American writer Richard Bach once said, "It's not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we've changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games."
For Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight Josh Thomson, the first defeat of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career was a learning experience in attitude -- one he is still reminded of constantly in the form of online clips and highlight reels.
The date was Aug. 21, 2004. The location: MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event: UFC 49.
An undefeated Thomson took on Yves Edwards in a battle between two fighters many at the time considered to be the best 155-pound competitors in the world.
Having never suffered a defeat, the fight had a normal start for what Thomson was used to at the time. He put the pressure on his opponent and was getting the better of the action in the stand up, clinch and ground positions through roughly the first four minutes of the contest.
Something he expected to happen going in.
"I just knew he was a good stand-up guy and I really, I didn't really -- I just kind of took him for granted." Thomson told MMAmania.com of his knowledge of Edwards going into the fight. "To me, I didn't think he had anything to offer against me, whether it be on the feet or on the ground, where I felt like I could have done a lot and I don't know, it was just one of those fights where I focused on being flashy and showy and I kind of felt like I had the fight in the bag after I clinched him and I could take it anywhere I wanted to."
Overconfidence was Thomson's downfall in the match, believing he was in control of the fight from the outset, which significantly boosted his self-belief and made him complacent -- something he would pay for dearly soon after.
"I felt like the very first exchange we had, I pushed him against the fence and could throw him down pretty easily. Had a hard time holding him down, but once he got back up and started in the clinch, he wasn't strong at all and I didn't feel any danger whatsoever," Thomson recalled of the action. "It was just one of those things where I felt like, ‘Okay this fight's kind of in the bag. I should be considered the UFC champ.' And basically three quarters of the way into the first round, I threw him in a head-and-arm right to his back, then we scrambled right to the feet and like, I wasn't even able to do things like that to my students, who I was training with at the time and helped get me ready for the fight. So, it just made me even more confident and as the confidence grew in the first round, I got careless."
Thomson's carelessness in a scramble allowed Edwards to take his back briefly from a standing position. "The Punk" attempted to separate his opponent's hands to free himself from danger, and as he did, threw a wild spinning backfist.
That was the last move he would make before staring up at the lights and wondering what happened.
In MMA competition, one mistake can cost you a fight and Thomson's mistake opened the door for Edwards to throw a highly unusual jumping kick for one of the most devastating head kick knockout victories in UFC history.
"The Punk" crumbled to the mat after the blow landed and ate approximately seven unnecessary shots on the ground for his trouble before referee Steve Mazzagatti mercifully called off the fight.
"I was super arrogant and that's what happens when you're a kid," Thomson said of the fight-ending sequence. "I was basically just a kid out there and showing off and it cost me the fight. There's nothing else I can really say about it, especially for where I was in my career. I felt like I could have controlled the whole fight and I let the cockiness and arrogance get the better of me and it cost me."
The defeat proved something more and more fans of the sport have become aware of as time goes on: it only takes a split-second lapse in judgment to cost even the best of fighters a victory.
That's what happened to Thomson, and he only blames himself for it.
"I did it to myself," Thomson admits. "I mean, there was only 20 seconds left in the round and I knew it and I already had the first round in the bag, I knew I had it in the bag because I got two easy takedowns and I felt like I was the one pushing the action in the fight, so it was just one of those things where being a young and inexperienced fighter got the better of me,
"I remember going out for an afterparty at one of the clubs there in Vegas and I was just -- I was fine because I was around my friends and my family and stuff who came out to support me and it helped get my mind off it because I was just upset with myself and let something like that get the better of me. That was really the biggest thing just letting myself down."
Going into the fight in "Sin City," Thomson was unbeaten in eight professional bouts and had already accrued a 2-0 record inside the Octagon. Many believed the match up with Edwards should have been for the promotion's lightweight title; however, few were aware that Thomson vs. Edwards would actually be the UFC's final lightweight fight until reinstating the weight class roughly two years later.
At the time, Thomson was unaware the lightweight division was on its way out and felt slighted that he had been passed over for an opportunity to compete for the belt, which he says ultimately affected his focus in the cage.
"I'd done all the hard work to get me there and it felt like I should have been fighting for the title and I think that was a little bit more of what really hurts me," he explained. "I felt like I should have been fighting for the title and I worked so hard to get there and then I kind of was fighting arrogant and cocky because I wanted it for a title so I had nothing to lose or gain and just fought careless, just though, ‘Ah, whatever. Win or lose in this fight it should be for the title and it's not, so what do I have to lose? Nothing.' Then little did I know that was going to be the last lightweight fight for basically two to three years."
