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September 2017: Combat Sports - A Brutal Reality Check


Life is brutal, reality is harsh but more and more these days people have become accustomed to the soft, sterile, anti-bacterial world that many of us occupy. This is one of the reasons I like combat sports, because unlike the happy Hollywood endings the film world provides us and the “everything works out fine in 30 minutes” sitcoms we watch, combat sports do not give a rat’s ass about your feelings.

As a grown man, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but each and every time I watch one of my favorite movies, “Homeward Bound”, a tear never ceases to roll down my cheek during  that final scene where the lost animals come running over the horizon to reunite with their owners. It’s such a feel-good moment to know that two dogs and a cat (who can somehow communicate telepathically with each other in English) overcame the incredible odds of surviving in the wild to somehow find their way home to their loved ones who had been searching for them the whole time.


Homeward Bound (1993)

Hollywood, just like professional wrestling, lives by the rule of “sending them home happy”, but combat sports gives absolutely zero fu*ks about anyone going home with a smile on their face. Take Ronda Rousey, for example, one of the most intense UFC athletes ever, an Olympic medal winner and the fighter who almost single handedly popularized women’s MMA. Her incredible twelve fight winning streak had the world captivated until … well … until Holy Holm kicked her in the head. BUT!! But, but, but , but, but! Maybe it was just a fluke? Maybe it was just a lucky kick? Maybe the UFC’s cash cow who’s responsible for drawing the biggest gate in the history of the UFC (more than 56,000 fans in attendance) could come back stronger than ever and not only reclaim her title, but reclaim her spot as combat sports’ first lady.


Holly Holm KOs Ronda Rousey at UFC 193

So she cuts herself off from all media, goes into intense preparation, hones all of her skills and it’s time for her big comeback. It’s MMA’s greatest comeback story ever. All she has to do is win and everyone’s happy. Ronda’s happy because she’s redeemed herself, the UFC’s happy because their meal ticket is drawing big at the box office again and little girls all around the world can smile once more knowing that their role model has retaken her seat upon the UFC throne. But once again, combat sports has other plans. Nunes picked her apart like a vulture.

Another quick story from a fight I saw in Poland over the past weekend. I give the guy all the respect in the world. He was announced as being 51 years old … making his debut!! That tells me that this is not a fight for money, fame or chicks. He’s doing this for himself. Maybe it was a lifelong dream or maybe it was because of his son, who is an incredible kickboxer (one of the most aggressive and powerful I’ve seen in Poland). As he came to the ring, he walked up the ramp in perfect time with the most emotional part of his entrance music, pumping his fists in the air as the local crowd who knew him were cheering and chanting his name. During the fight he was doing all he could to stop his opponent, throwing some heavy punches. His technique was not crisp, but his heart was big and with his son in his corner and the local fans behind him it seemed he couldn’t lose. When the knockout came, it came out of nowhere, a right hook under the eye. He was unconscious before he hit the canvas and when he did hit the canvas, he dropped hard. The thud of his skull thumping off the ring was sickening. Screams and gasps of terror rang out for a split second and then a hush fell over the crowd. A very uncomfortable few moments hung in the air like smog before he was finally stretchered out of the building and taken to the hospital.

Maybe my tone sounds harsh or cynical. If I does, it is not my intention. I have all the respect in the world for the amount of hard work each of the athletes I’ve mentioned have put into their careers. There’s just this fascination I have with the darker side of combat sports - the side that rears its ugly head quite often and decides that no matter how good your intentions are or how hard you work or how uplifting and inspirational your story is, it’s going to smash your dreams to pieces anyway.

Maybe my point of view comes from my own tragic experiences as a wrestling promoter. Growing up, I was always told that if you have a dream, no matter what happens, if you work hard enough, it will come true. How incredibly naïve I was. For seven long years I tried to realize my dream of starting Poland’s first ever professional wrestling promotion and bringing it to some kind of mainstream success. But the longer I tried, the more I realized that people in this country just don’t care enough about professional wrestling to ever get behind my dream. The longer I promoted the clearer it became that it was like trying to pound a round peg into a square hole. The worst part was that in order to achieve even the slightest bit of success, I had to sacrifice more than what made it worth it. When I finally closed the promotion in summer of 2015 it felt like I’d just wasted seven years of my life, seven years that I would never get back.


Don Roid (me) in a wrestling match (2010)

Fighting doesn’t care if you’re black or white. Fighting doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight. Fighting doesn’t care if you’re Christian or Muslim. It doesn’t care where you’re from or what you’ve had to overcome to get there. Fighting doesn't care how attractive you are or how many followers you have on Instagram. It doesn’t even care if this is everything you’ve ever wanted in life since you were a child. In every fight there are winners and losers. But as Rocky himself once said

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”


Until next month, this is Daniel Austin encouraging you to keep moving forward (and keep your hands up).

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)




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