I am sitting here on the verge of turning 46. It has been 40 years training now and 22 years running my own academy. When I started mixing striking and grappling back in the 90’s, it was few and far between who were doing this. The world was turned upside down by the Gracie clan and its Jiu Jitsu. The UFC blew up many “traditional” ideas about training and competition. It was a wild time.
When I got started, there were not many people fighting in full contact bouts. The talent pool was small because the training was sparse and the competition venues were hard to find. If you were in the UFC in the beginning, you were 1 of under 100 guys. Now you have a UFC with 1,000 or more athletes. A guy told me not long ago that there are 10,000 registered full contact fighters in the State of NJ alone over the last few years. 15 years ago we probably had less than 100 and most were boxers.
I think it’s great that we have more accessible training and more opportunities to make a living as athletes and coaches. The same qualities that have always created success and the same number of people willing to do what it takes has been a constant. The changing number is the number of people doing it poorly. With so many people now claiming to do MMA, we have a massive pool of people doing it rather poorly. This means that the majority of what we see, and we see a lot, is not of a high caliber.
It is very easy to get your content out with our phones and all the platforms available to promote it. Most people do not even know what they are looking at. Wrap your content with the right words and present it in a pleasing way, you can make quite few people believe you are something you are not and never will be because being internet famous is more important than being actually good.
This may come off as a negative rant, but it really is not. I am also not being an elitist speaking to my personal greatness. I am pointing out that time, work, and knowledge are the only things that create the best champions. We can all promote an image or idea, but only those that do the work get to actually be real champions.
I have a room full of fighters. I have always had a fight team. Only 1 out of 10 has ever risen from beginner to high level pro. This has never changed and never will. 6 to 7 will always sell a good amount of tickets and be more locally famous than they are skilled. I am not disparaging these people, I am pointing out the truth. If some people would train as hard as they sell tickets, they would be much better at fighting. If the amount of time cultivating an idea was spent on the mat training, many would get much further in their careers.
Combat Sport is an unforgiving business. A bad night can not just change your life but alter your physical makeup forever. If you are doing it so you don’t have to work a 9 to 5, you need to re-evaluate your choices. Avoiding the workforce until you are in your 30’s while creating lifelong damage is not a good idea. If you have a work ethic to back up the dream, a sound body that can withstand the rigors of this life, you have a chance to make a life within this business. Even with massive effort, your chances are slim to rise to the 1% level. I say this because those that see this as a motivator will rise while those that get depressed by these stats will never go anywhere.
I have trained 100’s of people at this point in my life for competition. The 2 things that make and break careers is showing up and putting out. Those that always show up late and are not self-motivated to put out all fall short. Those that stick to a schedule, show up early and stay late, put out at levels where I need to force them to take beaks… the motivated are obsessed with the work because they know it is what will get them the results. Those cutting corners are lying about what they really want and will never achieve anything high level or long term.
In 2020, nothing has changed except the level of information we have access to and the amount of content we can so easily create. The work is still the thing that defines everything. The number of people that are willing to do the real work are still a minority. The money is better, the highs are higher, and the opportunities are more accessible than ever. With some old school effort, you can achieve great things today and beyond.
Don’t get lost in the hype or try to hide behind your own BS. If you want to be great at anything – show up, put out great effort, adjust based on results, and trust the right people. This has been the human condition from day 1 and it will never change. It has always been and will always be the work that defines.