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Comeback Season: Rebuilding a career after a loss

When contemplating fighters who need to rebuild their careers, many fans think of fighters on losing streaks that are tough to recover from. MMA has a long history of very talented fighters who’ve run into rough patches in their careers. The main factor in how fighters are able to rebound is the ability to observe losses as learning experiences rather than failures. Part of the reason fighters like Khabib is that they find plenty of areas to improve upon, even in what appear to be relatively flawless victories.

A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on Jul 7, 2019 at 8:48am PDT

The greatest champions are always able to look at themselves with a critical aspect and discover areas they can improve upon. Dan Gable, one of the most celebrated wrestlers in US history, lost his only match in college in the NCAA finals of his senior year to a sophomore (Larry Owens, University of Washington). Gable rebounded in 1971 & 1972 winning 6 gold medals in international freestyle competition, including winning the 1972 Olympic games. Not only did he win gold, but he also won 6 matches without allowing an opponent to score a single point. When interviewed after winning the gold medal Gable was asked to comment on his “perfect performance”. Like a true champion, Gable claimed he was far from perfect. He said he made plenty of mistakes and still had many areas he needed to improve upon. Gable also became one of the most dominant college coaches in NCAA history, leading the Iowa Hawkeyes to 15 D1 titles from 1976-1997. He evidently was able to teach others how to embrace his mindset, probably more important than the technical aspect.

Michael Bisping is a perfect example of an MMA fighter who persevered despite tough times. As a near 10-year MMA veteran at the time, from Jan 2012 to Nov 2014 Bisping went 3-4 including the terrible knockout loss to Vitor Befort that caused lifelong damage to his right eye. Bisping didn’t hang his head, instead, he went on a 5 fight win streak during 2015-2016 and captured UFC gold when he got revenge against Rockhold via KO at UFC 199. When you see results like Bisping had, it’s hard to blame somebody like Diego Sanchez for continuing to fight.

A post shared by Mikebisping (@mikebisping) on Jun 4, 2019 at 1:40pm PDT

We also have stories like Chael Sonnen, who recently nearly broke into tears when asked what he would say to his father (if he was still here) regarding falling short of his goal to become an MMA world champion. Choked up by the question (which I thought was not nice to ask), all Chael could say is he’d tell him “I tried my best”. There is no fault in trying if anything Chael will be able to genuinely say he kept trying about as long as anybody can in MMA. Despite never wrapping a belt around his waist Chael can say he beat multiple world champions over his 20+ year career. He also set the bar for self-promotion and PPV sales, cutting some of the most famous (or infamous) promos of all time. Maybe he was never a world champion, but he’s certainly one of the most influential and greatest fighters in MMA history.

A post shared by Chael Sonnen (@sonnench) on Jun 22, 2019 at 8:50pm PDT

There are many young and talented fighters who can look as amazing as they’re hyped to be or miserably fall flat. Sometimes both sides come true in just a few fights, Aaron Pico is a prime example. The 4-3 Pico has been knocked out in all 3 losses, he’s also decimated all opponents in his wins. Some say Pico started at too high of an MMA level too soon, that perhaps he got in over his head. Some think this early learning curve is exactly what he needs to understand the level he’s competing at so he can properly work on his game. But how does he improve? Frequently change camps for more well-rounded knowledge? Trust in one camp, stay consistent and hope the results work out? Pico has been bouncing around a lot and it’s difficult to tell if it’s helping or hurting because his results have been so drastically one way or the other. There are people like Jon Jones who stay dedicated to one gym, with incredible results. On the flip side, you have somebody like Valentina Shevchenko who constantly travels the world while training the entire time. Each person has to figure out their own path, what works for one may not work for another.

A post shared by Valentina Shevchenko (@bulletvalentina) on Jul 5, 2019 at 12:12am PDT

The young fighters, especially ones under 25, are entering the prime of their career. The younger the fighter the more they should embrace their losses and use them as fuel to learn and improve. Ariane Lipski started her MMA career 2-3. She then went on to win 9 straight fights before being signed to the UFC. Unfortunately, she has gone 0-2 in her first 2 fights on the bigger stage. It’s evident she’s adjusting to the step up in competition and there’s nothing wrong with that. Despite the losses she hasn’t been massively dominated, it appears a few tweaks to her game could yield great results. At only 25 years old she has more than enough time to adjust to the new level of competition, continue improving and start collecting some UFC victories against top-level opponents.

A post shared by Ariane Lipski (@arianelipski) on Jun 28, 2019 at 4:36pm PDT

The toughest time for fighters to choose their path is when they realize they’re past their physical prime. Only a very rare few will end up like Bisping & win a major belt in the twilight of their career. Most will fall short of that goal. Karolina Kowalkiewicz is 33 years old, on a 3 fight losing streak and has recently admitted that she’s likely nearing the end of her career. She also said as long as she continues fighting, she will promise to compete to the best of her abilities. When somebody speaks in this manner it’s evident they’re very competitive yet very blunt and realistic about life. We must all remember, as fans sitting on a couch, that people making the decision to fight for a living are constantly making extremely tough life decisions. The life of a professional fighter is a roller coaster ride that’s only understood by the people who do it. The more fans consistently respect this fact, the more fans will be able to appreciate all who dare compete in MMA; even the ones who “lose”. ■

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