Following the defeat to Edwards and the dissolution of the lightweight division, Thomson parted ways with UFC and was forced to compete in other organizations.
He signed a deal to compete in the now-defunct PRIDE organization in what many would view as a fresh start for Thomson, though his feelings of his previous fight carried over and sent him into a tailspin of misplaced overconfidence.
"I was out just partying and being stupid, being like, ‘Oh, I'm the best, I'm the best.' Even though I just lost," Thomson said. "Acting like an idiot, like a young kid. I was just looking at myself going, ‘You're the best, you already have that fight in the bag.' Just telling yourself that, but in reality if you're telling yourself that, you're not putting in the work to keep going and to improve and to get better and at the time I wasn't. I wasn't getting better, I wasn't improving, I wasn't doing all those things."
"When I went and fought over in Japan, I had a fight there where I won by kneebar, but up until the point where I won by kneebar I was losing the fight so, it was only two-and-a-half minutes into the first round, but still I got taken down, I got thrown on my back, got my guard passed, I got caught in an armbar and basically almost lost. If I hadn't been mentally tough I probably would have lost that fight,"
Even though he defeated Daisuke Sugie by submission in his one and only bout under the PRIDE banner, Thomson admits his head still wasn't in the right place over a year after his loss to Edwards.
In fact, Thomson's mind was so far off track that close friend and training partner Trevor Prangley confronted him in a moment that forever -- and for the better -- changed Thomson's outlook on his career.
"I think my arrogance continued, still thinking I'm the best, ‘You fought in the UFC, you've fought in PRIDE, and none of these guys have ever fought there.' It was a wake-up call, a big wake-up call," Thomson said. "Trevor Prangley sat me down one day and was just like, ‘Hey, the whole gym's concerned about you, you're one of the best fighters in the world and you're definitely the best in this gym, you just don't have your (expletive) together anymore.'"
The conversation with Prangley opened Thomson's eyes to what was important in his life. Too many athletes across all sports have flushed their careers down the toilets by making reckless decisions, and Thomson did not want to be that guy.
"When your best friend sits you down and tells you that on a personal level, you sit back and you think about where you want to head your life," he said. "That's when I made the decision that I want to be one of the best and not just do this for fun and not just say you're a fighter. I spent a lot of time just getting back on the grind, really focusing myself."
Even though it's nearly 10 years after his first defeat, Thomson is still reminded of the devastating knockout on UFC highlight reels both in-house and on the Internet.
For most people, seeing video of themselves at one of the most vulnerable points of their life can be hard, and while seeing the footage is humiliating for Thomson, it's also a time stamp for the mistakes he made.
"(Watching the knockout) doesn't upset me, it's just embarrassing," Thomson said. "I can't believe it. I blame myself like I said. I let my head get too big and it cost me. I can't say it enough. If there's anyone to blame for that fight, it's me."
"Everyone likes to turn and blame their corners or their training or their whatever it was, but you know what? For almost all my losses, I've blamed myself and I've seen where I've made my mistakes and realize I lost the fight because of what I did instead of what other people did. That fight I really blame myself."
If nothing else, the way Thomson reflects on the fight is a stark contrast to many others who would sit in his position. Some blame a bad training camp, others blame injuries -- there's even a good chance a less mature fighter would write Edwards' kick off as a lucky, one-of-a-kind shot.
That's not the way Thomson does things, though. After suffering his first defeat, the 35-year-old admits his life got a little bit out of control. However, he advises other fighters to learn from his mistakes and make sure their heads are on straight for each and every fight.
"Never letting yourself get arrogant and cocky enough to the point where you're not out there to take care of business," Thomson advised. "And the overall end game of this whole thing is to be one of the best and to win the fight, so you do what you can."
"I've been fighting in this sport for almost 15 years now and I guess there comes a time where you've got to start looking at yourself and think all the things that have happened to your and your career and your past, whatever it is you've got to use it as a learning experience and I felt like I learned a lot from that one fight."
The losses come at some point or another for everyone in MMA, and chances are Thomson hasn't seen his last. What is most important is how each fighter picks up the pieces after getting knocked down.
Thomson did that and on Saturday night (April 20, 2013), he will step inside the UFC's Octagon for the first time since his fight with Edwards over eight years ago when he takes on Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 7: "Henderson vs. Melendez" in San Jose, California.