They say it requires a certain type of person to enter the cage. Or more specifically, it necessitates a certain type of psyche to be a fighter. Some scrappers suspect they are born with it (nature), others opine they develop it (nurture). Some state they were destined to be a fighter, while others offer different rationales for fighting.
For the former, the two entities are inextricably connected, person and fighter (ego and id respectively) one and the same, whilst for the latter, the human being that lives outside the cage is an entirely different beast to the one that exists inside the Octagon.
It’s a complex psychological discourse that would prove fascinating to research on a more profound level, but alas I must stop pretending to be a student. Hence, I will just briefly discuss the nuances of the topic.
What you discover upon investigating the mentality of MMA fighters is a vastly diverse array of mindsets towards the sport.
The first type of fighter, the über-fighter, does not choose to differentiate between person and fighter, but rather prefers to assert that fighting constitutes an inherent part of his DNA.
Consequently, the person who resides outside the cage is the same one who steps into it; there is no definitive dichotomy. The crossover between person and fighter proves equally seamless to the innate fighter as brushing one’s teeth of a morning (with the stigma attached to us Brits, maybe I shouldn’t bring up teeth), and doesn’t require any level of soul searching.
The extreme example would be Kimbo Slice, who epitomises the concept of the street fighter. Equally comfortable brawling in a supermarket car-parking lot as in a cage, for Kevin Ferguson the boundary between person and fighter appears to be non-existent.
Metaphorically, life is Kimbo’s cage, and he doesn’t require a squared circle to ply his trade. Ironically, Kevin Ferguson has become better known by his alias Kimbo Slice, signifying that he has come to be defined, and better recognised, as the fighter than the actual person.
Conversely, for some mixed martial artists, the person and the fighter are mutually exclusive, two separate beings: beauty (person) and the beast (fighter), if you will. The best example of this is provided by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Jackson’s explanation of how the person (Dr.Jekyll) gradually converts into the fighter (Mr.Hyde) is fascinating, illustrating the Memphis native’s quirky personality, self-awareness and intellect.
For Jackson, he even distinguishes between the two characters by name, with the person being the name his mother bestowed upon him, Quinton (with the implication that his mother would be proud of this figure), the one who endures the gruelling training, whereas it is his self-entitled moniker “Rampage” that steps into the octagon. Quinton trains, Rampage fights.
Jackson describes the progressive transition from Quinton to Rampage as the fight beckons, almost as if Jackson must awaken the beast that resides within Quinton and effectively summon Rampage from the depths of his soul, at which juncture Quinton does actually appear like a man possessed as he howls his way to the cage.
This is a clear case of split-personality; Jackson’s own personal way of making sense of the double life that he leads in and outside the cage, the different person he proclaims to be in different contexts.
I have heard fighters express the notion of returning back to normality after the adrenaline dump of a fight, but for some it can be instantaneous, whilst for others it proves a more gradual process, underscoring just how powerful this transition from person to fighter can actually prove. The chemical/hormonal changes in body and mind are evidently that dramatic and profound that it cannot always be reversed as automatically as an on/off switch.
How long does it require following the fight for Rampage to subside and Quinton to re-emerge? I wonder whether it was Quinton or Rampage who motorboated Karyn Bryant post-130?
Given that Rampage has humped a Japanese reporter, fondled an American interviewer and motorboated señora Bryant in the immediate aftermath of his fights, one must ascribe this reoccurring phenomenon to the abnormally high testosterone levels that “Rampage” is still experiencing at this particular juncture.
Indeed, as with Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, it would appear that Rampage (the other self) is capable of overpowering Quinton (the original self) even after the fight.
A fighter’s “other self” can even appear before a contest. In one of the most awe-inspiring MMA anecdotes of all time, Jon "Bones" Jones thwarted and apprehended a petty thief just hours prior to vying for the LHW strap against “Shogun” Rua.
Jon Jones’s alter ego, “Jonny Bones” would ordinarily only present himself in the cage, yet also appears on the odd occasion he happens to find himself in a situation to tackle a social malaise, akin to Clark Kent and Superman (hence becoming an avatar, Supreme Being sent from Heaven to earth, God incarnate). This adheres more closely to the notion of fighters being “good” people, which Dana so desperately seeks to perpetuate.
