Losing is never a desirable experience, but it’s something that most fighters have to endure at some stage during their career.
While it’s an integral part of any competitive sport, it’s not received by everyone in the same way. Some see it as a positive learning experience and brush it off right away, and others see it as one of the most difficult things about fighting. In the trailer for Warriors of the Mongkon, a voice can be heard saying ‘losing a fight is probably the hardest thing you’re gonna go through‘. It’s difficult to argue with that, but personally, I’ve never considered a loss to be a big deal, and certainly not a tragedy. That might be because I didn’t originally plan to become a fighter, so the very fact that I am fighting at all still surprises me sometimes. It could also be because I’m not unaccustomed to loss. I lost my second fight, and experiencing that feeling very early in my career may have prevented me from developing an ego. Then, it could just be down to my personality. It might sound silly to say this as a Muay Thai fighter, but I’ve never been a competitive person.
I remember feeling disappointed in myself after my first loss. I felt that I’d performed badly and had let my corner and my friends down. I also doubted whether or not fighting was for me, just for a brief moment. But I quickly shook it off and was back in training two days later.
There have been other losses since that one, and some have been easier to deal with than others. After each one, I’ve always reminded myself that they make me a better fighter in the long run, and contribute to my ultimate success. Even after my last loss, which lead to me being told to give up fighting altogether, I didn’t lose my focus. It would be unrealistic to expect to win every single fight, and I don’t.
Everyone takes losses differently. I’ve observed how different fighters have dealt with it in my own social circles, within my training environment, online and on social media. It has been said that we should be ‘humble in victory and gracious in defeat’. However, some of the less gracious reactions I’ve seen are as follows:
Refusing to Accept the Result
This is quite a common one. I’ve often heard fighters complain that they were ‘robbed’ and that they should have won, and it’s something I really dislike. That is not to say that they’re not sometimes right. Bad decisions do happen, but even if a fighter really believes that a decision was wrong, publicly complaining about it only projects a poor image and does more harm than good for them, as well as being an insult to the opponent. You can’t change the decision, so there’s no use dwelling on it. I’ve definitely seen some controversial decisions and can imagine that this must be a hugely frustrating position to be in, but even so, resisting the urge to shout about it shows much more character than protesting. That being said, this isn’t a position that I have ever been in myself, so I am speaking purely from a spectator’s point of view here.
When David Haye lost by unanimous decision against Vladimir Klitschko in a distinctively underwhelming heavyweight title match in 2011, he immediately blamed his disappointing performance on a broken little toe on his right foot. Although I can imagine that it certainly did affect his ability to perform, and as he put it, his ability to push off on his right leg, it only made him look like a sore loser. See below for the video of his post-fight interview, where he immediately whipped off his shoe to display his injury and explain why it stopped him from winning the fight.
Sometimes, fighters have no choice but to go into a fight with an injury, as it’s not always possible to back out. This is something I talked about in a previous post, ‘Does Your Record Really Matter?‘
It’s definitely understandable, but I remember being disappointed by how quick Haye was to blame his injury, as if that was the only reason why he lost. Some fighters immediately justify their losses with excuses such as ‘I wasn’t ready/hadn’t trained enough‘ or ‘my opponent was too heavy/experienced‘. In many cases, these may be significant factors and sometimes, even valid reasons. It’s not that I don’t think fighters should voice these things at all, just that they should remain courteous in doing so. Although, some excuses are just too outrageous to permit. Some fantastic examples that I’ve heard include ‘we had smaller gloves and my opponent had boxing experience‘, implying that the opponent was intentionally given some kind of advantage, and ‘I think my opponent was on steroids‘. It’s impossible for a fighter, or any athlete, to constantly be on top form and one can’t be expected to perform at their best every time. It would be much more amicable to admit that than to look to others for ways to explain a loss.
Criticising the Rules/Scoring/Judging
This is one that I sometimes hear from foreigners fighting in Thailand. Often used to seeing aggressiveness and forward fighting favoured over other methods, some find it difficult to understand how they lost a fight despite landing a lot of punches and moving forward a lot, and are baffled by fighters who win while fighting backwards. A friend recently asked me “why do they refer to Muay Thai as the art of 8 limbs if they don’t count two of them?” He was frustrated over a recent loss where he used a lot of boxing. But that’s not quite how it works. Although the scoring system in Thailand is rather confusing at times, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of it when fighting here. This article by Muay Farang on Muay Thai scoring provides a breakdown.
Not Returning to Training
Most people who’ve spent enough time in a Muay Thai gym will have seen someone lose a fight and the subsequently disappear for a while. Fighting isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure, and having a fight might make a person realise that it’s actually not for them, which is totally fine. I can understand why the sting of losing might make a fighter consider taking a break or perhaps even quitting altogether. However, this can often show a lack of heart.
