The Essence of a True Champion
The critical ingredients that money can’t buy
‘’Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat’’ — Christopher Earle
For any and every MMA fan, last weekend was something special.
T-mobile arena, Las Vegas. UFC 266.
Not only that the UFC 266 exceed all of our expectations, but it went above and beyond as one of the strongest cards of the year.
However, the main event was a spectacle.
Brian Ortega challenged Alex Volkanovski for the lightweight title. Going into the fight, there was some animosity between the two of them. The mutual dislike originated a few months ago as both fighters were coaches on the UFC’s popular TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) show.
During the show and especially prior to the bout, some harsh words were said and exchanged. Predominately by Volkanovski who seemed fired up and ready to take Ortega’s head off once the two finally meet in the octagon.
Finally….The cage door closed and the war began.
In a nerve-wracking 25-minute battle, two gladiators battled in one of the most exciting fights in UFC history. We were in for a treat, and on the edge of our seats for the entire time.
Both fighters had big moments, both of them had to dig deep down to survive, and both of them deserve nothing short of respect from the whole MMA community.
However, what happened afterward is the focal point of this article.
The two warriors embraced in the center of the octagon. Visibly exhausted and tired after the match, both of them seemed in good spirits as they’ve exchanged a few words.
Moreover, in an imidate post-fight interview in the octagon, both fighters praised one another to a thunderous ovation of the entire T-mobile arena.
For any MMA fan, this was truly a sight to behold and an image that should represent the sport as a whole.
Volkanovski walked out of the octagon as a champion, as he earned the one thing he was looking for. Alex Volkanovski won the respect of the entire MMA world. If there was any doubt he is a legit champion after his wars with Max Holloway, Alex knocked them out with those lightning-fast hands.
‘’We are not defined by how we lose, but how we get up and overcome that sh*t’’ — Brian Ortega, imidiatelly after the UFC 266 loss.
On the other hand, Brian Ortega demonstrated something that many champions before him failed to do. After coming so close to achieving his dream of becoming a champion… He lost another war.
The belt was within arm's reach and he failed to capture it, again. (Ortega’s previous title fight, a war with Max Holloway, should be in the library of every MMA fan)
After the fight, beaten and broken, Ortega complimented the champion, thanked the fans, and vowed to come back stronger.
Brian Ortega showed class and grace in defeat.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit a night forever etched in the history of the sport.
On the 12th of November 2016, Connor McGregor became the first simultaneous double champion. The Irishman put on an absolute masterclass in the main event of the UFC 205. Eddie Alvarez stood no chance as Connor knocked him down a few times before knocking him out in the second round.
‘I’ve spent a lot of time slaying everybody in the company. I’ve ridiculed everybody on the roster, and I just want to say from the bottom of my heart.
I’d like to take this chance to apologize….
To absolutely nobody! The double champ does what the f*ck he wants!’
Sadly, Connor’s memorable performance was outshined by his post-fight remarks. Little did we know that night, but McGregor’s slow demise began after this fight.
From that point, once a great champion was on the downward spiral.
Although he achieved incredible success outside of the octagon, Connor continued with his disgraceful behavior and antics. (Attack on the bus, punching an old man in the pub, showing up wasted to a pre-fight conference with Khabib…)
For many Connor fans (myself included), a light at the end of the tunnel presented itself when the new Mcgregor showed up to fight Cowboy Cerone.
Respectful and stoic in his demeanor, we all taught this version of Connor was an inevitable evolution of his character. Furthermore, we all cheered for him as he began his redemption journey. After he dismantled Cerone, it was time for Connor to face his old foe, in a rematch we’ve been waiting seven long years.
Dustin Poirier faced an uphill road after the first loss to Connor.
Humiliated by McGregor and written off by the rest of the MMA community, Dustin fought his way back to the top. One fight at the time. One battle at the time.
In those seven years, he managed to beat the likes of Gaethje, Alvarez, Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, and Dan Hooker, just to mention a few. All of the mentioned fights were absolute wars (and must-see matches for any MMA fan)
The same humble McGregor showed up for the rematch. Connor praised Dustin for his work, both inside and outside of the ring, as he promised to donate 500k to Porier’s charity. (Unfortunately, nothing ever came out of it)
While some believed Connor lost the edge he used to have, others believed this version of Connor McGregor was a breath of fresh air. At the end of the day, the only performance that actually matters is the one a fighter puts in the octagon.
Dustin Poirier outclassed Connor McGregor and knocked him down with a perfect right hook, after which he delivered a couple of more shots on the ground. Luckily for Connor, referee Herb Dean stepped in and stopped the match.
After this fight, Connor McGregor crumbled in defeat.
After this fight, McGregor eventually reverted back to his old self. Spiteful, hateful, angry, and out of control, he started throwing shots at Dustin requiring an immediate rematch.
He got one seven months later. The fight to conclude the trilogy.
This time Connor didn’t make it to the second round. In a fast-paced brutal war, both parties exchanged heavy punches and leg kicks. In a brutal twist of fate, McGregor landed awkwardly on the left foot breaking his tibia (shinbone) in the process.
The gruesome ending of the fight quickly turned comical. (And somewhat sad, especially for many of us Connor fans)
Unable to move and still sitting on his behind, Connor McGregor yelled profanities at Poirier saying his wife was messaging him, and that they’ll take the fight outside to settle the score.
Despite emotions running high immediately after the fight, in a manner of a champion, Dustin wished Connor a speedy recovery and a safe trip to his beautiful family.
During the relatively short history of MMA, we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of many champions. It’s the nature of the sport and it’s one of the reasons why we love it so much.
Championships, just like champions who wear them, come and go.
At the moment, we are incredibly lucky to have a champion like Valentina Shevchenko. Soft-spoken and elegant outside of the octagon but a ‘killer’ inside of it. As fans, we should be grateful to witness her greatness, as well as the history she is creating.
We’ve had champions like Georges St-Pierre who elevated the sport and paved the way for many others who followed in his footsteps. (Dustin Poirier being one of them)
Fame and spotlight can only last for a little while before it’s all over. Eventually, a fighter has to decline and retire. Sooner or later, once a champion inevitably becomes a footnote in the history of this beautiful sport.
Ultimately, being a champion carries a weight of responsibility. Being a true champion is not just about you, but also about the future generations and the manner in which you inspire them.
A true champion understands that duty and embraces it.
Many have had the title belt around their waist, some have even transcended the sport with the enormous success and ridiculous money they’ve made outside of the octagon. However, only the greats move the sport forward and shape the future generation of champions.
A true champion transcends the sport by showing and demonstrating values like dignity, elegance, grace, respect for the sport, and most important of them all, integrity.
Unfortunately, all of these things are ingredients money can’t buy, nor it can be drilled in a sparring session.
The above-mentioned elements are something that all of the up-and-coming kids and future champions should strive for, as they build their own personal legend and in the process, leave their own legacy.