Written by @NickRiznerMMA
The beginning of something is small. Surface level. Skin deep.
As time goes by and your passion for that something grows, so too does your knowledge and understanding. In the journey from fair-weather to die-hard, there are many valleys. But with each valley comes the unrelenting promise of a peak. And the lower the low, the higher the high will appear. It’s all about learned perspective.
When it comes to MMA fandom, the complexities of the sport simply lead to an exaggerated version of the reality described above. But with this depth comes an even greater payoff. The more you consume, the more you are rewarded. Suddenly, you can see a submission attempt before it’s locked in. You can spot the hitch in a fighter’s striking that will lead to their eventual knockout. You scoff at the fans who are bored by extended grappling exchanges and you cringe while watching sloppy technique.
But it was not always this way. In the beginning, your vision was limited to the most obvious of focal points; the superstar.
There is no set path to stardom. No single recipe. You may not fully understand what you are watching, but there is one common thread that we can all latch onto. Superstars win, and they win often.
Thus, through the framework of stardom, the inexperienced fan is seeing only a candy-coated version of the MMA universe. When you limit yourself to the GSPs and Ronda Rouseys and Anderson Silvas of the world, you limit your exposure to failure.
At this point, being a fan is easy. Your perseverance and will are rarely tested, and even when they are, your lack of a deep-seeded interest leaves you impervious to the pain of vulnerability. Essentially, you don’t care enough to hurt. And that’s nice, in a way. It’s safe.
But then, the hard part. The ensuing loyalty. A gravitation towards the unsung hero, the lovable loser, the hard-worker who can’t seem to catch a break. This is the next evolution of fandom. This is when your emotions get pulled into things. And it’s at this point that we leave ourselves open to disappointment.
And make no mistake, you will experience disappointment.
But it’s a disappointment we choose. It’s risk-taking, essentially, wearing your heart on your sleeve while knowing full-well that it may get broken. It’s this sort of gamble that often leads to the worst kind of sorrow. The losses that literally ruin your day. The ones that stun you into silence and cause you to stew with anger and resentment towards the victor. These are the low points of fandom. But they are the only means for achieving that ultimate high.
We subject ourselves to this misery on purpose. This is the part that the fair-weather fans will never understand. When you are emotionally entrenched in rooting for a fighter, the actual process of watching that fight is rarely an enjoyable one. It’s stressful, frustrating, uncomfortable. But that victorious moment – whenever it happens to come – is unparalleled by anything else in the world. You can’t emulate it with a scripted television show or movie. It is not a feeling that can be found in a book or a play.
Most importantly, you can’t fully experience that joy unless you open yourself up to the possibility of defeat. This is a theme that reaches beyond MMA. Beyond athletics. This is a lesson, learned through fandom, that can be applied to every aspect of life.
So whoever you are rooting for this weekend, do so proudly. If they win, celebrate that moment. Fully recognize it’s rarity. Take pride in the fact that you have supported that person with your full mind, heart, and soul. But understand that a loss is not the end of things. You should avoid brushing over the disappointment. That’s a part of it, and it’s important. But know that any upset feelings are simply building towards a larger exuberance in the end.
So my one piece of advice for you is this: Whether you’re watching a sporting event, building a relationship, trying something new, or chasing a dream.
Allow yourself to experience it fully. Every single time.