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‘.
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