What defines a champion? Sure by definition, a champion is merely one who at some point during their career has been fortunate enough to have a belt strapped around their waste, but true champions are much more then that.
Unlike in professional boxing, it is highly unlikely in MMA for even a champion to have a perfect record. There is just too many ways to win, or loose for that matter, which is why we often see even the greatest mixed martial artists with multiple losses to their names.
Boxing champions have the ability to remain undefeated sometimes well into championship title defences, fighting with the mentality that if its not broke, then don’t fix it. However, MMA fighters with some losses on the record become the product of these losses, constantly reinventing themselves after each set back in the pursuit of perfection.
Its this pursuit, or the chase of a legacy that can land the lucky among the legends. Adversities in and out of the gym, mix with the sweat and stains of trials and triumphs are what eventually forges the building blocks of the elite.
The question of what defines a champion isn’t answered by comparing boxing with MMA, as that wouldn’t be fair. Instead, in order to define a champion, one must fully understand what makes someone a true champion.
The road to success is a different path for each wonderer. Some journeys are filled with obstacles and detours, where others seem to achieve their goals with careless ease. Where MMA differs from all other sports, is how the athletes seem to credit their success with their set backs. Fighters always talk about the one loss that fuelled their rebuilding process, and made them who they are today.
No human being is perfect, and we except that no champion is invincible but we expect them to be infallible. Not flawless, but fail proof. No matter how dominate a fighter has the ability to be, we know that a championship is a gift that can be snatched away at any moment.
A lot of fighters talk the talk, but very few walk the walk. A fighter that lacks the skills to win championships often resorts to verbal bashings in order to create false relevance for themselves. Where their skills fall short in the octagon, this fake persona picks up the slack in an attempt to prolong their career and earn paycheques with their mouth as opposed to their fists.
There is no denying the importance of marketability. Every hero needs a villain. Although villains can be feared and temporarily respected, they are never taken seriously, and much like the Joker in Batman, they are eventually exposed for the clown they really are.
In a sport like MMA, where one can be so easily humiliated, one must check their ego at the door. Current UFC middleweight contender and poster boy for the sore looser society Chael Sonnon is a prime example of what a true champion isn’t. Even though he is an amazing fighter and may have a prosperous political career ahead of him, he certainly doesn’t have the class of a champion.
Sure his mouth may get him another shot against current champion Anderson Silva, it just as easily could end up biting off more then he can chew, as another loss to Silva, and Sonnen would find himself in what I like to call the "Franklin Effect". Meaning, you may be a top ten fighter, but no one wants to see you loose a third time to the champion. The difference of course is that people liked and respected Rich Franklin.
Fighters willing to engage in trash talking can be God’s gift to pay per view one day, and the next find themselves so far off the radar, that no slander or big mouth absurdity will ever bring them back in the picture. Lets hope Sonnen doesn’t find himself bouncing between weight classes, picking fights with whoever will take the bait. At the end of a fighters career, no one cares how many good comebacks you had, or insults, and when the last round bell rings their legacy wont be remembered as a pursuit of greatness, instead they wont be remembered at all.
As easily as respect is earned, it can be lost. There is no pre-planned expiry date for a title holder, and the target on your back only gets bigger as your stock rises. Who you are as a human is just as important as who you are as a fighter.
A champion isn’t defined by how many belts they carry, but instead its more about how they carry themselves. True champions not only outclass opponents in the octagon, but also outclass them at a press conference too.
Bad blood will always boil, and act as great publicity, but win or lose, if you cant be humble and respectful you will never be a champion at heart. Fans love underdogs, come back stories, and hero’s, not sore losers. It is hard for fans to get behind fighters who are willing to throw anyone under the bus for self promotion. As mush as these fighters think that they are helping their sport and the organization, they are actually making a mockery of it and its hard working athletes. Its confusing to see someone put in the work it takes to be successful in this sport, and then be part of something so detrimental as belittling fighters to make yourself seem better then you actually are. This approach might get you into temporary lime light, but its suicide to your respectability and the legacy you leave behind.
A champion is the type of person you want your kid to be. Someone who wakes up with ambition and goes to bed with dreams. Someone who uses their opponents as stepping stones, not whipping posts. If trash talking is what someone has to resort to in order to sell themselves and tickets then so be it. But one must never confuse infamy with fame. It doesn’t matter how loud the flies buzz, we all reach for the swatter sooner then later.