Picking Fights To Win
By: Ronnie Najjar
By: Ronnie Najjar
By: Ronnie Najjar
Shortly after arriving to San Diego, I was in a group meeting that included coaches, fighters, a manager and a gym owner.
The conversation turned to picking fights to win. More specifically, how we as trainers could find easy opponents for our fighters and gym members to beat. We’d even be paid a commission for every Win we received.
I had to take a double take to believe if what I’m hearing is right- are we explicitly being told to find weaker opponents that we know we can beat?
We sure were!
At the time I was dumbfounded, shocked and speechless. I wondered how we are talking about this so openly and shamelessly!
I grew up with a different view and fight culture than the one I have experienced in San Diego. There seems to be a real obsession with winning and being a winner in the States. While it’s positive to strive to be the best and be number one, I think focusing too much on winning above all else takes away the magic and adventure in “just going for it”- taking risk and accepting challenges for the growth- even if you (dare I say), LOSE!
Let me rewind.
I have no idea if things have changed, but from what I always saw and grew up with in Australia, fighting was about being the toughest you can be, and that meant taking on challenges. And you were respected for it, regardless of result.
It was about fighting hard, putting in a good performance, entertaining the crowd. It was about getting good enough to fight the best, chasing the top dogs, and from what I know- every fighters dream to fight the top tier fighters and prove themselves at the highest level.
Thinking this way, the only relevant questions we’d ask about our opponents were:
~ How many fights they’ve had- which tells you their experience
~Who they’ve fought- which tells you how courageous they are
~Who they’ve beat- which tells you where they stand in the unofficial pecking order
~Which gym they’re from- which tells you their fight style
NOT what their record is! That doesn’t tell you shit. Records are relative. It depends who you fought at what stage of your career. It doesn’t tell you how tough and experienced you are today.
Look at the most well known Thais. Do they have perfect records? Of course not, they’ve all had dozens of losses. That tells you they’ve been in wars. Be very afraid!
As nostalgic, old school and idealistic I’d love it to be, it’s business that rules and without bums on seats we wouldn’t have this sport. And as fighters, promoters and gym owners, we rely on the support of the public to do what we love.
People love a winner. Winners generate interest. More interest equals more followers. More followers equals more tickets sold. More tickets sold makes a happy promoter and a happy promoter means you will get more opportunities.
OK I get it.
But, there’s the other side that attracts me and many to Muay Thai.
What I really love about fighting is that it’s an arena to practice virtues i.e. determination, focus, patience, courage and grit. To develop discipline, to learn humility in defeat, to be gracious in victory… these are the gold nuggets and fulfilling rewards you get from fighting.
But you need real opponents for this.
Not picking fights and beating bums.
I’m not saying every fight has to be out of your depth, but they should be the ones you aim for. As a fighter you’ll grow outside your comfort zone, and that means challenges- tougher more experienced opponents will provide that.
I rarely talk about my wins. I learned very little from beating fighters unless it was a close fight. Besides social proof and validation that I was a winner, and a short lived exhilarating feeling, I learned and overcame little.
By far I love and cherish the memories of my losses much more. It’s because I overcame obstacles, struggles and fears through them, which built my confidence. And they make for the best stories!
The time I entered a heavyweight MMA tournament as a middleweight wearing ankle weights to make minimum weight, with zero groundwork in my life. The time I tore my hamstring seconds before the fight started. The day my opponent got swapped to an undefeated champion with an upgrade in rules and rounds I had never done before. And many last minute calls to fight big names and main events; some when I was fat, untrained and even sick.
And you know what all of those fights had in common? I DIDN’T DIE! And every one of them was fun as fuck. I was terrified to death before each one. But it was a thrill doing it.
Picking fights is so fucking boring.
I’d rather just send my application to Starbucks and be done with kickboxing if it came to that.
But, sometimes especially novice fighters can’t take a loss. Its so much pressure to win here in the states, and if they lose their mindset crumbles. What a shame!
My trainer Jeab never pressured us to win, I don’t even remember him talking about it. He was always drilling us to have good technique, think smart and FIGHT HARD. Never quit. Fight your guts out. That’s all we talked about.
If you won but fought like shit, he’d give you a disgusted look (it was cute though). If you lost but fought like a warrior- it was celebration time.
It was about performance, it was about what you overcame that fight, it was about the growth you gained from the experience, the calling forth your strengths and virtues. It was about creating deep bonds with your team as you go through these rich experiences together….
It wasn’t about picking fights for a winning record.
Conclusion: I think a balance is best. You don’t want to have ten straight losses and deal with everyone’s sympathy. You don’t want war-after-war and be crippled after a dozen fights. And you don’t want to beat bums while turning down real challenges so you can brag about your undefeated record on social media.
I’d say lean a lot more towards challenge, but also give yourself time to train and be prepared and sometimes take fights that are fair on paper. Be in it for growth and experience and if you happen to be undefeated because you’re genuinely the shit, then awesome. For me, I love being or watching the underdog. To see fighters stand up and slay the dragon.
Now that’s a fun game worth playing.