How Respect Is Forged

It’s hard to imagine being friendly with the person tasked to kill you. You may never see a death in the ring but that’s only because the rules are supposed to stop the fight before it gets to that point. This is why fighters must sign a piece of paper before every professional fight that makes murder legal as long it occurs within the rules. Fighting is like going out on a date with your executioner and wondering how far you’re gonna get before the night is over.

The opponent not only represents the grim reaper, but he also has the power to publically embarrass you and take your money. Each opponent is simultaneously a potential thief, bully and the angel of death. It’s easy to hate the person across the ring but time and time again friendships form between vicious competitors. What is it about warriors that allow them form bonds in situations where the average person manifests animosity?

Let me quote the movie Fight Club: “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” The answer is a resounding “nothing.” The reason is simple; Life is a struggle. It will always be a struggle. You cannot survive–let alone succeed–if you do not learn to triumph over these struggles. Like the saying goes, “You don’t wait for the storm to end. You learn to dance in the rain.” In Fight Club he’s referring to physical battles but the saying applies to any conflict.

When two men meet to bring about each other’s demise, there is already a bond. Any fighter that has any level of success understands and respects his opponent’s struggle of trying to kill him for an audience. He also understands the risks. After all, both parties signed the death waiver. The men meet each other with respect instead of hatred. Mutual respect is the strongest base you can start any relationship from.

There are the instances where guys become true rivals and hate each other at a personal level. I have found this to be the exception. When it does occur it reeks of unprofessionalism and immaturity. There is the trash talking before a bout, but that’s just human nature. It also helps sale a fight. But if you’ve taken notice, a surprising amount of fights end with a genuine embrace. An embrace born from respect.

People also think that the violence during a fight is driven by malice felt in the moment. However, emotions are an unwelcome visitor in a fight. Reacting to how you feel leads to a loss of discipline. Loss of discipline leads to destruction. Fighters know this. They know that the blows they feel– however jarring and intense–are only being thrown because those are the rules of the game we elected to play. It’s how winning is done in this sport and it’s no more malicious than moving a piece into position for checkmate.

Mutual respect is the only sensible outcome of two trained men trying to kill one another. I’m trying to kill you. You’re trying to kill me. But we survive. At a visceral level I feel that you are worthy of existing because you not only faced the challenge, but made it through the worst of it. I may not verbalize the feeling that way at the moment, but there is always a sense of awe when a man not only takes your best punches, but dishes back his own attacks with great acumen. During this brutal exchange, the foundation of respect is fortified.

To fight with another is to know him as well he knows himself. In this way you see that you are one in the same. Only a fool hates himself. By extension, only a fool would hate his opponent. Respecting your own abilities develops respect for your opponent’s. UFC Welterweight Champion, George St. Pierre said it best:

“Before each one of my fights I make a point of saluting my opponent. I salute the other fighter out of respect, even though he is trying to take something away from me.”

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