I remember the first time the realization that I might lose crept across my oxygen-deprived mind. It was my very first fight. My wife was there. All the Marines from my shop were there. My coach—also my battalion sergeant major—was calling to me, but as my opponent sunk his choke in a bit deeper, his voice began to fade.
Fortunately for me, I was able to hold out long enough to get my chin tucked again and squeeze in just enough air to keep me from passing out. In training, I tap all the time, but in a tournament you’ll have to drain every last bit of life out of me to take home a win. It turns out that despite my sloppy attempt at a double leg, and the panic that set in as I began to fade beneath my opponent’s well-placed chokehold, he didn’t have the mustard to put the fight away, and I was able to eek out my first victory, though glamorous it was not.
As I watched Ronda Rousey get pummeled on Friday night, I knew deep inside that she’d come to the cage thinking about what this fight could do for her Hollywood career, and that her newfound fame and fortune makes a comeback less likely than ever. It’s hard to be hungry when you have a personal chef. What I didn’t expect, however, was to recognize that same fear I felt in the “Rowdy” one. Her demeanor has always been supremely confident, her acting—though robotic and unimpressive—has solidified the image of her in my mind. It didn’t seem like the woman was capable of doubt.
But we all are, and as that first solid right hand put Rousey on her heels, I watched a flash of reality flutter across her face. It seemed like that was the very instant she realized she might not be as tough as she thinks she is. I know that feeling. I experienced the very same thing in front of a much smaller crowd in Southern California, as a man with black nail polish on nearly put me to sleep in front of my Marines.
When I got up this morning, I did my usual perusal of news sites and social media, and found pictures and memes from the fight on each. Most of them showed Rousey’s face in various states of misery in between blows from the UFC champ, Amanda Nunes, and although some of them were pretty funny (I have to admit), I couldn’t help but feel for Rousey.
It isn’t that she lost—we all lose sometimes—nor was it that she took such a sound beating. It was because I know where she is mentally this morning: struggling, perhaps for the first time, with the idea that she just might not be good enough. We work so hard to define ourselves in our own social and professional spheres: soldier, shooter, fighter, or accountant. We strive to succeed, and while we may occasionally stumble, we keep moving because we’re convinced that we’re good enough to be further toward the top—we’re good enough to bring home a belt, close that deal, or accomplish that objective. Some of us are lucky enough, however, to climb so high that we reach our own limits. A natural barrier between us and our goals, where no amount of training, or practice, or sheer power of will can bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be.
The truth of the matter is, I never would have won a UFC or other major belt, though I’ve rolled with a few guys that have, and although we were peers in training, we never were in the cage. I was a neighborhood tough guy. They were professional fighters. I worked, struggled, trained, sweat, and bled with them, but there was a natural limit to what I was capable of. A limit I never looked in the eye until my vision started to blur due to oxygen deprivation.
I’m not saying we should stop picking on Rousey. This was the job, and she knew the price of admission when she stepped in that ring, but while I’ve reveled in watching some fighters’ fall from grace, I can’t revel in this one. I’m not a Ronda Rousey fan, but I saw too much of my own embarrassment, my own fear, in her face Friday night to laugh now.
All warriors eventually find themselves in a box or behind a desk. It’s the nature of the job; whether it’s real war or for sport, we all have those limits. Rousey could come back. She may redouble her efforts and learn from this lesson in mortality. But if she doesn’t, I offer this bit of advice from a guy who was lucky enough to escape the fighting game without any losses (luck being the operative term): Be humble in defeat, but be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Most of us never get to reach our full potential, and we pass on wondering what if?
Getting the chance to know is a victory in itself.
Image courtesy of Getty Images