It's a ubiquitous scene in combat sports: two men who spent several months calling each other names, and several minutes trying to dismember one another in the most painful manner possible share a sweaty embrace and a few kind words just seconds after the carnage draws to a halt. These post-fight love-fests fuel the widespread opinion that the vast majority of pre-fight beef is manufactured, but just because two fighters seem genuinely friendly after a fight, doesn't mean they weren't genuinely hostile before and during.
For people who are wired to fight, the need to get involved with physical conflict can be almost overwhelming. Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott used to say that if it wasn't for football, he would be out brawling in the streets, because he needed to hit something, one way or another. When you need something like that, you end up really, really appreciating anyone or anything that helps you get it. And in combat sports, nobody helps you more than your opponents.
One thing I don't tell many people (until now, apparently) was that I initially got into martial arts, shortly after college, as a way to manage a series of brutal anxiety attacks I'd been experiencing. I was, and remain, strongly opposed to psychiatric medication, so a psychologist suggested I needed to cook off some of my ever-present anxiety by exhausting myself as much as possible. I'd always been interested in martial arts, so I looked in the yellow pages, found a studio near me (which just happened to be taekwondo) and went for a class.
I immediately enjoyed the discipline and the training, but at first, it didn't really do all that much for my anxiety. Then, a couple weeks after I started, when I was still very much a white belt, my masters decided it was time for me to start sparring. The masters at my dojang were highly competitive athletes, straight out of Korea, and they maintained a strong opinion that the best way to learn anything was by getting your ass kicked.
So it was that on my very first day of sparring, suited up in smelly, borrowed pads, I got matched up against a blue-belt former marine wearing a permanent scowl. At this point, I felt ok. "Surely," I thought, "surely this guy is going to take it easy on me, since I'm such a newbie." I smiled at him as we stood waiting for the signal to begin. It wasn't returned.
About a second after Master Choi barked "sijak!", my new, bald, friend launched a nasty roundhouse kick at my spleen. Rather than block, I turned away, ensuring that rather than hit my chest protector, the shot landed flush on my unguarded left kidney. A wave of pain went through me, but along with it, there was a wave of something else, something I hadn't really felt before -- a sort of preternatural calm and determination. In that moment, I almost immediately stopped thinking about my back. I also stopped thinking about protecting myself from more strikes, which he was landing at will. At that moment, the only thing that mattered to me was to hit this dude, hard and often, until someone made me stop. I lashed out with whatever handful of techniques I had learned to that point, but I put everything behind them, and by the time they stopped us, I had certainly lost, but I had also landed more than I had any expectation to at that point in my training. Masters Kim, Kim and Choi were all grinning at me when it ended.
A couple hours later, as I was walking out of the grocery strore with my dinner, I started to realize that I felt good. No, not good, great. Fantastic, actually. Better than I could remember feeling in years. My anxiety level had gone from "maximum" where it had been hanging out for the past several months to "zero". It's hard to explain what that feels like to someone who doesn't have anxious tendencies, but I literally started laughing in the middle of the street I felt so good.
From then on, I was a fiend for sparring, wherever and whenever I could get it. I would stay after in minimal pads and get my ass kicked serving as a kicking dummy for Master Kim. I fought whenever I could, and I competed in every tournament that I could find. My best friend at the dojang -- an Afghan immigrant whose brother had fought for the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation -- sent me to the doctor on more than one occasion, and I returned that dubious favor at least once.
In tournaments, I would work up genuine dislike -- hate even -- for every single one of my opponents before matches, but every time, by the end I would feel a kinship and brotherhood with them deeper even than what I felt toward my closest friends. By hitting me (and giving me the opportunity to hit them) they were giving me something I dearly needed, and in a way, I loved them for it.
All of this is to say that I take a different view on the ubiquitous post fight detentes in MMA and boxing. In my experience it's not at all strange to go from rage, to violence, to friendship...all in very short order.