the shows and pay for beer at the bar showing the card. The ‘real’ fans however do tend to remember the fighters that fought five years ago, while the high paying casuals are only interested in those fighting in the next five minutes.
The gig is most of all meant to be entertaining. For the bigger gigs the fighter does not simply show up and fight, the ritual that one must undergo the weeks leading to the fight can be exhaustive. The training is the rest. The media, medicals, paperwork, photo shoots, travel, meeting, lectures, interviews, waiting and then doing it all over again. Until eventually the fighter gets to fight. And the afterwards on the bigger shows, the fighter is obligated to a press conference and after party.
They need to be on, and anything said or done that does not go down a specific path can be costly. The fans need to be entertained, the promoters can not be offended and the State officials need to be satiated. It is only when the fighters are in the backwaters of obscurity fighting where they began or long retired, and not involved in raising other fighters, can they display some honesty. The fans however, those with the power do not care. The next big thing has emerged. That other guy is over the hill and bitter because he is old and washed up.
Not that they were forced to bite their tongue or had to because they needed to feed their family or to ensure that they still got gigs. On low level shows, the ones I played for, one still needed to be respectful and show gratitude, however sincere or not it may have been, simply in the hopes that you can fight again. On the bigger shows, the stakes are far higher and so are the egos and power of the non-fighters.
Whether amateur or pro the athlete needs to urinate in front of others and surrender their dignity so that officials may test and prod them. To determine if they are taking anything illegal. What was legal yesterday may be illegal today and expecting athletes to stay active and fit well into their later years requires a little help. But the fans hate cheaters. Monday morning would be hard without that cup of coffee or three and yet fighters are expected to deny themselves such pep. The outcome is always fines and suspension and then fines. A lot of money is always to be made in writing rules. It is for the fighters safety though, like they get a say in it.
I have fought fighters whose urine would bring back the dead and those naturally aspirated, I simply do not care. I have broken the rules myself when my corner handed me an energy drink backstage, in that State it was a banned substance. I have been on shows with fighters who were being paid nothing, drove in themselves and had two days notice fighting monsters of men and they down scotch before they went into battle. Drug cheat.
I have seen genetic freaks born with six packs on their biceps who took nothing and bubbles of lard who take everything. Men who inject themselves with Ivan Drago’s cocktail who could not fight worth a damned and junk food eating phenoms that could obliterate a tank. But the officials and governing bodies in their war on the individual want$ a level playing field. A lucky punch, a well timed kick or a bad luck shot can all destroy any playing field however unlevel or level it may outwardly seem. It’s a fight.
In the end as a fighter one must ask themselves was it worth breaking a nice man’s arm for $250, in front of a crowd indifferent to either you after the fight is over?
If you fight to gain knowledge and experiences then you shall achieve both. Most will fall short of securing a career that does not leave you bitter or filled with regrets, how little or how much money you make may inspire your perspective depending on your personal philosophy but in the end there are kinder sports and ones that leave you filled with more self respect and dignity.
All those submission wins in the first round, really do not matter because a guy down the road selling promises and coloured fabric is held in higher regard. That is the message and that is the lesson. Ability and empirical evidence are meaningless in an age where reputation takes a backseat to accreditation and external material measuring sticks. A fighter is unrefined, poorly disciplined and boorish whereas a cult leader is smooth talking, skilled and a guru. The answers offered delve into the differences between religion and philosophy. Religion is always more popular. Live the philosophy regardless. But you will know what they were too frightened to ever dare learn.
Most people may prize the lies espoused by an ignorant expert than the hard earned knowledge gained by a grizzled veteran. If you are going to fight remember it is you entering the arena, not the cheerleaders, the people that click like on your photos or the instructor who can often be along for your ride. You may have fun, you may get hurt. Over time you will be worn down, stripped to the bare bones.
Find your path for yourself but beware the illusory trappings of deceitful apparitions that seem all too real in Youth as you ponder into the none too distant yonder. Regardless of this advice, fighters will always simply fight. And on goes the cycle.
Because I know despite it all, I still would.
Kym Robinson, June 2017.