Jackson’s musings about the transition from Quinton to his second self, namely Rampage, pertains to the notion of the “alter ego”, a phrase coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists. Interestingly, an alter ego can also be applied to the role or persona taken on by an actor, or by other types of performers (wrestlers would be a prime example to utilise, with Terry Gene Bollea’s appropriation of iconic “Hulk Hogan” in the role of both Face and Heel).
Given Jackson’s recent foray into Hollywood, one can envisage that the distinction he has made throughout his fighting career readily mapped onto the realm of film, assisting Quinton’s ability to assume the role of B.A. Baracus.
Some skeptics may contend that deflecting responsibility is a form of self-rationalisation to rid oneself of guilt, conscious of the fact that physically attacking another human being is essentially inhumane, or at least incorrect conduct, harkening back to this intrinsic notion of fighting being “bad.” The idea that “it is not me in the cage, it is someone else” certainly helps to vindicate one’s role as a fighter by attributing the actions to “another.”
Indeed, irrespective of whether it is a sport that embodies competition between two consenting adults, breaking the concept of fighting down to its bare bones, it essentially entails hurting another person, and for this reason, some fighters may have to adopt an alternate mindset, especially those that are not inherently predisposed to combat.
Dana has reiterated on many an occasion “we're all human beings and fighting's in our DNA. We get it and we like it,” attributing our penchant for fighting to sheer genetic composition. However, the fact remains that not every person is genetically inclined to inflicting damage on another human being.
We may be fascinated with the idea of ascertaining the most dominant realm of combat, but not all of us are immanently cut out to do it. And counter-intuitively, it transpires that even for some fighters there’s a genuine conflict of interest between competing and the inexorable reality of having to cause detriment to a fellow person. These fighters are just not innately angry or aggressive enough to want to fight someone without prior mental preparation.
Even more intriguing is the fighters who are devoutly religious outside of the cage, complete pacifists who can fight someone inside the cage with their conscience intact, safe in the knowledge that MMA is a profession. Jon Jones, whose father is a pastor, boasts a Philippians 4:13 tattoo that suggests he believes it is Christ who actually provides him with the necessary strength to compete.
Ben Henderson is an extremely pious individual with Angel wings tattooed onto his entire back, and Phil Davies proudly reads the Bible on a daily basis. Rich Franklin’s favourite passage Psalm 144:1 (“Blessed be the LORD my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight”), adorns his personal website homepage and intimates that it is the Lord who prepares him for battle.
Krzysztof "The Polish Experiment" Soszynski, a man whose intimidating appearance completely belies his affable character, is always quick to remind fans that he has never had a fight outside a cage, nor has he even been tempted to. K’SOS has no desire to fight aside from those three rounds he is enclosed inside a cage on three occasions per annum.
Pat Barry is similarly somewhat of a pacifist who readily admits to questioning his role as a fighter during the build-up to each fight in which he participates, even labelling his decision to fight as “stupid” and opining that fighters must be a little bit off-kilter to partake in a sport in which damage is an inescapable by-product. Pat regularly considers jettisoning the sport that has facilitated his childhood aspiration to become a ninja, and will even confess an aversion to being pummelled in the face, an aberration given MMA’s unswerving machismo.
Contrary to popular belief, even quintessential brawler Chris Leben will openly declare that he doesn’t necessarily like fighting, but instead that it provides him with an opportunity to prove and unburden himself of issues. Echoing the sentiments of Barry above, Leben originally questioned the point of fighting, claiming it was “retarded,” a thought which vividly returns to him when encountering petrifying adversaries such as Wanderlei Silva.
For others, like Joey Beltran, he appears to thrive on receiving punishment, as if by some perverse form of logic he seems to grow in strength with every hit (I’m envisioning a computer-game bar that denotes “power” levels), as if the punching reminds him he is in the midst of a fight and awakens his inner beast.
Dominick Cruz loves fighting so much that for his first four professional bouts, he was at a financial deficit, paying more in medical bills than he was being remunerated for competing.