I dislike those judgemental social media posts that pretentiously state what does or doesn’t make a ‘true fighter’, but I do have much more respect for those who take a loss and get straight back into the gym to work on their mistakes. Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu is a great example of this, and immediately after a fight, regardless of the result, you can see photos on her Facebook page of her grinning, followed by shots of her back in the gym the next day. Here’s one of her, still smiling despite being stopped in the second round with two massive cuts by Lommanee Sor. Hirun in her 70th fight. The only reason she wasn’t straight back into training after this one was because she had to let those cuts heal. From the picture, you wouldn’t know that she hadn’t won.
As I mentioned earlier, competitiveness has never been a huge part of my personality. I’ve sometimes wondered if this is a negative thing. Perhaps being a sore loser is just a sign of extreme competitiveness and determination, and aren’t those qualities required to build a great fighter? Even if that is so, the ability to humbly accept, take responsibility for and overcome losses as well as wins is also an important factor.
I dislike big egos, but sometimes wonder if my lack of one will ever serve as a disadvantage. While an inflated ego may usually be an adverse quality in general, when it comes to fighters, it’s sometimes seen as likeable and even admirable. If I was more egotistical and more concerned with my losses, perhaps I’d be more competitive, therefore a better fighter, even if it did mean being a sore loser.
Still, I find myself rolling my eyes when a fighter makes distasteful comments or excuses after a loss. Losing a fight is a less-than-pleasant experience, but how a fighter responds to one can often be a sign of character, professionalism and class.
You don’t have to be happy about losing, but that doesn’t warrant belittling the performance of the opponent, looking to others for blame or doubting your own abilities as a fighter. While it’s a cliché, failure is the mother of success, and the time wasted dwelling on a loss would always be much better spent focusing on the small victories that happened within the fight, and working on your mistakes. As we all so typically say, ‘onto the next one‘.
Follow Under the Ropes
Fantastic post, Emma. (And thanks very much for the shout out.) I thought immediately of Pacquiao’s loss on paper to Bradley in their first fight. Pacquiao had, in my eyes and to virtually everyone with the exception of the judges actually submitting the scores, won every single round and then lost a split-decision. It was pandemonium. And yet Pacquiao was utterly graceful. He didn’t fuss. Sure, he was very confused and shook his head in disbelief, but he actually smiled – maybe even laughed. He lost his title by this horrible decision and it could have had a devastating effect on his career. But by the grace of how he carries himself – both in victory and in loss – it didn’t become all that. He didn’t have to say anything because we all saw it.
At the end of the day we have agreed to fight inside the ring while it is judged by people sitting outside of it. Anything can happen. But we give permissions to fighters inside the realm of the ring that we do not permit outside of it – what is crude and uncivilized outside of the ring is cheered within it; and that carries over to how we conduct ourselves as fighters as well. Quibbling over wins and losses outside the ring is far less dignified than just getting back into it, I think.
Good stuff as always Emma. I wouldn’t be too worried about changing your ego, you seem to have the right mindset when it comes to fighting for love and passion rather than for money or glory.
Although I wouldn’t say I have a big ego, I do hate losing and I do make excuses when I do lose (or even win a close fight), but they aren’t in public and they are only to my close friends and family who give me “real talk” right back and make sure my head is on straight. Like you, I lose respect for fighters who take to social media, forums or the post-interview mic to justify why they lost. Although losing sucks (especially a controversial loss) taking it in stride is the best to way move past it without letting it deter you from continuously progressing.
That being said, I think making excuses is a defense mechanism many fighters use that allows them to give a specific reason why they lost. They probably think if there was no reason or excuse to why they lost, then what’s going to stop them from losing the next fight? I guess it makes sense, but in reality, the person you fought was just a better fighter that night.
I always love reading your take on these kind of subject matters because you keep it real. Keep doing your thing Emma!
I can see what you mean about making excuses in that way. Saying those things to the people around you is one thing, but projecting them publicly is another.
I hope your training is going well, I look forward to reading more from you while you’re over here!
Great post, Emma! I too have seen this kind of thing many times.
I lost my first fight, but it was such a damn triumph to finally get in the ring that I felt like I’d won. I was the happiest girl on the planet that day. Sure, I wish I wouldn’t have gone into shock and would have been able to keep my wits about me, but I did the best I was capable of in that moment.
It was only after the initial high of the experience wore off that I started to worry about the opinion of my coaches, friends, boyfriend, and teammates. Did I let them down? Were they disappointed in me? My bf and my coach both know I’m a lot more skilled and strong than came across in my fight, so maybe they were disappointed. My bf in particular didn’t understand how thoroughly my brain had checked out and left the building. You could have dropped a piano on my head during that fight and I wouldn’t have noticed (but I was extremely happy!).
I definitely took time off afterwards, but simply because I was burnt out and exhausted and muay thai is a passion and a hobby for me, but it’s not a career choice. I felt I needed to concentrate on other things for a bit. However, the fear that I’d been a big disappointment to everyone did make it really hard to go back. When I did, I was greeted with open arms.