I am not what you would call an avid follower of sport. Of any kind.
Yet I have been following the career of Ronda Rousey over the past few years. I watched as she became a star I the UFC and of the media; watched as she changed peoples views on women in mixed martial arts, just as I saw her seemingly shamed by the media and the lay-man when she was trounced for the first time in the octagon. I hated seeing that. I, like most, waited with much anticipation to see how she would respond. I didn’t so much care about what gnarly skill set she would return to the arena with or the plumes of glory that might follow her. I was more interested in what that kind of loss might do to an individual; of how a mind copes with, heals from such an event. The other night, Rousey returned to the ring for the first time since her loss. She was defeated again. Within 47 seconds.
It hurts seeing a champion lose.
There is something painful in watching someone place so much of themselves on an outcome, only to see them hollowed out as it is snatched from their hands. It hurts even more so when that loss is a physical one. There is a complete sense of humiliation inherent in such a beating, for the viewer as well as the victim. To stand toe to toe and lose to a points decision is no great shame. You took the others worth and it was simply a matter of semantics that you lost. Then there is the other kind.
In boxing, or martial arts of any kind there is a loss of capacity, a flailing helplessness which accompanies that devastating blow, that throw of the fist through luck or design which marks the end of ones ambition and the fulfilment of anothers. A once great athlete, chiselled from stone, strong, powerful, unwavering, is turned to a rubber mannequin left too long in the sun; arms of hollow purpose, legs twisted beneath as they struggle to hold onto the world.
It is a sad and horrible vision.
A helplessness washes over them, you see it in their face, a complete sense of confusion. I remember seeing George Foreman’s visage as he fell victim to Ali’s infamous ‘rope-a-dope’ ruse. It was the face of a child; small, fearful and alone. It asked, “why?” and the only response came from the canvas.
The only real response to such a question, to seeing a mountain fall is that all things must end. You fight long enough, you will be defeated. It is inevitable. Mathematically certain.
Of course, the alternative would be to not try. If you never reached for the sun, you would never get burnt, but you would miss the journey, the lessons learnt in the trying. There is a lot of life between your hand and the suns and, surely, the risk of being burnt is worth that knowing?
Perhaps a fighter’s loss should not be the focus of our attentions, but instead we should look at what they have done to earn that defeat. The greater the loss, the greater the previous achievement. We don’t tend to care if a shooting star loses in a scuffle, but when someone who has worked, has toiled a hard road to get to that point loses, we shed bloody tears with them.
Rousey felt like something special to a lot of people. She lost. She tried again. She lost. She may yet return though I, personally, hope she enjoys a happy retirement. Fighters are, in general, an emotionally fragile group. There seems to be a need to place your entire self worth on the winning of a title; in the defeat of your opponent. When the road turns the other way, many fighters talk of falling into suicidal lows, of a complete stripping of their being.
Yet the truth is that they made it. They touched the sun, but for a moment. It burnt them, certainly, but how many can say they did the same?
There is no loss in trying. There is no shame in reaching for the impossible.