For certain fighters, the cage is where they feel most comfortable, most at ease with their spirit. For such combatants, fighting is a compulsion, with Josh Koscheck proclaiming that he is only completely happy when inside the cage. Koscheck even appears to showcase a pair of “alter egos” (ego, id, superego); there is Josh the regular guy (when he is at home), Josh the trash-talker (pre-fight presser), and Josh the mixed martial artist (in the cage).
Even though “The Natural” has repeatedly asserted that he fell in love with the competitive facet afforded by the sport of MMA, rather than the actual fighting per se, Randy eventually grew to call the octagon “home.” It's why he rescinded his retirement on a number of occasions and why many fighters find it so difficult to hang up their gloves.
Ironically, it's the old oxymoronic notion of the “gentle giants,” physically imposing, towering specimens that would not hurt a proverbial fly outside of competition.
Whilst undoubtedly ferocious when they step into the cage-door, individuals such as Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, and Mark Muñoz are improbably friendly outside of it. Cain is shy and retiring (reticent even to level criticism at somebody who has insulted him), whilst JDS spent more time embracing his students than instructing them on TUF 13.
Furthermore, within seconds of brutalising a fellow fighter inside the Octagon with sang-froid (for you Matt Sacc), upon visiting with Joe Rogan, Mark Muñoz converts back to the equally laissez-faire (and again) character that resides extrinsic of the UFC. There is hardly a perceptible discrepancy between Muñoz the family man (“The Filipino Gent”), and “The Filipino Wrecking Machine,” the man who has just KO’d somebody. This instantaneous transition back to normality is phenomenal, it almost beggars belief.
There is no more courteous, upstanding individual in the whole of MMA than Georges St. Pierre. The epitome of a PR/marketer’s dream, the guy proves almost robotic in his apparent flawlessness.
GSP is such an innocuous chap that it actually pains him to make fight predictions, in the worry that he may offend one of his contemporaries. An insanely-talented mixed martial artiste (and not a “fighter” per se in his own words), he unashamedly reveals his vulnerability when he discusses being bullied as a youth, though he vehemently asserts that he would shake the hands of his teenage tormentors, rather than exact excruciating revenge.
GSP is loath to physically impair an adversary, a fact attested to by Stephan Bonnar’s spoof MMA range “Trash Talking Kids,” in which a caricature of Georges, karate headband and all, is depicted wheeling a downtrodden cage victim to the hospital. Indeed, injuring another person is an inauspicious corollary of the profession for Georges, unfortunate yet ultimately unavoidable.
And the gentleman that inhabits the vast majority of MMA fighters also showcases itself in certain circumstances even in the midst of battle. If a fighter accidentally executes an illegal manoeuvre inside the Octagon, he will ordinarily gesture an apology towards his opponent and gloves will be touched to symbolise recognition of the culprit’s contriteness, and the victim’s forgiveness. The fighter settles down, and the compassionate human being surfaces in such instances.
Also, when an opponent is visibly “out for the count” the more humane of fighters will choose to terminate the proceedings at this juncture without inflicting any unnecessary extra punishment upon the defeated. Recent examples abound, including Sam Stout, who ecstatically jumped out the way of a KO’d Yves Edwards prior to the referee’s intervention, and Matt Mitrione, who nonchalantly turned away from downed opponent Christian Morecraft.
Aside from informing us that he “pisses excellence” (incidentally, does that mean that he craps perfection?), Mitrione also announced to the Pittsburgh faithful via the microphone of Joe Rogan that “"This time I saw his eyes roll back. I knew he was done. I understand this is a sport and we're [gladiators] and bloodthirsty, but you don't do [expletive] like that." “Meathead”, Mitrione’s alter ego, can even make a distinction between fighter and person mid-fight, when testosterone levels must be soaring. It’s the ultimate paradox of ultimate fighting, gentlemen trapped within brutes who demonstrate the utmost respect in the heat of battle.
So there you have it, some MMA luminaries are person and fighter forever intertwined, whilst for others the fighter that operates inside the Octagon is an entirely different beast to the one who goes to visit his mother for Sunday lunch. For the former, fighting comes as easily as breathing in the air around them, for the latter, they must tap into their inner beast.
follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!