“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
–Jackie Robinson

The music hits the speakers, and like a mythical hero of old, the fighter begins their slow lonely walk to cage. The crowd erupts, either in cheers or boos, as a modern day gladiator makes their way to ring alone. Most of the lights in the venue are dimmed, with only a few spotlights still on. The fighter is all alone in their own head. A thousand thoughts bounce around like toddlers given a Redbull. Confidence.Their gameplan. Remembering what their coaches have drilled into their minds, despite the chaos that has erupted mentally. Whether any fighter might admit to it, a small amount of doubt quietly chimes in among the hundred other thoughts fighting for attention.

In the midst of the internal commotion, fight fans have worked themselves into a frenzy. Maybe it’s the main event pitting two of the most well known and most accomplished fighters on the card against each other, or maybe it’s two relatively unknowns trying to step over one another as they climb up the ladder of success in the world of MMA. Either way, the fans cheer or they boo,thinking only of the violence that is about to be unleashed in front of their eyes.

As the fighter’s team joins them in the cage, unfurling their fight banner and giving last second advice, the crowd thinks little of what it took for the athlete to get to this point. Most fans would assume the athlete trained for the fight, and that the training was probably a little bit of work, but few truly comprehend the sacrifices made by these competitors for their enjoyment. The fans have come here for entertainment, not for appreciation and respect. Those are mature emotions that generally get in the way of a good time.

When the fight begins, the crowd waits with baited breathe. They erupt for punches or kicks that land, and lose their collective minds if someone is violently beaten. The more vicious or sudden the better. After the fight is over, and one fighter has their hand raised, the loser slips out of the cage unnoticed. Months and months of training and grueling work down the drain.

No one cares about the loser, they are too busy basking in the shared glory of cheering for the winner. After the card is over, fans might begin to think of the first person out of the cage, but when they do, it’s usually not pretty. Fighters receive vitriol and venom spewed at them from all angles. The advent of social media has increased access to our heroes and heroines, but it’s not always a pretty sight. Fans do not hesitate to insult and badger athletes.

This is not to say that all fans are blood thirsty vampires, but rather that most fans do not appreciate the sacrifices some athletes make to compete. MMA pays great to those on the top of the mountain, but the majority of fighters simply do not make enough money to support themselves and their families to train full time. Many have full time jobs to keep the heat on, and they train as much as possible around said job.

While many of us exercise after work, comparing twenty minutes on the treadmill to a fighter’s workout is like comparing your run on a treadmill to running a full marathon. Athletes train for hours on end, in multiple disciplines in order to stay competitive. Many train multiple times a day, each workout harder than an entire week’s worth of your average fan’s workouts. The amount of mental and physical energy it takes to work a nine to five job, and then go through a grueling two hour wrestling practice fifty or sixty times over the course of a fighter’s training camp is lost on the average fight fan sitting in their seat hoping for a knockout.

Once some level of success is achieved, the athletes can afford to go and train at gyms and training centers other than ones located in their hometowns. The process becomes even more grueling when you consider living on the road, away from your family for weeks on end as you prepare for the next bout that you might lose in your first thirty seconds in the cage. How would you feel if after months and months of preparation, your goal evaporated in front of thousands of fans in just a few seconds?

The harsh reality is that every fighter that enters the cage is not destined to become one of the all time greats. They aren’t all going to get their faces carved into the Mt. Rushmore of fighting. Fight fans do not need to cheer for every fighter that enters the cage. But they do deserve our respect for doing things that most of us do not possess the discipline or drive to do. It’s easy to boo a fighter who has just lost from the comfort of your couch, but you could also your silent respect for an athlete that put their body and livelihood on the line for your entertainment.

Some might say that, a lackluster effort can deserve booing, but a second on contemplation might change your mind. While it’s impossible to categorically state that all fighters give it their all in the cage, we can assume that in all likelihood that they are. There are a small percentage of fighters that seem to drop at the first hint of violence, impishly wilting under fire as soon as the proverbial match is lit. But the large majority of fighters have trained for months on end, grinding away from the public eye in some gym in a strip mall in the bad part of town. What possible reason could they then want to give it anything less than their all in the cage? Who in their right mind would train for months just so they could jump in the ring and let themselves get knocked out or arm barred in the first round?

It might be easy for you to recognize bad technique on a leg kick, or that an athlete should flip their leg over to get out of that triangle choke. But until you have kicked a bag a thousand times over the course of your three month training camp, and then stepped into the cage with another athlete ready to take your head off, you decide to give the fighter the benefit of the doubt for a second. If every fighter performed every move perfectly, and every defense perfectly, we would never have a winner. Fighters are human as well. They make mistakes, they get nervous, they get distracted.This doesn’t always mean they aren’t great at what they do, and more importantly it doesn’t mean they should be booed for attempting to entertain you.

A loss is a devastating event for a fighter. These athletes train under the premise that they are world destroyers. That no one can hurt them. When that façade is suddenly and violently smashed to pieces, it takes quite a bit of mental energy to overcome and move forward.The next time you watch a fighter lose, take a moment to consider all these things. You don’t have to be a fan of the fighter to respect them.

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