(Photo by Will Paul / CESmma.com)
Written by @NickRiznerMMA
The dueling complexities of a martial artist mirror that of the sport itself.
Within the MMA bubble, the true rarity of this concept is lost. It’s lost because it’s commonplace. Occupying the roster of promotions both big and small, there are hordes of fighters who embrace this dichotomy. But in other sects of the world – both athletically and otherwise – it is nearly unheard of.
Undeniably, a certain toughness and grit are required to compete in MMA. However, where the sport stands above all other endeavors lies not within the physical manifestation of growth, but rather the mental. The building of character. The embrace of one’s own flaws and endless pursuit of improvement. To look in the mirror and see yourself as perfect is to short yourself of the possibility of change.
Complacency is death. And Josh Diekmann is anything but complacent.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t like what I see. I see things in me that I hate about other people. These are the things I strive to change. Some I have. Some are still a work in progress. I use this discontent I have for myself as motivation. Almost like… I want to succeed in spite of myself. I see failure on every level. I see someone who has never lived up to his potential in any facet of his life.
I often catch myself being very insulting during self-talk. I am my own worst critic. There is nobody who dislikes me more than me.
Now 39 years old, Josh has been competing in MMA since 2003. In those days, network television deals and Reebok fight kits were, at most, a fleeting idea in the minds of the most optimistic of dreamers. This was the Wild West. And the amateur circuit was as wild as it came.
Diekmann’s one and only amateur bout was against Boston Cop Sean Gannon. Gannon, a man who made a name for himself by defeating Kimbo Slice in an underground street fight, won the bout via first round TKO. But it wasn’t the result that left an impact on Diekmann. It was the scene, itself.
We were technically amateurs. But the only thing different was that we didn’t get paid.
In a room filled with cigarette smoke, Josh Diekmann fought for free. It would be the last time. He, like so many others in his position, saw through the farce of competing as an amateur and made his decision almost immediately. He would turn pro.
The move resulted in a six fight win streak between 2005 and 2006, earning him an invite to the WEC out in California. Despite the ring announcer presenting him as a 4-0 representative of “Strike Force” – he was a 6-0 representative of “Strike Zone” – there was no denying that this was a far cry from the bar fights out in Massachusetts.
He would come up short in his lone fight with the promotion, but once more, it was not the result that truly mattered. It was about the journey.
Josh Diekmann’s setbacks in life are not quantified by the number of times his opponent got their hand raised or the resume on his Sherdog page. They’re categorized by failed relationships, unrecognized potential, and an internal struggle; the war within himself.
I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. It’s something I constantly try and control, but to no avail. There are certain times that I feel it is beneficial in life. For instance, people usually know where they stand with me. On the other hand, it is a fucking curse at times. Some people are opportunists. Others are emotional vampires. Those are the people that have taken advantage of me over the years.
The devil doesn’t come to you breathing fire, with horns and a pitchfork. She comes to you as everything you’ve ever wanted. And she’s beautiful.
I feel my inadequacy in this area has ruined a lot of good relationships – killed some before they ever started – and caused me to continue with the destructive ones far longer than I should have. Again, I am a work in progress. As long as I stay cognizant of those facts, I am more likely to be able to correct them.
This battle to control his inner thoughts dates back to early childhood. Mentally tormented by a member of his family, Josh was instilled with this negative way of thinking during his formative years, making the ability to disrupt this process incredibly difficult as an adult.
His dreams were ridiculed. His goals mocked. The self hate began there, and it’s taken decades of work to eradicate this mindset; work that is still being done to this day. The difficulty of such an undertaking is substantial. Then again, he was never one to shy away from a difficult task. Although sometimes misplaced, Josh’s fierce sense of loyalty became the manifestation of his lingering faith in humanity.
I have always been a loyal person. Maybe due to the fact that many of the people closest to me have been anything but. I have been betrayed, in one way or another, by the people I hold closest to my heart. I believe blood makes you related; loyalty makes you family.
I often find myself putting my faith in people who ultimately don’t deserve it. I find that people are as they are. We often change our expectations of someone once we feel committed to them. And then for me, I often get upset when they don’t live up to those expectations. I’ve learned in that situation, the people haven’t changed at all. I’ve changed the way I was perceiving them. So in the end, it’s always my own fault. I have to do a better job of protecting myself. It’s just that simple.
I owe my loyalty to those who have never made me question theirs. And that’s the long and short of it.
Josh Diekmann is an enigma. A hybrid. One of a kind. A combination of the old-school physicality and the new-school way of thinking, he is an active representative of the ever-fading crop of throwback fighters. Those who did it for the love of combat. Those who never saw the prospect of glamour and glitz on the horizon. Those who were at war with their inner demons as much as the man across the cage. He’s also one of the most forward-thinking and positive individuals to ever compete in MMA. A true icon in the eyes of most everyone that has crossed his path.
Diekmann never reached the UFC. There were times when he was close. And his story has not come to an end as of yet. But his legacy never truly came from personal accomplishment. It’s always been about helping others. From all the talk about self-hate and personal blame, there’s an underlying element of selflessness. His biggest flaw is not really a flaw at all. In a lot of ways, it’s his biggest strength.
Unshakable optimism and a firm grasp of the bigger picture.
There was a time where I did this to feed my ego and boost the perception of myself in other people’s eyes. But I’ve come to realize that I am who I am. And it doesn’t matter how other people see me, it’s way more important how I see myself. For a long time, and still to this day, I don’t like what I see when I look in the mirror, so I’m constantly looking to change that. Sometimes I change it for the worst and sometimes for the better. But I’m never going to stop. I’m just not.
The day that you stop learning and trying to evolve is the day you’re fucking dead. You should never become complacent in any facet of your life. You can always be a better husband, a better dad, a better friend, a better human. No matter how good you are – you could be exceptional – there’s always room for growth. And you really have to be conscious of that. Don’t ever be happy with where you’re at. Because that’s when you’ll start to slip.
Josh Diekmann’s story is as complicated as it is captivating. Painting an accurate picture of the intricacies of the man is impossible. Impossible because it’s an ever-moving target. The yin and yang of peace and violence are forever searching for their balance within the mind of a mixed martial artist.
When Josh finally hangs up the gloves, his options are limitless. He could open his own gym and begin training the next generation of fighters. He could create and facilitate programs that cater to underprivileged youth; programs that he believes may have helped him avoid his own issues, had they been available when he was a child. Perhaps he’ll pursue a career in the arts, whether it be acting, music, or writing. He’s done stunt work in the past and even played a small role in “The Code”. As a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, music has always been a part of his being. And he’s currently working on his autobiography; a self reflection of his wild journey through life.
No matter what road Josh Diekmann decides to go down, there is no doubt he will find success. Because for Josh, success is not based on any tangible results. It’s based on the evolution of the person within. As long as he keeps winning that battle, he will continue to be the most successful version of himself.
On a journey with no ceiling.Check out our latest podcast episode featuring Adam Milstead & Dinis "Sweetbread" Paiva