The life of a professional MMA fighter is one that few of us can truly imagine. Sure, they are participating in the most exciting sport in the world, but the actual time spent competing pales in comparison to the time spent in brutal preparation. One BJJ trainer told me recently that he spends roughly 75% of his training time doing recuperative training to help him heal from the 25% of “real” training he does.
Fans see mere snapshots of this day to day grind in web videos and promotional programs aired to promote upcoming fights. To date, TUF has provided the most comprehensive showcase of the training regimen that these fighters will their way through each day. Sadly, you only see a few minutes of training each week as it is sandwiched between the story lines and fights. Unless you have trained to fight, or know someone who fights, you really can’t have a true appreciation of what these athletes do each day.
It takes a genetically gifted person to be able to handle the physical rigors of training two to three times a day. You have to combine those physical attributes with an uncommon level of mental resolve. This level of dedication cannot be born out of a whim or fad. Maybe for the guy that trains for a year and fights a couple of fights, but not for the guys that rise to the level of national prominence. Those who choose this life of sacrifice and punishment do so out of a hunger to compete and prove their mettle. Knowing what these guys give up to be fighters makes watching Wednesday’s episode of TUF all the more difficult.
In this episode, Zach Davis gets to fight Chuck O’Neil for a second time this season. Davis defeated O’Neil earlier in the season, but O’Neil fought his way back for shot at Davis by winning the “wildcard” match. O’Neil looked like a different fighter in the rematch with Davis. He came into the fight with aggression and he sustained it for both rounds. While Davis showed great heart in the fight, he was thoroughly outmatched. The punishment O’Neil dished out was clearly evident on Davis’s face early in the first round. The broken nose and various cuts were obvious to everyone watching, but there were more serious injuries that no one could have anticipated.
After the usual post-fight clips of the winner’s celebration and the loser’s anguish, and the subsequent commercial break, we hear the devastating news from Davis. After the defeat, he was taken to the hospital for the normal precautionary exams. Those exams revealed that both of his retinas were detached in the fight. The doctor did immediate laser surgery to correct the detachments, but the ultimate injury was the news that he may have to retire from fighting. Davis said that the physician told him he would risk permanent blindness if he chooses to enter the cage again. Davis is clearly crushed by the news, and his housemates (including O’Neil) are visibly saddened by the news and do their best to comfort their fellow combatant.
This portion of the show was fairly brief. The two quarterfinal fights and the stereotypical night of drunkenness in the house that results in the even more predictable intoxicated scuffle between housemates ended up dominating the show. Even though the clip was short, it provided the most substantial moment of the season. In that time you saw the effect that the news had on Davis, as well as the other fighters that must realize they are fortunate that they were not in his shoes this time. The circumstance is sad even at face value. It is heartbreaking when considered in the context of what these fighters endure to rise to the level of UFC fighters. It’s hard enough to see a guy retire because his prime is in the rearview mirror. It’s even more difficult to watch a kid lose his career before he ever got a chance to hit his stride.