Like many people I got pulled back into UFC because of Conor McGregor. I watched the first UFC fights in the nineties, on VHS tapes rented from my local video store. Ninjitsu vs. wrestling, karate vs. thai boxing, a 150 pound man vs. a 220 pound man — who would win? What style would prevail? It soon became clear that Brazilian jiu-jitsu, specifically the Gracie family brand, was the most effective martial art in the world in terms of one-on-one battles. Any sane man will tap when a choke hold prevents him from breathing, or an arm bar threatens to snap his humerus in half.
Fast-forward a couple decades and I had lost touch with the sport. I would tune in occasionally, but to my eyes the sport had become too standardized. Opponents boxed, throwing the occasional kick Muay Thai kick or knee, then grappled, using a combination of wrestling and jiu-jitsui techniques. Mixed martial arts acquired rules and weight classes. There were a few brilliant, creative fighters like Anderson Silva, but at that point I wasn’t paying attention.
The young Irishman Conor McGregor, with his larger-than-life personality, outrageous boasts, creative psychological warfare, loose catlike fighting style, and his seemingly “mystic” ability to predict the exact round and nature of his victories, brought me back.
I didn’t necessarily like McGregor — his trash talking was often crude and cruel, and his language often laced with misogyny, linking the feminine with weakness and cowardice. But I was fascinated with him. How could he be so confident and seemingly fearless? Who, if anyone, could stop him? When McGregor boasted of marching his way through all the weight classes and taking all the belts, I knew that was impossible. McGregor vs. Jon Jones? C’mon. But a small part of me believed McGregor’s hype, and believed that he believed it.
It became abundantly clear last night that McGregor is only human, and that he had reached too far. The seasoned, scrappy fighter Nate Diaz defeated McGregor by 1) not letting McGregor’s taunts get into his head, 2) being able to take a punch, 3) having superior cardiovascular conditioning, and 4) finishing McGregor with superior jiu-jitsu technique. In hindsight it all seems obvious. Confidence and creative visualization will get you only so far. Reality always wins.
The loss crystallized why I’m fascinated by McGregor. It’s his spiritual journey of self-improvement that keeps me interested. From a young age McGregor has followed his fascination with fighting, going all in, visualizing his success in detail and manifesting his dreams with careful planning and a nonstop work ethic. Envisioning/dreaming, working hard, constantly improving, refusing to get discouraged by setbacks — that’s a tried and true formula for success. What’s different about McGregor is his willingness to state, in detail, how he will succeed. It comes off as hubris. But time and time again, McGregor stated exactly what he was going to do, then went and did it. He called his shots, thus amplifying the impact of his successes.
Until last night, of course. McGregor said he would take Diaz in the first round. But did he really see that victory in his mind’s eye? Only he knows. He didn’t sound quite as confident in that prediction. Even if he did see the victory, Diaz won the fight. Sometimes life doesn’t go as you expect.
I’ve been in the camp that you shouldn’t talk about your goals, as per Derek Sivers. When I talk about the stories I want to write, I can feel the energy leaching away. I’m reluctant to discuss my ambitions — I’d rather just do the work.
But McGregor’s meteoric rise made me question this mindset. And his loss last night didn’t “prove” anything to the contrary. Even though McGregor has to swallow the bitter pill of defeat — all the more bitter because of his boastful predictions — he wouldn’t be a star in the first place if he hadn’t had the courage to speak his vision and risk being wrong.
So what “shots” are you willing to call, in regards to your own life and career? What do you feel confident that you can do, if you put in the work? Can you see it?
What about me? I’m three years into my five year commitment to become a science fiction author. I’m putting in the work. It’s a career path I can clearly see. I’m calling my shot — by the end of 2016 I’ll be an active member of the SFWA. Please save your congratulations for January of 2017.
As for McGregor, I’m still a fan, and I’ll be watching his career closely.