Most casual and even a decent chunk of hardcore fans are completely unaware or pitifully unsympathetic to the plight of poverty so many professional grapplers and MMA fighters deal with as part of their routine lives.
Pat Barry, fortunately the winner of his bout against Antoni Hardonk at UFC 104 as well as two additional performance bonuses, nevertheless came into the fight with little more than the clothes on his back and just enough food to not starve. Literally:
FiveKnuckles.com: You were very emotional in your post-fight interview. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Pat Barry: Hey man, I showed up to this fight broke. When we got to Los Angeles on Tuesday, I had ZERO dollars to my LIFE. I'm not even joking around. I had nothing sitting in the bank, nothing under the mattress at home, not even a piggy bank; nothing at all. Two days before we got to LA, I was literally eating white rice and ketchup. I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want anybody to worry or figure I was taking this fight for the money because I really wanted to fight. Financially I had nothing. I had no choice but to win.
The callous among us will respond with the perennially off-the-mark and banal "but fighters and grapplers choose this lifestyle. They accepted the risk that's inherent in trying to become a successful professional". This is true, of course, but hardly the issue.
The reality is that every fighter or grappler who dreams of success has to believe they are capable of it. And if they believe they are capable of that degree of success, they have to push themselves to obtain it. We all know mathematically that only a handful will ever reap any sort of financial reward, but none of us going into the process know for certain who that will be. Eventually these competitors must face the grim reality that high-level, financially secure futures from fighting are not in the cards. Eventually most fighters and grapplers have to wrestle with this cold reality.
But it's easier to describe this process than it is to be human and gut through it. Not only is there the ultimate sense of failure and a question about one's true identity after dreams are deferred, but there is the outrageously difficult, poverty-stricken lifestyle that virtually all fighters must endure to move the needle of their career even beyond the outset. That some eventually fall victim to it is not something we can shrug off as prosaic simply because exceptionally daring men and women chose to accept the risk so willingly. In fact, it only reinforces my point. There's a hell of a risk involved with this pursuit and that risk should carry some measure of respect and humanity from us.
Part of being a responsible member of the MMA community lies in understanding the application of humanity, be it in stoppages, fight regulation or acknowledging suffering. What I often find so strange among the community are those that seem outraged on slightly late stoppages, but cruelly avoid ever acknowleding the toll the fight world takes on the vast majority of its competitors. There isn't only a selectively applied bias in that situation, there's also a selfishness underpinning the entire outlook.
The fight game machine is cruel to but a few and one cannot lay claim to the spoils of war without also acknowledging the costs that came with it.
Others can continue to turn a blind eye towards fighters daring to be human and fulfill a dream or a hope. I chose to forgive them for being human.