Channeling Defeat: The Importance of Self-Assessment

"You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates."

-- Richard M. Nixon, former U.S. President

Losing sucks. Anyone who has every put on the pads in football, laced up the Nikes in basketball or tucked in their jersey in baseball can tell you that losing is like getting kicked in the gonads. The toughest of men have been reduced to tears; images of tattooed up super-athletes crying into a towel have been a part of the sports landscape for as long as I can remember watching (and participating in) sports. The emotions of losing are exponentially increased in MMA as there is no team in the cage, it's just you and your opponent.

Ben Foulkes, of, wrote an interesting piece about concerning this very subject. The following is an excerpt:

Imagine you've spent the last six to eight weeks preparing for one moment. Imagine your entire future – your finances, your career path, even your identity – will be shaped by what happens in that moment. You've suffered for it, made every sacrifice you can think of for it. It's the only thing that seems to matter.

Now imagine that when the moment arrives, you blow it. You blow it so clearly and so completely, there is no point in even discussing whether or not you've blown it. Even if you wanted to forget about it, a quick Google search yields videos of you blowing it, along with thousands of words from reporters and bloggers and message-board posters describing in excruciating detail how thoroughly you blew it and opining on what the rest of your life will look like post-blowing it.

Go through that, then see if you want to do it all again a few months later. See if you can walk back in there without feeling yourself hovering over that void, just waiting to drop.

And this is true. Especially in today's world of high technology and instant gratification. One bad move and you could end up on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays of the Week -- just on the wrong end -- ask Dave Branch, who was slammed into unconsciousness by Gerald Harris at UFC 116. One mistake and the image of your demise ends up being immortalized in MMA infamy, ask Rampage Jackson who was kneed into oblivion and eternalized in the infamous picture seen above.

In MMA, losing is an inevitablity. The game is ever-changing and evolving. Styles make fights and with so many ways to go down in defeat, if you fight at a high-level of competition, you will eventually end up on the losing end. With the recent first "real" loss of MMA demi-god Fedor Emelianenko (as his actual first loss has basically been bleached from the annals of history), fans and fighters allike realize that everyone, no matter how revered they are, no matter how skilled they appear, everyone will lose. The true question is "How will they deal with the loss?"

"It's called locus of control. Something happens, you lose the fight, but how do you make sense of that? Is it, the ref blew the call or the guy was greased or you took the fight on short notice? That's external locus of control. Internal is, 'You know, I didn't execute. My corner said to take him down and I didn't. They said circle right and I circled to his strong side. I did this.' The research is pretty clear that people who attribute it to something they did – whether it's true or not, it doesn't matter – they're going to be more successful than the people who constantly talk about bad luck or the ref or bias or whatever."

-- Dr. Ted Butryn, an associate professor of Sports Psychology at San Jose State University

This is not the first time I have heard of the "locus of control" theory. During a college social psychology course, we discussed locus of control in relation to dating and how one deals with rejection and how that will effect your future success. Those that saw the rejection as a result of something being wrong with themself (like looks, approach, etc.) were more successful in future success than those that saw the rejection as a result of uncontrollable variables (like "he/she is a bitch", he/she was having a bad day, etc.). And the same applies in MMA. We've seen time and time again fighters making excuses for losses and not focusing on themselves and how they caused the loss. Tito Ortiz is notorious for this after losses, constantly attributing poor performance to injuries or a "bad training camp".

In the above interview done a couple of weeks after his brutal knockout to Lyoto Machida, formerly undefeated light-heavyweight Rashad Evans talks about how the fear of losing affected him in the gym and cause poor performance during training. He then speaks on how the loss was a great thing to happen to him because it puts things in perspective. Evans was asked directly whether it was the "gameplan" (external) or the "execution" (internal) which caused the loss to which he replied "Fact of the matter wasn't a good fight for me". Clearly Rashad chose to focus on what he did in his first loss and work on improving his game. His subsequent results have proven that choice to be the correct one as he has two straight wins over top 10 fighters and has worked his way back into title contention.


Brock Lesnar, the current UFC Heavyweight Champion, knows all about the effects of a loss. A competitive animal by nature, Lesnar chose to face former UFC champion Frank Mir in only his second MMA bout, losing to Mir by submission in ninety seconds. Immediately following the match, Lesnar told Joe Rogan "No excuses, he's a top-notch jiu-jitsu guy and he got me tonight. He's the better fighter". He further expounded upon this in the post-fight press conference relaying the story of losing his first amateur wrestling match and how his coach explained to him that he had to learn how to lose, before he could learn how to win; it's how you deal with the loss that determines your future success. Lesnar went back to the gym, worked harder than before on the holes in his game and has been undefeated since, including besting Randy Couture for the title at UFC 91 and avenging his only loss at UFC 100 in devastating fashion. 

Matt Hammil, season 3 The Ultimate Fighter competitor, knows all about losing. He fought TUF 3 rival Michael Bisping in Bisping's backyard of England at UFC 75 losing in controversial fashion in a split decision most observer insist he won. Hamill could've blamed the loss on bias and point the finger at the judges, instead Hamill said he was not surprised by the decision and Bisping beat him "fair and square". Frankie Edgar was outmuscled and outwrestled by Gray Maynard at UFC Fight Night 13. Edgar could've easily pointed to the size difference (Edgar can easily make 145) as the attributing factor, but he took the loss and worked himself up to the top and eventually defeated the UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn at UFC 112.

The previously mentioned men have several things in common but the most important is that they all suffered their first loss and they all rebounded back from it and achieved success in the UFC. So what does the future hold for recent first-time losers Lyoto Machida, Shane Carwin and Fedor Emelianenko? Perhaps the answer lies in how each man digests defeat. Machida has has nο excuse fοr thе loss, saying that Shogun Rua "wаѕ better thаn mе οn thаt night” and that now he feels prepared and motivated and ready to face new challenges. Emelianenko felt that his loss was "necessary" for him and stoically spoke "Those who do not fall, never learn to stand". Carwin initially pointed at bronchitis as the culprit for gassing out in his title fight against Lesnar at UFC 116. Subsequent culprits have been his "body seizing up", lactic acidosis and an "adrenaline dump". Recently, Carwin admits that he "punched himself out" after hearing referee Josh Rosenthal tell Brock that he was going "to stop the fight".

While the future is uncertain for those three men, we have seen examples of how blaming outside circumstances instead of your own performance can hinder you in future bouts. Diego Sanchez, who moved to 155 while in a skid at 170, lost to BJ Penn at UFC 107. Choosing to focus on how the cutting affecting his body and may have caused his loss, Sanchez moved back up to 170 and subsequently lost to John Hathaway at UFC 114. He has a fight upcoming with Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 so hopefully he's able to focus on improving himself. Another similar fighter is Frank Mir. Mir suffered a crushing defeat to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100 and subsequently used Lesnar's twenty pound weight advantage as the scapegoat for the loss. He hit the gym and bulked up to 265, going on to beat the enternally disappointing Chieck Kongo and then getting demolished by SHane Carwin at UFC 111. Not learning from his last defeat Frank Mir decided that perhaps Heavyweight wasn't the weight class for him and unsuccessfully attempted to make 205. Frank Mir has an upcoming rematch with Rodrigo Nogueira, whom he has defeated before. Will his blame-shifting attitude affect his pending bout? For his sake, I hope that it doesn't.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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