The following article was written for Fight Quality by Greg Wootton, a UK Muay Thai fighter, personal trainer and Coach.
It’s not easy being a fighter. Especially to be a great one. For decades we have been burdened with the stereotype of the simple minded brute. Fighting was once considered a poor man’s game, only chosen by those who didn’t have the brains to excel elsewhere. This, however, is changing.
Former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko has a PhD in sports science, speaks four languages and is an avid chess player. British boxer Nathan Cleverly has a degree in mathematics while Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez has an accounting degree. There are still a lot of fighters without degrees but this doesn’t mean that they don’t possess a lot of the esteemed qualities that academics do. A university degree these days doesn’t bear the same weight as it once did. What it does prove is the ability to apply yourself to study a specific subject in great depth. It implies the capability to study at a level beyond college which requires a certain level of intelligence and discipline.
Fighters invest an equal, if not greater, amount time and energy into their craft. The necessary skills to reach the top level can only be forged through countless hours of training, watching, learning and practicing. The difference between an academic body of work and the results a fighter strives towards and attains is really an empirical measurement. One can be easily and fairly measured whereas the other can’t. A scientific journal, essay, or article is far easier to assess and grade than a fight or technical skill level. There are far more variables to take into account with fighting. A fighter may have improved tenfold from two years intense training but can get caught with a lucky shot or come up in a mismatch against a far more experienced opponent. A loss in the ring does not equate to an academic loss or failure. It does not accurately reflect the discipline, sacrifices or time investment put in during training camp to improve. In fighting it’s not that simple and often it’s not that fair.
In theory there are belts to be won and grading systems that show the level of the fighter. Winning a world title or earning a black belt is assumed to take years of hard work to achieve. However even these accolades can have their validity questioned nowadays. This is largely due to the increase in promoters sanctioning their own world titles and black belts being given out to students based on dedication rather than skill. The title of world champion has changed from the golden era of there being 3 world title straps up for grabs, and if you won one of those, you were a legitimate world champion. Now there are a lot of world champions in different fight sports and the only way to tell how good they are is the quality of opponents they’ve faced. Whenever I talk to true fighters, who have lived and breathed it, it’s all about who you fought and when. The world titles may impress the average Joe but competing against top opponents in their prime is really what earns another fighters respect.
Regardless of what title a fighter holds and how credible that is, the sheer amount of time, energy and discipline they put in and applied to their sport still deserves the utmost respect. What if they had approached a different path with the same attitude and dedication as they did with their passion for fighting? I believe these “simple minded” fighters could become top lawyers, bankers and doctors if that was what had ignited their passion rather than the ring. They would also have a more tangible product to show for their work. Having something to show for their sacrifice and discipline that also reveals their intelligence and ability to learn would open up so many doors when it comes to finding a career after hanging up the gloves. The majority of martial artists and fighters spend their competing careers dreaming of a stable career and consistent income. Financial freedom and security are quite rare in the fight game.
But the game is changing. What we need now is for employers to look at sporting achievements and be able to recognise the valuable and transferable skills that sport teaches. Take the mental toughness it takes to push your body and mind beyond what you thought was possible. Or the courage involved to step into the ring, completely out of your comfort zone. To be solely alone in facing adversity along with whatever happens in that battle. Or the ability to pick yourself up again and again after the countless set backs in training, fighting and indeed in life itself. To get up, dust yourself off and relentlessly move forward to your end goal. Not many people have to face such challenges regularly in their everyday life. Fighters face them daily and the very act of continuing to train and fight consistently strengthen those priceless qualities. I know that a few retired England rugby players have gone on to become city traders and do well dealing with the constant stress and pressure of those jobs. And it comes as no surprise, as they have dealt with the same amount of pressure, whilst still producing results their entire sporting careers. If what it takes to be successful in fight sports was acknowledged and respected the way it deserves there would be no misconception of fighters being less intelligent or less accomplished people.
It is time for the stereotype of fighters being mindless barbarians to be broken. Combat sports involve and require much more than meets the eye. It is time they were viewed and respected for applying themselves with the same amount of diligence and perseverance that is automatically accredited to academics with degrees, masters and doctorates. Anyone who has ever laced up the gloves or worn a gi will know this already. For those that haven’t- it is time to acknowledge the fighter’s degree.
Greg “The Prodigy” Wootton is an athlete, personal trainer and coach from London, England.
Take a look at the other articles written by Greg here.