I’m not really a fan of UFC fighting. To be honest, I’m not really a sports fan at all. I’m one of the few guys I know, that truth be told, could care less about sports. When I was fourteen years old, most of my friends were joining my high-school football, baseball or basketball teams. I decided to take guitar lessons in lieu of playing sports and my fate was sealed. I didn’t really think I had time to study, devote myself to an instrument AND play sports. So I chose music instead.
However, from time to time, because so many of my friends like sports, I get talked into going to various sporting events. To be honest, I almost always enjoy myself. Whether it’s going to a baseball game, a football game or just getting together with a few friends to watch something like a UFC fight on TV, like I did last weekend, I always end up having a good time. Which makes me think, maybe I do sort of like sports. I just don’t like them enough to read about or follow on a regular basis. But what I do like is the group dynamic of getting involved in watching two teams or two opponents compete for victory. I like picking a side and getting involved in the emotions of either watching a team or opponent win or lose. Ok, I admit it, it’s pretty cool actually. It’s sort of a ritualistic experience that is in many ways a metaphor for life. The struggle, the highs and lows, the ups and downs, a clear victor and a clear loser… all played out in a matter of a couple hours, or in the case of fighting, a few minutes. Just writing and thinking about sports this way makes me sort of “get it”.
So the other night I got invited to watch the UFC fight between Irishman Conor McGregor and American Chad Mendes at a nearby tavern in my neighborhood. For those of you who don’t follow the UFC, Mendes and McGregor were fighting for the interim featherweight title in the main event of the night. I was watching the fight with a fairly diverse group of friends, many of whom are natives of other countries, including one friend from Ireland. The crowd was pretty split in who they supported. Since I didn’t really know anything about either fighter, I chose by default to root for the American, Mendes. I’m not really a huge patriot, but let’s face it, Americans are awesome at lots of things and well, I’m American, so it’s fun to root for my “team”.
During the first round, it appeared, by all counts, that Mendes was clearly winning the fight. Mendes opened a huge cut outside McGregor’s right eye and spent most of the round on top of McGregor, firing elbows to his face. Like I said, I don’t really follow the UFC, or know that much about fighting per se, but it looked to me like McGregor was, in technical terms, getting his ass kicked. Although I didn’t really care who won, I have to admit that after a few beers it sure felt like I cared. I was cheering as loudly as anyone else in my group for Mendes and I got swept up in the joy of watching “my guy” obliterate his opponent. At the conclusion of the first round, I think I even high fived a few people who were also supporting Mendes. It was a good moment to be an American I thought. Here was one more thing we clearly dominated at. My head was held high, but little did I know that I’d be swallowing my pride just a few minutes later.
At the beginning of the second round, the same pattern that was established in the first round continued. Mendes took McGregor to the ground and continued to elbow McGregor repeatedly in the face. I have to confess that my sensitivity kicked in a little in the second round. As much fun as it is to see two grown men beat each other to a pulp for my entertainment value, these are actually real people and it was hard not to feel a little sympathetic for McGregor, who at this point had blood streaming down his face. As much as I wanted Mendes to be the victor, this just seemed a little too brutal. I cringed a few times at some of the blows Mendes made.
But then, towards the end of the second round, things changed very quickly. McGregor somehow made his way out of the position that Mendes had him in for most of two rounds and managed to stand up. When both fighters were on their feet, McGregor quickly landed a hard right and then followed it with a blistering left hook that dropped Mendes to his feet. When Mendes dropped, McGregor followed him to the ground and landed several more hard shots before the referee stopped the fight at 4:57 of the second round. In a matter of seconds the excitement I was feeling for Mendes and what I thought would be his imminent victory was over. McGregor won the title.
As I sat there, feeling a little defeated, my Irish friend came over and defiantly yelled at the group I was sitting with. “McGregor had just been biding his time all along” my friend declared. “He was just waiting for the right moment to strike”, he added. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. It looked to me like McGregor was getting dominated, and then in an instant it all changed. While I listened to my friend continue his proud, alcohol fueled rant about how much of a superior fighter McGregor is and why he was the clear victor all along, it occurred to me what a great metaphor for life what I had just witnessed is.
Have you ever known someone who seemed to be down and out for years, headed down the wrong path, and then they make a few smart choices and everything changes for the better? Or maybe you’ve experienced shifts like this in your own life, where things are headed one direction and you try and try to change and nothing happens until you get the right insight or revelation and then things seem to shift in magical ways. Sometimes all it takes is a few small changes to make big differences in our lives and careers. The difference between you not making it in the music business or making it, could be just one phone call or email away. It might feel like you’re being pinned to the mat, taking blows to the face, but you can still get up and find your “right hook” that will change it all.
At the end of the night, as I sat contemplating the fight that I just saw, I realized, I still could give a shit about the UFC or sports in general. I didn’t really care who won or lost the fight in the same way that I don’t really care if the Cubs or the Bears win games they play. It doesn't really affect me. But what I do care about is what sports represent, which to me is the idea that if you train hard and prepare yourself, you can get knocked down, to the point where your loss seems inevitable, and then get back up and land a hard right hook at just the right time and win it all, in an instant.